It is cynical and disingenuous to suggest a behind-the-scenes effort to manipulate the redistricting process was an example of public participation rather than a subversion of it.
Yet those are the kind of claims that you’ll hear from Republican political operatives now that their hands have been caught in the redistricting cookie jar.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court released more than 500 pages of emails from Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter and his firm, Data Solutions. They reveal an effort to use the illusion of grassroots participation to create gerrymandered districts that violated the Fair Districts amendments, passed in 2010 by voters.
The emails show members of Bainter’s firm, which has received millions from the GOP for campaign work, drafted maps to benefit Republicans and then recruited third parties to submit them to lawmakers.
Alachua County GOP leader Stafford Jones helped in the effort. One email said that Jones would get “10 more people at least” to submit maps.
Jones told The Sun that he’s “proud of what we did” and that it simply involved getting enough people to speak out to influence the process. If you buy that, it shows that the redistricting process is deeply flawed and needs further reforms.
Jones pointed out that there’s no smoking gun showing contact between consultants and lawmakers. While that is true, the emails also show an effort at secrecy and deception that has only partly been revealed.
In one message, a staff member with the firm writes that he and Bainter will “probably sound almost paranoid” but requests caution when asking people to submit maps. Another consultant responds that she has “tried to do most of the asking over the phone, so their (sic) is no e-mail trail if it gets forwarded.”
Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis used the documents in his ruling that two Congressional districts were unconstitutional and had to be redrawn. In the decision, Lewis found that the work of consultants amounted to a “shadow redistricting process.”
Now the League of Women Voters and other groups who challenged the redistricting plan are arguing that the decision didn’t go far enough. In an appeal to the state Supreme Court, they ask the court to invalidate the entire redistricting plan and impose a “meaningful remedy” such as creating its own plan.
The case shows the Fair Districts amendments failed to remove politics from redistricting. In an interview with the Scripps-Tribune Capitol Bureau, Bainter said Democrats are now trying to learn what his firm is doing to recreate it for themselves.
Whether Democrats or Republicans, the Fair Districts amendments were intended to prevent any party from drawing districts to their benefit. Amendment backers should consider further reforms such as an independent commission to draw districts.
In the meantime, GOP political operatives should stop pretending they were doing anything other than helping their clients and allies. There is nothing noble about subverting the will of voters.