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    Democrats cry politics in redistricting trial

    Republican lawyers sharply question Democrats who claimed they were shut out of the mapmaking process.

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 6, 2002


    MIAMI -- Florida's Republican Legislature repeatedly promised that the redrawing of districts would be "open, fair and member-driven." But a House Democrat who testified Wednesday in a federal voting rights lawsuit said it was anything but that.

    Rep. Cindy Lerner of Miami said it took her weeks just to set up a meeting with the second-most influential member of the House leadership, Rep. Johnnie Byrd of Plant City, to protect her turf. When the day came, she said, she spent an hour outside his office and never got in, while others strolled in and out.

    Mapmaking Republicans weren't kind to Lerner. Her Homestead area district is gone, scattered among three districts that favor Republicans. Lerner is one of many Democrats who have sued the Legislature seeking to toss out the new map, claiming it weakens black voters' strength and was gerrymandered for partisan reasons.

    In the trial's third day, Republican lawyers sharply questioned Lerner and other Democratic witnesses who cited political obstacles in proposing alternative maps. House attorney George Meros said that even the Democrats' alternative House map did not include a winnable district for Lerner and that Republicans weren't allowed to touch the Democrats' computer mouse when the other party drew the lines a decade ago.

    As the three-judge panel may hear today, Lerner isn't the only one who claims her pleas went ignored.

    Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, who will be called by Democrats, gave a deposition in the case Friday in which he faulted fellow Republicans for adding two more safe GOP seats in Congress instead of the four he wanted, and for leaving winnable Democratic state Senate seats in Palm Beach County, North Florida and Gainesville.

    "I don't think they paid a lot of attention to me from my overall goal," Cardenas said in the deposition. "I mean, I was very disappointed at how they ended up."

    In another court in nearby Fort Lauderdale, Broward Circuit Judge Robert Andrews gave Secretary of State Katherine Harris until Friday to explain why her candidacy for Congress does not conflict with her role as a defendant in a state lawsuit seeking to throw out the congressional plan.

    If Andrews drops Harris as a defendant, only Attorney General Bob Butterworth will be able to defend the plan in state court. The House and Senate were dropped as defendants earlier.

    That possibility alarms Republicans, who have called Butterworth a stalking-horse for Democrats because he asked a federal court in Washington to block the U.S. Justice Department from reviewing the congressional map submitted for approval by the Legislature rather than by Butterworth himself.

    "He has chosen to aid and abet the partisan grandstanding of the plaintiffs, who aim to create an electoral train wreck that will make Election 2000 look smooth by comparison," Harris said in a statement. "The judge's decision would leave the fox in charge of the proverbial henhouse."

    Harris is running for one of the open seats on the new map, but she said she has a legal duty to support and defend state laws.

    The Senate quickly dispatched Fort Lauderdale lawyer William Scherer to court to seek an emergency hearing on the issue, but Andrews told the lawyer to file written arguments.

    -- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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