Mapmaking Holds Key to Siesta Key's Future

Under The Hood

A divided Sarasota County Legislative Delegation shot down any chance of a bill advancing this year to incorporate Siesta Key. But while legislation may be dead for 2022, I can’t help but wonder if the popular-on-the-island issue will deliver huge political consequences in 2022.

A big part of that will depend on how the once-a-decade redistricting process plays out. Sarasota's delegation, based on published maps so far, will likely shrink from six members to five when everything shakes out. But whether an incorporation plan will have a better shot in 2023 depends a lot on what happens in the legislative session, which starts Tuesday.

For starters, Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton and maybe the most vocal critic of incorporation, likely won't represent Sarasota next year. He chairs the delegation now, and while I don’t think he abused the gavel when incorporation died this week, he certainly had a microphone to voice his fiscal concerns. Then again, Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, D-St. Petersburg and a yes vote, also has a district that extends to Sarasota now but likely won’t after redistricting. Besides, she’s running for Congress in Pinellas County. Either way, their votes cancel one another under any scenario. 

A greater wild card, the district represented now and likely next year by Rep. Mike Grant, R-Port Charlotte, extends north into Sarasota County on all drafts. That’s a whole new delegation member Siesta Key leaders have to lobby for support.

But most fascinating is what happens with the other no votes already seated at the table. Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota and a no vote, could well end up in the same district as fellow incorporation skeptic Rep. James Buchanan, R-Venice. If that happens, only one person comes out of a primary, and that means only one of three no votes on the legislation this year has any say on the next draft.

Or Buchanan could end up in the same district as Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota. She sponsored the Siesta Key local bill, and if she loses her seat, her work goes with her. Personally, I think if she ends up in a district with Buchanan, she would move into a Sarasota district, even a closely divided one, and take her chances against whatever Democrat can be recruited in a red year, but if said Democrat wins anyway, you have another new member. 

Of note, this scenario, based on current drafts, involves Siesta Key being split between two districts.

Who knows what Gregory does with all this going on. The draft seat most analogous to his own appears like it will become a Manatee County-only jurisdiction. Most think it’s unlikely he will move, especially if Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh runs for state House there, as she told me she intends to do if maps stay the way the look now. She would have zero say on Siesta Key, but her decisions could affect Gregory’s.

With all this mess going on, there may even be the possibility one of the Representatives opposed to incorporation challenges Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, a supporter of the bill.

There’s a lot of what ifs here, and the political picture won’t clear up until new maps come out of the Florida Legislature.

But it seems pretty clear to me there will be contests where the position politicians hold on Siesta Key became major points of disagreement in Republican primaries, and maybe even in general election match-ups. 

Already, Martin Hyde, a primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, has started criticizing him in proxy for James Buchanan’s vote. “Clearly both Father and Son believe their judgment more important than that of their constituents,” Hyde wrote in a Facebook post.

All this shows the potency of the legislation as a campaign issue. Judging from surveys and meeting attendance, thousands of residents of Siesta Key strongly favor forming a city, and few feel concerned enough to speak out against it. If nothing else, there’s a huge bundle of voters who feel energized during an election year— or worse, scorned. It’s really no coincidence Gruters and McFarland, the lawmakers who actually represent the community, proved easy yes votes. 

The outcome of races in 2022 will determine if Save Siesta Key is in a better position to get now just three votes for a majority, or whether the plan is doomed until another generation of lawmakers arrives.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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