Senate President Don Gaetz testified under oath Wednesday that it was “entirely proper” for him to meet in secret with House Speaker Will Weatherford to reach a deal over a congressional map as part of the Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting process. Gaetz, R-Niceville, who along with Weatherford was chairman of his chamber’s redistricting maps in 2011-12, told the court that he and Weatherford met twice and agreed to settle on the Senate’s map design for the final joint congressional map. It included a provision that boosted the number of black voters in the meandering congressional District 5, a Democrat-majority district that slices through dozens of towns to collect black voters from Jacksonville to Orlando. “It was entirely proper, it was entirely ordinary that we would meet as two committee chairs to work out differences,’’ Gaetz said during more than three hours of testimony.
The entire congressional map, particularly District 5, is being challenged as unconstitutional by a coalition of voters led by the League of Women Voters. They contend the redrawn map violates the “Fair Districts” standards added to the state Constitution by voters in 2010. It requires that districts may not be drawn to protect incumbents and or political parties.
The plaintiffs claim the redistricting process was “conducted in the shadows with the secret involvement of partisan operatives with key decisions being made by a tiny group of legislators and staff behind closed doors” to give Republicans the advantage.
Legislators deny the claim and say there is no evidence that the closed door meetings or work of consultants influenced the outcome of the maps, which were approved on a bipartisan vote.