by Susan Bottcher
In 2010 more than 60 percent of Floridians voted for two constitutional amendments that would require the end of gerrymandering. We sent a clear message to Tallahassee that We The People should chose our elected representatives, not the other way around where entrenched politicians pick their voters.
The Republican legislature ignored and disrespected the will of The People. Instead they used their political operatives to draw and submit illegal maps that they then embraced and passed into law. We are fortunate to have three organizations, Fair Districts Now, the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, who filed lawsuits to prevent the illegal maps from being implemented.
As those lawsuits have made their way through the courts corruption has been revealed. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis said the work by the political operatives had “the taint of unconstitutional intent.” Republican legislators were scolded by the courts for acting far outside the Sunshine—deleting emails and other communications between them, their staff and the operatives they worked with. An editorial in the Bradenton Herald called it all a deception with “paranoid secrecy in the operation.” Last month the state senate admitted the senate maps were unconstitutional and promised (but has yet to deliver) to redraw them in accordance with the law.
The political operatives subpoenaed and named in court documents are residents of the Gainesville area and have a deep history of political activism here. It starts with Pat Bainter, owner of local Republican political polling and consulting firm Data Targeting. Then there’s Bainter’s right hand man Stafford Jones, chair of the Alachua County Republican Party. Employees from Jones’ other enterprise, Electioneering Consulting, were named in court documents as well. Jones also manages nearly three dozen conservative Political Committees in Florida controlling approximately $30 million. Another operative is Alex Patton who owns Ozean Media, a political consulting and marketing firm. Patton and Jones co-founded a political polling company called War Room Logistics.
Together with all these resources (which includes the Florida GOP) they are a powerful political beast with tentacles throughout the state. They have all the necessary components to successfully buy and sell politicians, influence public policy and mask their activities so you and I can’t see what’s happening. They are masters at obscuring the truth, creating controversy and manufacturing crises.
Case in point: With staggering arrogance Jones just filed a case in federal court challenging the Fair Districts amendments as unconstitutional. One of the other “plaintiffs” named in their suit is an organization recently created by Jones called the Conservative Coalition for Free Speech and Association. The co-founders include Pat Bainter and one of his Data Targeting employees, Matt Mitchell. Their strategy is clear: obscure and distract the public by accusing your accusers of the very thing you are guilty of.
Stafford Jones and his associates claim their involvement in the redistricting scandal has been as ordinary citizens exercising their First Amendment right of free speech. Don’t buy that B.S. When you make your living running a multimillion dollar political enterprise that consults, orchestrates and finances campaigns, as they have done for years, you are not ordinary civilians.
Remember what Jon Stewart said in the final edition of The Daily Show: The best defense against the B.S. is vigilance.
The race for the Mayor’s seat is this coming March. Jones and the GOP cabal are desperate to keep their tea party mayor in office. They will do anything to win and it is up to us to call out and fight the B.S. Be vigilant. Be informed. Be involved.
And be sure to vote.