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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

By chance, Senate renumbers all 40 districts for 2016 election

5

January

The Florida Senate on Tuesday renumbered all 40 of its districts to comply with a judge's order, and in doing so set in motion a political game of musical chairs and kept alive the goal of a Pasco politician to be Senate president in 2020.

But Sen. Wilton Simpson's path to the the presidency also got more complicated. The wealthy Pasco egg farmer will have to either face a fellow GOP senator, John Legg, or move south and build a new political base in parts of two other counties, an area that includes a large swath of the east Hillsborough political base of Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon.

The Senate enlisted the state auditor general's office to randomly sort the 40 districts into two groups of 20 even-numbered and 20 odd-numbered districts. The districts had been given temporary numbers on a map approved by Circuit Judge George Reynolds III that had been drawn by the League of Women Voters. In the Senate's largest committee room, normally used for budget meetings, Senate staff members then assigned new numbers to all 40 districts, and those numbers, for now at least, will be in place until the next redistricting in 2022.

But legal action is not yet final. The Senate has 30 days to seek a rehearing before Reynolds or to appeal his decision to the Florida Supreme Court. But the Legislature has faced one legal defeat after another as a result of a redistricting process that courts said was tainted by violations of anti-gerrymandering provisions in the Constitution.

Purely by chance, the last of the 20 even-numbered districts that was assigned an even number had been tentatively numbered District 18. It was renumbered as District 10 and could play an important role in shaping the future of senatorial politics in the Tampa Bay region for years to come.

Legg, 40, a native of Brooksville and a popular fixture in Pasco politics, immediately said he would run for the new District 10, which includes parts of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

"It's kind of my old stomping grounds, where I grew up," Legg told the Times/Herald within minutes of the renumbering system being approved.

Legg's quick declaration means that Simpson would likely have to run against Legg in that district — setting up a costly and potentially divisive primary — or move southeast to the new District 20, which includes portions of Pasco, Hillsborough and Polk counties, where Lee plans to run. Lee, a former Senate president, controls a political committee that raised $1.5 million in 2015, the third most of any senator.

Even before the long redistricting controversy that led to Tuesday's renumbering, the Senate was entering an unusually turbulent period, with up to 14 of its 40 members either forced out of office by term limits or leaving to run for other public offices. The arcane renumbering will only add more intrigue to an already unpredictable political year.

Jeremy Wallace of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2016 1:16pm]

    

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