TALLAHASSEE — Behind the scenes, Senate Republicans have found a way to protect one of their own — but it could be at Pinellas County's expense.
In the court-ordered redrawing of Senate districts for upcoming elections, the odd man out is Sen. John Legg of Pasco County, drawn into a district with fellow Sen. Wilton Simpson, who's in line to be Senate president in 2020.
Legg confirmed that he won't run against Simpson, but a new political path emerged for him: He could leave the Senate next November, wait two years, and run for another seat that will be open in 2018. The seat is held by Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, who must leave in 2018 because of term limits.
Legg would have support of a key Senate Republican.
"I will support him in my official capacity," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is in line to be Senate president in 2018 and will control fundraising in all Senate races that year. A mere nod from Galvano would send hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to Legg's campaign.
The redrawn district includes North Pinellas and part of Pasco. Two-thirds of the district's voters live in Pinellas, including Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. The Pasco portion, largely along U.S. 19, includes New Port Richey, Port Richey, Holiday and Hudson.
Galvano said his support for Legg was not a deal in return for Legg's decision to not challenge Simpson.
"There's not, in my opinion, a quid pro quo," Galvano said. "He has other options."
Legg said he will take time to make a decision and noted that the new districts aren't final because the Senate can appeal a court ruling.
"You never make a permanent decision based on temporary circumstances," Legg said.
Legg, 40, is an education policy wonk with deep roots in Pasco. One of his closest allies there, Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, said Legg faces big obstacles in trying to win in a Pinellas-based district, and that voters won't like it when they find out senators are trying to choose Latvala's successor.
"People are tired of Tallahassee politicians deciding who's going to represent them. And who decided it? People who don't even live in the county."
Galvano said Legg's location is second to his ability.
"That's what happens when maps change," Galvano said. "I think the competence of the member overcomes their geographical location."
Latvala said it's too early to chart Legg's future. He did not say whether Legg's candidacy for a Pinellas seat was a good idea.
"I don't believe he's made any announcement about what he's doing," Latvala said. "It's a long time until 2018."
Times/Herald staff writer Michael Auslen contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.