Florida congressional redistricting trial uncovers deleted emails
Challenges to the Florida’s most recent redistricting process are continuing for a second day as questions regarding secret emails and closed door meetings come to light. Outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford took the stand Tuesday afternoon arguing that the House followed all of the rules laid out in the 2010 Fair Districts amendments.
"We have a rule in the Florida House that says if you're working on draft legislation that that draft is not a public record until it is filed. It's something that we treat all legislation the same. Redistricting maps, bills, were treated the same and so it was just basically saying that members were allowed to, if they so chose, to come up with their own ideas and drafts and that they would not be a public record unless they filed them."
"And so you wanted to treat the work prior to the House as confidential until it was publicly released in the processes that you used."
"We wanted to treat the redistricting bills the same way that we treat all legislation in the Florida House."
"Which is confidentiality, correct?"
"Confidentiality while it's in drafting."
He’s referring to concerns that Florida lawmakers were hashing out district lines out of public view. The deputy chief of staff for former house speaker Dean Cannon also took the stand today. Kirk Pepper fielded questions from the attorney representing the League of Women Voters, David King.
"The reason you transmitted these by jump drive to Mr.Reichelderfer was the fact that these files were so big and voluminous that you had to do it either by jump drive or (), right?"
"Isn't it impressive that one of these map files is not very large at all. That's just too ()"
King is referring to maps that were shared with Pepper’s friend Marc Reichelderfer who was also a political consultant for some state Republicans. Pepper said he was trying to do his friend a favor. Another attorney for plaintiffs, John Devaney, asked Pepper about emails regarding redistricting that were deleted along with a Dropbox file containing district maps.
"The manner in which I managed my email inbox..."
"Answer my question, yes or no. Did you destroy emails that you sent to Mr. Reichelderfer?"
"I deleted those emails."
"And you deleted them right during the whole redistricting process, didn't you?"
"Can I answer more fully?"
"Answer yes or no."
"And isn't it also true that not only did you delete emails to Mr. Reichelderfer from your inbox, but you also went into your 'sent' file and deleted them from the sent file, didn't you?"
"I don't recall doing that."
"Is your testimony that you didn't delete emails from your sent file?"
"I...my testimony is that the way that I've always managed my email inbox is that I clean everything out at the end of the day. My sent items, my deleted items, I don't know whether I did those manually or whether they were automatically done by the system."
In another email Reichelderfer wrote to Pepper that the Webster seat – what is now Central Florida’s Congressional District 10 – was messed up. Pepper responded with a three-word question - Performance or Geography? Pepper claims it was meant as sarcasm, but League of Women Voters attorney King implied it was a request for more information.
"The lawyers who had told him that he was not going to be involved in that process told him and told multiple political folks that because it would be seen as the only things that they would be seen as trying to influence would be political performance or candidate geography. So I responded in a sarcastic way that I, late at night on a Sunday night, that I felt that Mark would understand exactly what I was saying. So not having the context of our relationship, not having the context of understanding frankly, how we talk to each other in person or in writing it does not afford you the ability to understand that that's what I meant. But I felt confident that that's how he would take it. That what I was saying to him is the only two things that you could be saying to me are about performance or geography so you should stop the conversation. I could have said it in a much more clear way but it was late at night and I meant to be brief and I meant to be blunt and I meant to be sarcastic."
There were also questions raised about a meeting between former House Speaker Dean Cannon and then chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Congress member Pete Sessions. Pepper claims the meeting was set up to ensure Republicans in Congress weren’t hiring lobbyists to influence Florida’s redistricting process.
"Things had changed because amendments 5 and 6 had passed. He wasn't confident at the time that anyone had communicated with Congressional leadership that their actions from the past needed to change along with that."
The congressional map is being challenged because groups argue it shows lawmakers drew district lines to favor incumbents by packing minority voters into Democratic districts and undermines the fair redistricting process. Lawyers most commonly site four districts, two of which are in Tampa Bay. Republican David Jolly’ District covers most of Pinellas County except for parts of downtown, midtown and south St. Pete where the population is mostly African-American. Those parts are represented by Democrat Kathy Castor.
Audio for this report courtesy of the Florida Channelcomments powered by Disqus