Renumbering state Senate districts triggers political scramble

Published Jan. 6, 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:

• Pasco County's chances of having its first ever Florida Senate president improved, when state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, gained an even-numbered district. But a new obstacle emerged when Sen. John Legg, a Republican from Trinity, announced he's running for the same seat.

• 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 hours later 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 further south that includes large portions of the district Lee now represents in east Hillsborough. And he said though he has been encouraged to run for a Hillsborough County Commission seat, he's aiming instead at staying in the Senate.

• And 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.

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

All 40 Senate districts are up for re-election 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.

Simpson had arguably the most to lose or gain on Tuesday when the randomized numbering got under way. In order to have any chance to still be in line to be Senate president in 2021, Simpson needed to be in an even-numbered district. If he drew an odd number, Simpson, first elected in 2012, would have received a four-year term if he won his re-election, but be barred from running for re-election for the 2021 session because he would have served eight years. But by drawing an even number in what is now District 10, Simpson could run for re-election this year for a two-year term. Then he could run in 2018 for a four year term that would give him the time to become Senate president.

While that was resolved when his would-be Pasco district drew the number 10, Simpson has a new obstacle in his path. Legg said last week he would not have run against Simpson if it would have been his only option for the Senate presidency. But Legg said the renumbering created two other even-numbered districts within just a few miles of Simpson's northeastern Pasco farm. Legg said Simpson can move and run for one of those seats, and he is freed to run for the new District 10 seat.

"Our decision is to run for the district I live in," Legg said Tuesday, even though it could put him on a collision course with Simpson.

Simpson said the idea of him moving is "nonsense."

He said on Tuesday he has no intention of leaving the home and farm he has lived in for 40 years to avoid a primary for a Senate district. Simpson said he and his father literally helped build their Trilby home, and he's not moving away for a Senate seat when he already lives in a district that seems suited for him.

If neither blinks, they could be headed for a GOP primary brawl in a mere seven months that would have the future Senate presidency hanging in the balance.

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 Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, 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. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Dwight 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 that 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.

Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Michael Auslen contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Wallace at or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.