Crist for Congress?

July 14, 2015 — The Florida Supreme Court barely had time to announce their decision declaring eight of the state’s congressional districts illegal before the political musical chairs began vibrating.

On Thursday, the high court declared that Rep. David Jolly’s (R) Pinellas County seat, among others, is in violation of the state’s 2010 voter-passed redistricting initiative, which put limits on partisan map drawing. Former governor, Charlie Crist, a Pinellas County resident who has either lost races or was headed for defeat in both the Republican and Democratic parties, and even as an Independent, is reportedly considering running for Congress should the Tampa Bay re-draw favor the Dems. Rep. Kathy Castor’s (D-Tampa) 14th District, that encompasses the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, was also invalidated.

The court returned the map to the legislature with orders to re-construct eight districts from around the state, four Republican-held seats and four Democratic. The number of additional tangentially affected districts could mean that virtually the entire state will be redrawn within the next 100 days. Since the map is headed back to the legislature, majority Republicans will again have the redistricting pen, but the new final product must be submitted to the judiciary for approval. The new plan will take effect for the 2016 elections.

Rep. Jolly’s FL-13, originally drawn for the late Rep. Bill Young (R), is already a marginal seat. It is fully contained within Pinellas County but does not include the anchor city of St. Petersburg. This municipality, with its Democratic voting history, is attached to District 14 across the Bay, which also contains the city of Tampa. President Obama carried this district twice, by a bare 50-49 percent margin in 2012, and a 51-48 percent spread four years earlier. Since both CDs 13 and 14 were found to violate the 2010 initiative criteria, the entire Tampa Bay region will more than likely be re-shaped.

Crist is no sure candidate. His decision whether to run obviously depends upon how the new district boundaries are re-drawn. After losses in the last Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, the former governor is reportedly looking for a politically secure seat in which to run before he again ventures forward. With his high negatives and losing record of late, it is doubtful that either Republican or Democratic incumbents, or potential contenders from either party, will immediately back away because of his presence.

Should the 13th become any more Democratic, which is likely if a portion of St. Petersburg is added, Rep. Jolly may become seriously threatened. If the new district is too inhospitable, he could still jump into the open Senate race. Mentioned as a potential statewide candidate, Rep. Jolly has not yet closed the door on a Senate run but he has done little in the way of preparing. Should the core of his current district evaporate, he would still be in a position to change races.

Though the redistricting development has generally been viewed as being negative toward Republicans since they hold 17 of the 27 congressional districts, a key element is being overlooked that greatly helps those GOP state legislators charged with re-configuring the map. With representatives Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) and Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) leaving central Florida CDs to run for Senate, such open districts bordering seats that must be changed could alter the redistricting process and greatly aid the Republicans in holding onto the maximum number of seats.

Striking down the 13th under partisan grounds is a bit of a surprise since both parties have scored victories here since the seat was drawn. Seeing St. Petersburg split away from District 13 should not be a particularly strong issue either, since Pinellas County, with a population of more than 938,000, is larger than a congressional district and cannot be fully contained within one.

Ironically, one other redistricting initiative plank demanded that counties be kept whole with the exception of when population constraints force a split. The 13th and District 27 in Miami-Dade County (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R) are the only two districts fully contained within a county, thus suggesting tight spheres of community interest, yet were two of the eight subsequently declared illegal.

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