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By Gray Rohrer, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers adjourned their special session Friday without drawing new congressional districts, a breakdown between the Republican-led House and Senate that likely will leave the task to the courts.

Democrats immediately slammed GOP leaders for the dysfunction and costs, including the $8.1 million in legal fees spent defending the original congressional maps thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court.

Democratic Rep. Janet Cruz estimated the cost of the session at $2 million. “When are we going to stop wasting taxpayer money?” Cruz asked.

According to state officials, special sessions have averaged a cost of $156,411 during the past 14 years, but most of those were only for a few days. The final cost of the latest two-week session hasn’t been tabulated.

Lawmakers already held a three-week special session in June to resolve a budget dispute between the House and Senate. They will head to Tallahassee again in October for an extra three-week session to redraw state Senate districts.

On Friday, GOP House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the Senate’s district plan would not be approved by the courts.

“It is without malice toward the Florida Senate that I say I believe their map was flawed,” Crisafulli said.

Although lawmakers have until Tuesday to draw new maps, the meltdown means the courts will likely be forced to draw the 27 districts. Florida Gov. Rick Scott could step in, but a spokeswoman said he would not call lawmakers back into special session to try to force a compromise.

Things deteriorated Friday as each chamber refused to accede to the other’s plan. The dispute culminated in Sen. Bill Galvano, a Republican and lead Senate redistricting negotiator, abruptly walking out of a joint meeting with his House counterpart, GOP Rep. Jose Oliva, before it was adjourned, a serious breach of protocol.

“I think that that probably speaks to the nature that this has taken,” Oliva said after Galvano walked away frustrated because Oliva repeatedly rejected his pleas to begin formal negotiations to resolve their differences.

Galvano was upset at Oliva’s assertion that the Senate’s redistricting plan would be seen by the courts as favoring GOP Sen. Tom Lee.

Lee amended a map drawn by legislative staffers earlier in the week that would keep his area of eastern Hillsborough County within District 15. In the base map preferred by the House, that district stretched into southern Lake County.

“We’re not going to not do an amendment because a member is from a certain region,” Galvano said.

The special session was called by Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner, a Republican, after the state Supreme Court threw out the previous maps in July. The court ruled GOP operatives used members of the public as proxies to submit maps favoring the Republican Party, in violation of the Fair Districts amendments approved by voters.

Central Florida’s voters were at the heart of the dispute between the chambers. In the House’s map, District 10 is kept entirely within western Orange County, but in the Senate version it is pushed into Lake County, giving up Latino voters in Orange County to District 9.

Latino lawmakers in Central Florida — Republicans and Democrats alike — favored the Senate plan because it kept more Hispanic voters in District 9, creating a larger voting bloc for Hispanics.

Even if state courts draw the congressional districts, federal courts could have the final say.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Florida) is suing to stop her District 5 seat, which snakes down from Jacksonville into Orlando, from being redrawn to a Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville district. The Florida Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to redraw the district from east to west instead of north to south.

Democrats, far in the minority in both chambers, took the opportunity to criticize the leadership, especially given the Legislature’s inability to pass a budget in the regular session.

“Don’t forget we were here last month, not for the maps but because of their ineptitude. I mean, it’s the summer of ineptitude at this point,” said Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne, who has filed a bill to set up an independent commission to draw new districts.

Photo: Florida State Capitol, Matt Spence via Flickr


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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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