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GOP consultant congratulated for 'guiding Senate redistricting'

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – One Republican consultant congratulated another "on guiding the Senate through the thicket" of redistricting after the Florida Supreme Court approved the second draft of a new Senate map, according to a two-year-old document released Monday.

 The email, from Tom Hofeller of the Republican National Committee to Florida-based political consultant Rich Heffley, could play a role in pending legal challenges to the Senate map and congressional districts drawn as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Voting-rights organizations, including the League of Women Voters, say lawmakers disregarded a voter-approved constitutional ban on political gerrymandering when the Legislature redrew the lines in 2012.

 "Congratulations on guiding the Senate through the thicket," wrote Hofeller, a redistricting consultant at the RNC, in the brief email to Heffley. "Looks as if, so far, the Democrats have not realized the gains they think they were going to get."

 The email came on April 27, 2012, the same day that the Florida Supreme Court signed off on a revised Senate map. Justices had rejected a first draft of the redistricting plan, saying it violated the Fair Districts amendment dealing with legislative districts.

 "Thanks. Big win," Heffley replied to Hofeller. "Worse case minus 2. 26-14."

 That appears to be an allusion to the change in the Senate GOP majority that could be expected under the map. At the time, Republicans held a 28-12 edge in the chamber. In fact, Republicans won a 26-14 majority in each of the last two elections, though the GOP currently has 25 seats after former Sen. John Thrasher resigned to become president of his alma mater, Florida State University. Republicans are likely to regain the Senate seat in a special election next year.

 The emails are in addition to a trove of documents and testimony from Republican consultant Pat Bainter unsealed last month in a challenge to the state's congressional map. The RNC and the National Republican Congressional Committee fought release of the emails and some other documents on the same grounds --- that doing so would violate their First Amendment rights.

 In the case of the emails, a Washington, D.C.-based court in June ordered the evidence be turned over to the voting-rights groups challenging the map and treated the same way that Bainter's documents were.

 "There is certainly a benign interpretation of the e-mail as well (as a matter of social convention, people are often 'congratulated' for bringing about results they had little or nothing to do with), but plaintiffs are not bound to accept that explanation," D.C. Superior Court Judge Stuart Nash wrote in his opinion.

 The Florida Supreme Court said it was now ordering the release of the Heffley emails because no one had argued against doing so.

 The emails would seem to have the most direct impact on a case against the Senate districts, which hasn't gone to trial yet. But the voting-rights groups have said it could bolster their case that political consultants improperly influenced the redistricting process that also produced the congressional maps.

 The League of Women Voters and its allies had wanted to introduce the emails in the trial over the congressional map, but their lawyers didn't get the evidence until after they had rested their case, and attorneys representing the Legislature objected to adding the emails to the record. In their appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, the voting-rights groups have argued that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis erred by not admitting the emails as evidence.

 "Although perhaps cumulative, the Heffley email provides evidence of collaboration, as it characterized Heffley as 'guiding' the Legislature through the redistricting process," the lawyers wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court filed last month. "Plaintiffs could not have introduced the evidence in their case because it had not yet been produced, and they moved promptly for admission once it was obtained."

 The League of Women Voters of Florida and its allies are appealing rulings by Lewis, who earlier this year struck down the congressional map but approved a second draft by the Legislature. The coalition opposed to the congressional map wants a more extensive makeover than the one approved by Lewis.
GOP CONSULTANT CONGRATULATED FOR 'GUIDING' SENATE REDISTRICTING

 By BRANDON LARRABEE
 THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

©2014 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. You can view the Terms of Use on our website.

 THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, December 8, 2014..........One Republican consultant congratulated another "on guiding the Senate through the thicket" of redistricting after the Florida Supreme Court approved the second draft of a new Senate map, according to a two-year-old document released Monday.

 The email, from Tom Hofeller of the Republican National Committee to Florida-based political consultant Rich Heffley, could play a role in pending legal challenges to the Senate map and congressional districts drawn as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Voting-rights organizations, including the League of Women Voters, say lawmakers disregarded a voter-approved constitutional ban on political gerrymandering when the Legislature redrew the lines in 2012.

 "Congratulations on guiding the Senate through the thicket," wrote Hofeller, a redistricting consultant at the RNC, in the brief email to Heffley. "Looks as if, so far, the Democrats have not realized the gains they think they were going to get."

 The email came on April 27, 2012, the same day that the Florida Supreme Court signed off on a revised Senate map. Justices had rejected a first draft of the redistricting plan, saying it violated the Fair Districts amendment dealing with legislative districts.

 "Thanks. Big win," Heffley replied to Hofeller. "Worse case minus 2. 26-14."

 That appears to be an allusion to the change in the Senate GOP majority that could be expected under the map. At the time, Republicans held a 28-12 edge in the chamber. In fact, Republicans won a 26-14 majority in each of the last two elections, though the GOP currently has 25 seats after former Sen. John Thrasher resigned to become president of his alma mater, Florida State University. Republicans are likely to regain the Senate seat in a special election next year.

 The emails are in addition to a trove of documents and testimony from Republican consultant Pat Bainter unsealed last month in a challenge to the state's congressional map. The RNC and the National Republican Congressional Committee fought release of the emails and some other documents on the same grounds --- that doing so would violate their First Amendment rights.

 In the case of the emails, a Washington, D.C.-based court in June ordered the evidence be turned over to the voting-rights groups challenging the map and treated the same way that Bainter's documents were.

 "There is certainly a benign interpretation of the e-mail as well (as a matter of social convention, people are often 'congratulated' for bringing about results they had little or nothing to do with), but plaintiffs are not bound to accept that explanation," D.C. Superior Court Judge Stuart Nash wrote in his opinion.

 The Florida Supreme Court said it was now ordering the release of the Heffley emails because no one had argued against doing so.

 The emails would seem to have the most direct impact on a case against the Senate districts, which hasn't gone to trial yet. But the voting-rights groups have said it could bolster their case that political consultants improperly influenced the redistricting process that also produced the congressional maps.

 The League of Women Voters and its allies had wanted to introduce the emails in the trial over the congressional map, but their lawyers didn't get the evidence until after they had rested their case, and attorneys representing the Legislature objected to adding the emails to the record. In their appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, the voting-rights groups have argued that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis erred by not admitting the emails as evidence.

 "Although perhaps cumulative, the Heffley email provides evidence of collaboration, as it characterized Heffley as 'guiding' the Legislature through the redistricting process," the lawyers wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court filed last month. "Plaintiffs could not have introduced the evidence in their case because it had not yet been produced, and they moved promptly for admission once it was obtained."

 The League of Women Voters of Florida and its allies are appealing rulings by Lewis, who earlier this year struck down the congressional map but approved a second draft by the Legislature. The coalition opposed to the congressional map wants a more extensive makeover than the one approved by Lewis.