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New state Senate maps have candidates scrambling

As 2015 ended, news broke that could set off a scramble among Tampa Bay area officeholders and candidates: a judge's decision on new maps for state Senate districts.

A dozen or more politicos and hopefuls have been hovering in uncertainty about what offices to run for and where, depending on where the Senate district lines end up.

The maps still may not be final – there could be an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. But interested parties are now scrutinizing the new maps, some questioning whether to try for a Senate seat and some wondering if a tempting state House, county commission or even city council seat will be left open by someone else who runs for the Senate.

Here's a speculative look at some situations that could develop as the dominos start to fall:

Flashpoint in East Hillsborough

Local Republicans could come into conflict over a new district covering the area where the corners of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties meet, including Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, Sen. Wilton Simpson of Trilby and Rep. Shawn Harrison of New Tampa.

Lee, one of Hillsborough's most powerful officeholders, now represents all of East Hillsborough. But the new map extends the district of another Senate leader, Bill Galvano of Bradenton, northward into Hillsborough, putting the two in the same district.

Lee says his current intention is to stay in the Senate representing East Hillsborough. He wouldn't speculate about a primary against Galvano, which likely would be a multi-million dollar donnybrook, and said he could easily move within the county if necessary. He also hinted there are other possibilities without specifying them. In the past, he hasn't ruled out a county commission race.

Meanwhile, Harrison faces a tough re-election in his House district, which leans Democratic in presidential years, and may look at a Senate race as an escape route. However, the new map puts him into the Hillsborough-Pasco-Polk district, the same one Lee might move into.

But that district could also be an escape route for Simpson, whom the new map puts into the same district with Sen. John Legg, R-New Port Richey.

Possible fight in South Tampa

The map presents Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, with what she called "a beautiful opportunity" -- a Senate district that includes her South Tampa base, where she is politically dominant. Young said she's seriously interested in running in the district if the map holds up.

But she could face a strong opponent in Rep. Janet Cruz, whose political base also is within the district.

Cruz has been telling friends recently that she intends to stay in the House and concentrate on her post as minority leader, raising campaign cash for other House Dems. But her daughter, Democratic political consultant Ana Cruz, said Thursday that since the maps appeared, influential Democrats have been trying to talk her mother into the race, and she's not ruling it out.

With a heavy concentration of minority voters in Town 'N' Country, "It's a great seat for a Democrat, particularly a Hispanic," and includes all of Cruz's current House district, Ana Cruz said.

No help for Narain

Democratic Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa has been interested in the minority-access Senate seat based in Tampa, now held by term-limited Arthenia Joyner, but the new map didn't configure the district as he wanted – it still crosses the bay to take in part of southern St. Petersburg. That means Narain would face a primary against state Rep. Darryl Rousson, who has already filed, along with Tampa state Rep. Betty Reed.

County commission repercussions

Insiders have speculated that Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a former legislator who faces a primary opponent and opposition from some tea partiers in her commission seat, could look to the Senate.

In an interview, Murman was skeptical about that but didn't rule it out. "I never rule anything out," she said.

But if that happened, she would also look at the South Tampa-based Senate seat, and Murman said she's friends with Young and not eager to run against her.

If Murman did leave her District 1 county commission seat open to run for the Senate – or even if she didn't – some local Dems hope for a serious challenger there.

Former Plant City Mayor John Dicks is considering entering the already-crowded, countywide District 6 Democratic primary, and has been asked about challenging Murman instead.

Dicks said that's a good idea for some other Democrat, but not him – he said he's the only Democrat who can get votes in East Hillsborough, the Democrats' weak spot in a countywide race. "I have heard others may be considering it, but not me," he said.

Bylaw interferes with Democrats' plan to replace party chairman

The plan by Hillsborough County Democrats to replace Elizabeth Belcher with Mark Hanisee as chairman has hit a snag because of a state party bylaw nobody knew about.

Hanisee, former Pinellas County party chairman, was expected to replace Belcher, who resigned as Hillsborough chair last month. Hanisee was to become a member of the local executive committee at the Jan. 11 meeting, then run for chairman. Only committee members can run for party offices.

However, said first vice chair Ione Townsend, the party bylaws say when a chairman steps down, executive committee membership is frozen until the next election of officers, so membership rolls can't be padded for the election.

Townsend said she'll run for chairman, and Hanisee said she's the frontrunner. Alvin Wolfe and Michael Newett are also running.

Hanisee said he'll remain in his role as executive director of the party, devoted mainly to fundraising.

New state Senate maps have candidates scrambling 12/31/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2015 5:16pm]
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