Nov. 4, 2015 — Three-term Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL-11), the former Hernando County Sheriff, surprisingly announced Monday that he will not seek re-election next year, making this the 26th open seat for the 2016 election cycle.
Nugent cited the long absences from his family and a lesser desire to serve as chief reasons for retiring after a short stint in the House. According to his announcement release the congressman stated, “we care deeply about shrinking the size and scope of government; we care deeply about restoring America’s place in the world. We’ll get somebody new with real fire in the belly who shares our beliefs and is ready to give it a shot in Washington.”
Nugent’s tenure in office was not without controversy. A former member of the House Rules Committee, the congressman was relieved of his post when he voted for fellow Florida Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL-10) in the early 2015 Speaker’s election. In response, then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-8) quickly removed both men as members of the partisan rules body.
His first election to the House raised eyebrows as well. When Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL-5) retired in 2010, she did so just as the filing deadline expired, thereby giving then-Sheriff Nugent the only inside track to the seat. He was the one potential major candidate who was given pre-announcement notice of the impending vacancy, and took full advantage of the lack of competition for the open House seat.
The Central Florida 11th District stretches from Ocala and The Villages communities in the northeast, west to the Gulf of Mexico, and then south as far as Spring Hill. The relatively compact seat is safely Republican and did not experience much change as it relates to the proposed congressional re-districting map that currently sits before the sate Supreme Court.
It is in this area that Nugent may have tipped his hand too early. The proposed redistricting plan makes only cosmetic changes to his CD and leaves it intact as a core Republican seat. But, the plan is not yet final, and seeing that they have another open seat to work with, it is conceivable the court could still change the boundaries to provide a better geographic flow and benefit the Democrats. The seat sits between Rep. Corinne Brown’s (D-FL-5) Jacksonville-Gainesville-Sanford-Orlando district and representatives David Jolly (R-FL-13) and Kathy Castor’s (D-FL-14) CDs, both in the Tampa Bay region. All of these districts were declared illegal, and the Nugent seat is certainly close enough to all of them to make further late changes plausible.
FL-11 now becomes the fifth open seat just in the Sunshine State. Nugent joins representatives Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), Alan Grayson (D-FL-9), David Jolly (R-FL-13), and Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) as members who will not be returning to Congress as House members after the next election. DeSantis, Grayson and Murphy are all running for the Senate.
It is also possible that Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL-2), who the redistricting plan displaced from her 2nd District in the northern Florida Panhandle, will also join the list of House members not seeking re-election. She may enter the Senate race, challenge fellow Democratic Rep. Corinne Brown for the newly constituted 5th District that now will encompass the city of Tallahassee, which is Graham’s political base, or skip an election and run for a statewide post in 2018. The congresswoman says she will decide her 2016 political plans once the new congressional lines become final.