Arthenia Joyner's bay-crossing Senate seat at heart of districting mess
Tampa Bay area state Senate districts are at the heart of the legal battle over the new state Senate district map, and the outcome could substantially shake up politics in the area.
There are strong indications courts could throw out the districting plan passed by the Senate this week — even if the House approves it, which looks questionable — in part because of the configuration of the Tampa-based "minority access" District 19, currently held by Democrat Arthenia Joyner.
With Joyner retiring, altering her district could set off a welter of falling political dominos, affecting the careers of Reps. Janet Cruz, Ed Narain and Betty Reed of Tampa, and Darryl Rousson of St. Petersburg, among others.
Rousson and Reed are currently filed to run for Joyner's seat. But if it doesn't extend into Pinellas, Rousson says he'll stay out of the district.
Narain and Cruz could consider running in the new district, depending on its makeup.
Those changes, in turn, could affect other legislative and local races.
The legal question: Is it necessary to extend District 19 across Tampa Bay into Pinellas to find enough black voters to create a district that can elect a black state senator?
Putting those black Pinellas voters into the Hillsborough district makes Pinellas-based District 22 safe for Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.
A judge in the lawsuit over Florida's congressional districts has already thrown out a congressional map in part because of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor's bay-crossing district, which "bleaches" neighboring GOP districts.
But ignoring that precedent — and over objections from Republican senators including Tom Lee of Brandon and Jack Latvala of Clearwater — the Senate map passed this week extends D19 across the bay.
The Senate used voter data from 2010 to build its map. With current data, the district wouldn't have to cross the bay, said Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens, who unsuccessfully proposed an alternative.
Clemens contended Republicans purposely stuck with the outdated numbers to achieve their political goal.
"One could look at the data and come to that conclusion," said David King, attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are working on a map based on the newer data, probably including a minority district that doesn't cross water, King said. They hope to have it ready for the House to consider next week.