Statewide Stalemate, Local Consequences

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Pictured: House-approved plan for Congressional district lines, splitting Sarasota County into two districts.

A statewide struggle about the shape of Florida’s Congressional districts could have immediare consequences on the Gulf Coast, and that’s before another expected battle regarding state Senate districts has even begun. 

When a special session to address a court ruling on Florida’s redistricting methods came to an abrupt halt on Friday, no consensus had been reached about where political boundaries would be in the 2016 elections. The state House passed a “base line” map that held to boundaries drafted by staff for the House and Senate, while the state Senate made a few changes, notably choosing to leave U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s Sarasota-based district largely intact instead of the proposal to move Buchanan’s northern boundaries northward and putting south Sarasota County into a district now represented by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney. Buchanan, co-chair of Florida’s Congressional delegation, has stated he wants Sarasota County to stay united within a single district.

The stalemate between the House and Senate surprised most political observers in the region. New College associate professor Frank Alcock said he felt certain lawmakers would not end the session without coming up with a consensus map. “I wasn’t sure which map would pass,” he said, “but I was sure they would pick one and no go back home mad at one another.” But in hindsight, the acrimony between the chambers was evident, he said. The regular session this year was adjourned early by the House amid budget disagreements, and senators abruptly closed shop this time with a map still in doubt.

And observers around the state note this dispute sets an ugly stage for another expected session in October, when the topic will be redistricting the state Senate map, an important document for the political prospects of senators seeking re-election and representatives looking for a promotion. “If you thought Congressional redistricting was problematic, Senate redistricting will be even more problematic,” said state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton. His own future hinges on that process. Steube right now is expected to seek state Sen. Nancy Detert’s Senate seat should she resign as anticipated to run for Sarasota County Commission. But that could change if Steube, who lives in northeast Sarasota County, no longer lives in the district. “I will continue to campaign and fundraise there is a 50/50 shot that I’m in a Senate district where I can run or if I run as an incumbent,” he said. Meanwhile, Republican Party of Sarasota chairman Joe Gruters has raised more than $100,000 to run to succeed Steube should Steube run for Senate.

The process now falls to the Florida Supreme Court, which could look at the Senate and House maps and make a call, or it could completely redraw a map without any input from the Florida Legislature. “This is the first time in history we are dealing with this scenario, mainly because of the redistricting amendment,” said Steube. “This is uncharted territory for all three branches of government.”

Pictured: House-approved plan for Congressional district lines, splitting Sarasota County into two districts.

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