Democrats Tried to Hatch Back-Door ‘Deal’ on Redistricting, Don Gaetz Says
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: April 21, 2012 3:55 AM
While publicly posturing for “fairness” in redistricting, a group of top Florida Democrats privately pushed for maps that would benefit party brass, according to documents obtained by Sunshine State News.Among the maneuvers detailed in intra-party emails and other correspondence about Senate district boundaries that would ultimately come under review by the state Supreme Court:Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith “attempted to cut a deal to alter an area of the state that was not objected to in any way by the Florida Supreme Court for the sole purpose of creating a district for himself so he could return to the state Senate. ” Another state Senate seat would be drawn for Volusia County Democratic Chairman Frank Bruno.
Changes would be made in Broward County to “further weaken the area represented by Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff,” R-Fort Lauderdale. In exchange, the Democratic Party would assure the necessary votes for the revised maps, drop its lawsuit and file a brief in support of the plan at the high court.
An FDP spokesman flatly denied the scenario.”This is not only incorrect, it is preposterous. A total fabrication,” said David Bergstein, the party’s deputy communications director. Bergstein refused further comment and declined to make Smith available for an interview. But Redistricting Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, confirmed that he was approached by Democrats “to enter into some kind of political deal.”
“I was told if I agreed to certain political results, that a bipartisan vote would be promised on the Senate floor and Democrats would withdraw their objections. It was sold as something that would help me maintain the Senate presidency and palliate the Democrats. ”I refused,” said Gaetz, whom Republicans elected to become Senate president in 2013.Gaetz said it was “unfortunate that there were no submissions of any [redistricting] plans in the public process. (Senate Minority) Leader (Nan) Rich filed one, then withdrew it,” Gaetz related.
“The (redistricting) committee met 32 times in public hearings … I requested any senator or interest group to come forward with any suggestion, criticism or plan so the public could see it as part of the open process. “We provided opportunities for open proposals and got none,” he added. “Following the clear language of Amendment 5 and Amendment 6, there was no way I could have been part of any deal or arrangement with a political result to help me or the Democrats or to safeguard Republicans seats.
That would have been clearly unconstitutional.”But that didn’t stop the Democrats from trying to work a backroom deal. Over a week-long period immediately prior to the “extraordinary session” on redistricting, Gaetz said Smith called him twice. “He wanted to meet away from the Capitol to talk about a deal. I said I would meet at the Capitol, that there would be no clandestine meetings. We met in my office.”
Gaetz said he was also approached separately by former Sen. Steve Geller and by Rep. Ron Saunders, “who asked me to come to his House office, where he said he had a map that would be the ‘deal.” “The two met and Gaetz said he took the map, unopened, to the staff at the redistricting panel. He does not know what, if anything, came of it. “I never agreed to anything,” Gaetz told Sunshine State News. Geller, who appeared in memos and texts as a “go-between” for the FDP chairman, branded as “categorically untrue” any suggestion that Smith wants to get back to the Senate. “Rod has never once discussed with me any desire to return to the Florida Senate. He is a close friend, and I am quite confident that he has no desire to return to the Senate. “In a tongue-in-cheek reference, Geller added: “I am not certain that his wife can afford the high-priced lawyers that she’d need to defend herself for the murder trial that would occur after she kills Rod if he even suggested his returning to the Florida Senate.”
“Your sources are clearly making things up for partisan reasons,” Geller said. FDP executive director Scott Arceneaux, who also participated in the intra-party emails, did not respond to Sunshine State News’ request for comment. A Republican operative, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Smith has played a double-game on redistricting. Voting for the (current) maps in 2002, the then-senator from Gainesville complained, “Florida Republicans have taken a state — which experts have long considered one of the most mal-apportioned states in the country — and worsened it.”
Smith and other Democrats at the time accused the GOP of “racial gerrymandering.” Now, a decade later, Smith’s team angled for maps that “weaken or eliminate protected minority seats,” said a source close to the situation. But it was all for naught. Whatever strategies were hatched behind closed doors, the “deal” never came together as Gaetz rejected the gambit.”It would have been unethical and unconstitutional to engineer a deal,” Gaetz said. Democrats encountered more rough sledding on Friday as a skeptical Supreme Court appeared to take a dim view of their objections to the GOP-approved revisions.Contending that Republicans could not use minority voting rights as a “shield” to redistrict for political gain, Democrats said the Legislature should have started with a fresh slate. But the judges who rejected the first version of the Senate maps were unimpressed with the Democrats’ plea for an alternative. just so not there, Justice Barbara Pariente said.Gaetz on Friday stressed that he was “not impugning integrity” of Rich, D-Sunrise.”Her objections were in public and on the record. Her decision to offer an alternative was done the right way — in the open.”Gaetz added that incoming Democratic leader Chris Smith, D-West Palm Beach, steered clear of the controversy. “He did not approach me either.”
Reach Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.