It’s a numbers game with real-life political consequences.
State Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has asked the state auditor general to randomly assign numbers to all 40 Senate districts Tuesday morning, as directed by Circuit Judge George Reynolds’ Dec. 30 redistricting decision
All 40 Senate seats will be up for election next fall for the second time in four years, an unprecedented consequence of Florida’s redistricting saga. Superstitious senators will be crossing their fingers and rubbing rabbits’ feet to get the numbers they’re seeking — and then they may be calling their favorite real estate agent as they pack their bags and head for friendlier political terrain.
Twenty Senate districts will be assigned odd numbers and 20 will be given even numbers. Senators who are assigned odd numbers would run for four-year terms in the fall and senators in even-numbered districts would run for two-year terms, followed by four-year terms in 2018 if they’re not termed out by then. Those “even” senators would potentially serve an additional two years for a total of 10 years, under the Florida system of electing senators to staggered terms.
No one in the Senate appears to have more at stake in the numbers game than Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who needs a winnable even-numbered district to fulfill his ambition to be Senate president in the 2020-22 cycle. Simpson’s “lucky number” on the court-approved remapping of districts is 18 (his current district number, and the number tentatively assigned to a new Pasco-Hillsborough Senate seat). If it doesn’t happen, Simpson will be termed out of office in 2020.
But Simpson’s been lucky before. He was first elected with no opponent in 2012 — a reapportionment and presidential election year in which 10 senators waltzed into office unopposed.
Like Simpson, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, was elected in 2012 from an even-numbered district (No. 24) and re-elected in 2014. But if Lee is assigned an odd-numbered district in Tuesday’s random drawing, he could face having to run for a four-year term in November and his career would end in 2020, two years earlier than planned had the courts had not thrown out the Senate’s redistricting plan as illegally gerrymandered.
Another lawmaker watching what happens closely is Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, elected in 2010 from an odd-numbered district. Under normal circumstances, she would have run for a four-year term in 2016, giving her a 10-year Senate career. But if she draws an even-numbered district from which to run next fall, she’ll serve for two more years and will be out of office in 2018.
This unique mid-cycle re-numbering system also promises to keep plenty of real estate agents busy, as senators (and some House members) will shift their official residences to new districts.
Although the Senate is moving ahead with assigning districts, it has not yet ruled out appealing the court’s redistricting decision, Gardiner told senators.
Auditor General Sherrill Norman will use a Microsoft Excel random number generation program to assign the numbers, and it will be conducted in a public meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room 412 of the Knott Building at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
Gardiner’s office said the entire proceeding should take only a couple minutes, but the political fallout will last for years, until the next redistricting year in 2022.