Redistricting, retirements and runs for higher office will reshape Florida’s congressional delegation in a big way in 2016 – sapping some of its Capitol clout and possibly sending more Democrats from the state to Washington.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham’s recent decision not to seek re-election brought to eight the number of Florida members of Congress leaving office when their terms expire in January.
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In a 27-member delegation, Florida’s turnover rate is considered highest in the nation.
“No single factor can account for it, but we haven’t seen anything like this for a long time,” said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.
While no more Florida incumbents are expected to announce they’re not running, candidate qualifying for federal offices, as well as state and local ones, isn’t until June 20-24.
Plus this year’s elections could still send some more packing.
Florida is part of a larger trend. More than 40 members of the U.S. House are leaving this year – about two-thirds of them Republicans, despite that party’s solid control of the chamber. In Florida, five of the eight U.S. representatives leaving office are Republican.
And those don’t include Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is leaving the Senate after a failed presidential run.
A wide-open contest to replace him is underway, with four of the eight departing House members — two from each party — included among the dozen candidates. A Democratic victory could be key to that party reclaiming control of the Senate.
Republican U.S. Reps. David Jolly of Indian Shores and Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter are the four rolling the dice on the Senate run.
New congressional boundaries, the result of a legal battle that spanned three years, also is forcing many incumbents to face the prospect of running in more challenging districts.
Jolly, whose seat was converted into one that is Democratic-leaning, joined the crowded field seeking Rubio’s Senate seat rather than re-election.
Graham, the daughter of former Democratic Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, is just in her first term in Washington but she will step away from a Northwest Florida district that appears to favor a Republican since redistricting. She said she’ll consider running for governor in 2018.
In Central Florida, three-term Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Orlando is moving west to seek re-election after his 10th District was turned into one likely to elect a minority Democrat. Webster will seek the seat vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent of Spring Hill.
Along with Nugent, Republican U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville and Jeff Miller of Chumuckla also are retiring.
But those moving on take with them experience – and some level of seniority in a chamber where that’s key to deciding committee chairmanships and leadership perquisites.
Those departing the House from Florida include two members of the powerful Appropriations Committee, two on the Foreign Affairs panel and three on the Armed Services Committee in veteran-heavy Florida.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who, because of boundary changes, is switching districts with neighboring Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, said he still thinks the state will be able to make its case in Congress.
“It’s not just a question of how long you’re serving,” Deutch said. “It can be how many of you there are. Florida’s a big delegation that’s growing, adding members each time there is a Census. That helps us get noticed.”
Despite Congress’ widely criticized gridlock, Deutch said the state’s delegation has worked across party lines for success in Everglades work, securing community funding projects, and issues involving Israel.
Pamela Goodman, president of the Florida League of Women Voters, which spearheaded the years-long courtroom clash with the Republican-controlled Legislature over redistricting, said new boundaries better reflect the state’s partisan balance. That will make for more competitive races and should yield high-quality candidates, she said.
“It’s a pendulum,” Goodman, of Palm Beach Gardens, said about the turnover. “But I hope we get a better level of discourse that could make up for the loss of experience.”
Florida’s U.S. House delegation currently includes 10 Democrats and 17 Republicans. With five Republican and three Democratic incumbents leaving office, Democrats expect to narrow the Republican margin slightly, netting a seat or two.
Murphy’s 18th District comprising northern Palm Beach County and Martin and St. Lucie counties now is seen as a possible Republican pickup, although its partisan balance didn’t change much following the line-drawing.
Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist who tracks campaigns, graded the 18th District as a “toss-up,” along with the Miami-based 26th District where Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is running for re-election in Democratic-friendly boundaries.
While most view the new boundaries as set, Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review her reconfigured district – formerly stretching from her hometown of Jacksonville to Orlando and now stretching from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee.
She said the change unconstitutionally disenfranchises black voters. But there is no certainty that justices will hear the challenge, which a federal court recently rejected.
Brown has said that she is running for re-election in the redrawn 5th District. But along with facing new voters, further complications include her recently being named subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation.
“Sometimes redistricting has been called term limits by other means,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who closely followed the state’s long battle over line-drawing.
“In Florida this year, we may have a good example of that,” he said.