- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A top Senate Republican testified Wednesday that he did not push a new map for state senate districts with the aim of aiding incumbents or fellow GOP legislators.

Sen. Bill Galvano, who is in line to become Senate president in 2018 if the Republicans maintain control, spent more than two hours on the witness stand defending his role as the lead senator responsible for crafting a new state Senate map.

Galvano’s testimony was the high point of a trial that could result in the Senate swinging away from GOP control after more than two decades. Circuit Judge George Reynolds is being asked to decide the boundaries for new districts after the Senate admitted in court filings that it had violated the state’s constitution when drawing the existing lines.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 requiring compact political districts that aren’t drawn to benefit parties or incumbents. Voting rights groups sued in 2012 over maps drawn for both congressional seats and the state Senate that has resulted in a drawn out legal battle. The state Supreme Court threw out the congressional districts earlier this year and has already adopted a new map for those 27 seats.

The Florida Legislature was supposed to draw a new state senate map during a special session this fall, but the House and Senate deadlocked over which map to approve. Since the Legislature did not approve a new map, attorneys are asking the court to sign off on a proposal approved by Galvano after the session ended.

Galvano and the Senate recommended to Reynolds new boundaries that would preserve Republican control, while voting rights groups have come up with a rival proposal that could shift the Senate to Democrats.

Galvano, who is also the Senate’s majority leader, insisted that he did not know the political performance of the map before presenting it to the court. He said he was unaware that his map - unlike proposals also considered during the recent session - did not pit GOP incumbent senators against each other in the same district.

“That is not the way we approached it,” Galvano testified. “There was no instructions whatsoever that you even should find out where people live. In fact I went to great lengths to avoid even having those types of conservations. There was a lot at stake and we want to have a constitutional map.”

Attorney David King, who represents the League of Women Voters of Florida, sounded skeptical as he asked Galvano whether it was a “total accident, coincidence, happenstance” that he picked the map that did the best for Republicans.

“You can characterize it however you would like to characterize it,” Galvano retorted.

After Galvano testified, however, the Senate was able to present its own evidence to assert the voting rights groups are pushing proposals to aid Democrats.

They were able to enter 2011 emails into evidence that showed a company used by the groups discussed creating additional Democratic seats. Coalition lawyers have insisted that they did not use these standards when they drew up the rival map they presented to the judge this year.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up on Thursday, but Reynolds is not expected to rule right away on the case.

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