There's a quote oft attributed to Mark Twain, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes."
Javier Manjarres, who blogs at the Shark Tank, has ignited a firestorm of controversy with a post titled "Weatherford Confirms Redistricting Will Leave Allen West’s Congressional Seat Vulnerable," and a short video interview with Florida State Representative (and incoming Speaker of the House) Will Weatherford.
The issue is that Manjarres identifies Weatherford as "one of Governor Mitt Romney's spokesmen" and then discusses the impact of this year's redistricting on Congressman Allen West's district, suggesting that "the fix was in," stating that some anonymous legislator told him that "Allen West is screwed" about five months before the proposed redistricting maps were made public.
This post and the accompanying video have spread across the internet in the past few days, wrapped in a very thick blanket of conjecture and rumor-mongering.
Legal Insurrection, PJ Tatler, Urban Grounds, The Right Scoop, and others have all placed the blame for West's redistricting woes in the lap of Weatherford, and attempted to connect the dots to Mitt Romney. There are a number of significant errors in the assumptions that everyone is making, and I am going to attempt to clarify here as much as possible.
Just on a purely logical point, the connection between the Romney campaign and the redistricting is a complete fallacy. It makes as much sense as if Manjarres had interviewed Weatherford about his favorite movie, and then people started saying that the Florida Legislature had passed a bill declaring that movie the official movie of the state of Florida.
Weatherford is not the Romney campaign "spokesman." Let's start with the easy stuff: Will Weatherford has endorsed Mitt Romney for president and is an enthusiastic supporter. Weatherford was there in the spin room after the Jacksonville debate as a Romney supporter. I called and spoke with Weatherford earlier today and he confirmed that he is not any sort of "official spokesman" for the campaign. I've been in the spin room role before; you are just supposed to give some positive sound bites for your candidate, not get into the weeds on policy debates.
As many of you are aware, state legislators who support presidential candidates can fill a wide variety of roles, some with more significance than others. My intention is not to demean Weatherford's role or the value of his endorsement, but the reality is that he is simply not the leader of Romney's Florida efforts.
Second, many of the people commenting on the situation are not from Florida or seem to be unaware (willfully or otherwise) about how our redistricting process works. For sake of brevity, I'll skip getting too far into the details, but on the 2010 ballot, Amendment 6 changed how our legislature draws Congressional districts.
There are two competing requirements for drawing the district lines: First, we are still required to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and there are also certain requirements that relate to majority-minority districts. Second, the districts are supposed to be compact and incorporate city and county borders wherever possible. Added to this mix is a prohibition on taking action that would benefit any incumbent.
Due to population gains, Florida has two new Congressional seats. So that means that all of the seats are geographically smaller. Plus, the area of southeast Florida in which West's district is stacked with Democrats. It is completely impossible to draw a compact district down there without including a lot of Democrats, especially with the smaller area that the newer districts encompass. Add in the majority Hispanic district that must be drawn in that district, and there unfortunately just are not a lot of places for West's district to pick up Republicans.
It's a lousy situation. Jimmy Buffett sings, "fins to the left, fins to the right," and Allen West is stuck in a part of the state where he is similarly surrounded by Democrats. I've looked over the maps myself and there simply are not a lot of options. Representative Tom Rooney's district is facing the same kind of challenge. (The long-term solution, my friends, is to recruit and maintain more Republicans in South Florida!)
Finally, all of these stories blaming Romney are pointing fingers in the completely wrong direction. If there is any sort of conspiracy at work (which honestly I doubt, seriously, seriously doubt), it connects back to Gingrich supporters, not Romney.
While Weatherford may be head of one of the redistricting committees for the House, the Congressional maps in question come from the Senate. Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Senator Don Gaetz have several consultants who assisted them during the redistricting process, evaluating data, drafting maps, etc. According to a source I have in Tallahassee, several of the "most senior advisers" to Haridopolos and Gaetz, the ones who helped draw the maps, are also consulting on the Gingrich campaign.
Again, let me say I am highly skeptical that there is any sort of conspiracy at work. Allen West is well-liked by many Republicans statewide, and for good reason. He's a powerful speaker, a true conservative deep in his heart, and one heck of a fighter...all reasons why I am not really worried about him.
Also...I am hearing repeated rumors that there are still tweaks being suggested for these maps. The game is not yet over...stay tuned...
UPDATE: Representative Weatherford posted the following statement on his Facebook page:
Statement Regarding Redistricting and Congressman Allen West
As the House Chairman of Redistricting, I have the responsibility to ensure there is a fair, open, and legally compliant process. The newly approved constitutional amendments, passed by more than 60% of Florida voters, require the legislature to follow a set of standards. This is the first time the legislature has been required to follow these legal standards.
These new standards have resulted in disrupting the current districts for incumbents. The Tampa Bay Times stated that the House, Senate, and Congressional maps represent “a record-breaking shakeup in incumbency.” It has been reported that at least 38 members of the Florida legislature do not currently live in their district.
There are rumors that the Florida Legislature has targeted Congressman Allen West. This is patently false. I personally have supported and endorsed Allen West. I will continue to support this extraordinary member of Congress who has brought a much needed conservative voice to Washington, D.C.
However, my personal support cannot and will not trump the Constitution.