Renumbering state Senate districts triggers political scramble [1-11-16]

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Jeremy Wallace

Published January 8, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — It may sound like a simple process, but the Florida Senate’s random renumbering of all its districts statewide Tuesday touched off a series of complicated twists that one key lawmaker said only adds more chaos to a continuing redistricting saga.

Among the impacts:

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, appear no closer to figuring out who is running for what district in South Florida where both have been drawn into the same district. Bullard said he and Flores will have to engage in some “diplomacy” to see if they can avoid a showdown at the ballot box in November.

Within hours of the numbers being announced, House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, confirmed she’ll run for a new Senate district that some Democrats are pushing Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, to run in. President Barack Obama narrowly won the district over Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, confirmed he will move north to run in another new state Senate district that has no incumbent now and includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties. That means Lee won’t challenge Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, for another district farther south that includes large portions of the district Lee now represents in east Hillsborough.

The renumbering is just the latest step in the Florida Legislature’s three-year effort to redraw its Senate districts after previous attempts were declared unconstitutional. Last week Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds III approved a new redistricting map but ordered the Senate to randomly number the districts, as it did Tuesday.

All 40 Senate districts are up for reelection because of redistricting, but those districts assigned odd numbers get four-year terms, while even numbered districts get two-year terms that would require senators to run again in 2018 to get a full four-year term.

The numbers also affect which senators ultimately get to serve for eight years versus getting an extra two years that could allow them to serve up to 10 years.

Lee, a former Senate president, is not letting moving get in his way toward re-election. Lee said given that his current Senate district was split nearly in half along State Road 60 in Brandon, he had to make a choice: move to run against Galvano in a district that favors Galvano, or move north into the new District 20, which includes northeastern Hillsborough, southeast Pasco and some of Polk county.

“It’s clear the right thing for me to do is remain in the Senate and run in District 20,” Lee said.

In South Florida, the renumbering did little to solve one of the biggest questions in Miami-Dade. State Sens. Flores, R-Miami, and Bullard, D-Miami, were drawn into the same Senate District 40. The winner of that district now will get a two-year term.

Bullard, first elected in 2012, said he’s not sure if the numbering changes anything in helping him decide if he will run against Flores, first elected in 2010, or in a neighboring district. He said his goal this week is to talk to Flores to “see if a little diplomacy can be utilized” and a general election war can be avoided.

For Flores, the district could be a problem given Obama carried the district with nearly 55 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 45 percent.

Back in Tampa, a big general election battle may be brewing in Young’s decision to run for the newly numbered Senate District 18, which includes South Tampa, Westchase and Town N’ Country. Last week Young said she was seriously considering it, but was more definitive Tuesday.

“The only box left to check is for the Supreme Court to sign off,” Young said. “But assuming they do so, then I will run for the seat.”

Young could have company in the race as Democrats push State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, to run for the seat because Obama narrowly won the area in 2012.

Bullard said the numbering and redistricting is creating some tension, but admitted there is going to be a lot of good political theater in the coming months.

“It’s definitely going to make for an interesting summer,” Bullard said.