Previously sealed email messages and court testimony released this week make clear why a judge required congressional districts to be redrawn for violating constitutional requirements approved by voters. The documents reveal the breadth of the conspiracy to influence the once-a-decade process and the ties to the Republican Party of Florida. This was a coordinated effort by consultants and party operatives to circumvent the state Constitution and undermine the will of the voters while shielding the elected Republicans who would benefit.
The 538 pages of emails were sent or received by Pat Bainter, owner of Data Targeting Inc. in Gainesville, who in 2011 and 2012 conspired with a web of political insiders to draw maps to protect Republican incumbents and submit them using the names of third parties as part of the Legislature’s invitation for public participation. One of those congressional maps tied to Bainter was submitted by Alex Posada and substantially matched a map drawn by the state Republican Party and the map the Legislature approved. Posada, a former Florida State University student, testified in court that he had no knowledge of the map and had not authorized it to be submitted under his name.
Legislative leaders testified in court they had no knowledge of Bainter’s efforts, and a curious deletion of lawmakers’ emails leaves no records to check. Now the previously sealed testimony shows Bainter, Republican Party redistricting guru Frank Terraferma and consultant Rich Heffley distanced themselves from closely aligned political operatives who submitted maps under the names of other individuals. But emails show both Terraferma and Heffley were told maps were being submitted and all of them were constantly discussing how proposed congressional and legislative maps would affect incumbent Republicans. Under two 2010 state constitutional amendments, voters outlawed congressional and legislative districts drawn to favor incumbents or members of either political party.
During a trial to challenge the new districts, email messages and related testimony were ordered sealed by the Florida Supreme Court until it could review Bainter’s claim that opening them would reveal trade secrets or violate his First Amendment rights. The court was right to order the recent release of the documents, and now it’s clear what was going on: A monthslong effort to circumvent the state constitutional requirements for fair districts by drawing maps to protect incumbents and submitting them to the Legislature through third parties. Leon Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis clearly had the evidence to force a redrawing of at least two congressional districts this summer. Now the odds look even higher that the same outcome could be on tap for state Senate maps.