State Senate candidates scramble for seats as districts renumbered

Dan Sweeney | Sun Sentinel | 01/08/2016

The map is picked, the district numbers are in place, and now all of the incumbent and would-be state senators have to play a high-stakes game of musical chairs.

The 40 districts in the newly approved state Senate district map on Tuesday were randomly assigned odd and even numbers.

Every state Senate seat is up for grabs in the 2016 election, but the four-year terms are supposed to be staggered. So, this year, even-numbered seats will be represented for two years, while winners of odd-numbered seats will serve the full four years.

That means big changes for incumbent senators, who find themselves with new constituents, and it's left new candidates scrambling to figure out which district they're running in.

Palm Beach County

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is the safest Republican in South Florida. All of South Florida takes up districts 25 and 29-40 on the new map, and of them, only Negron's 25th district voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Under the new map, Negron has Martin and St. Lucie counties as well as a large swath of northwest Palm Beach County, everything north of Southern Boulevard and west of Loxahatchee.

While Negron is safe, Palm Beach County's three incumbent Democratic senators have all been drawn into district 31. It goes from Delray Beach to Lake Worth, from the coast to Florida's Turnpike in the northern part of the district and U.S. 441 in the southern part. Most of it is the territory of state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

"I've always represented the central Palm Beach coast and I will continue to do so," Clemens said.

But state senators Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, don't have such an easy path back to the Senate. Previously, Abruzzo represented northern and western Palm Beach County, and Sachs served the coast of southern Palm Beach County and northern Broward. But under the new lines, Abruzzo's western base and Sachs' southern are in the same 29th district.

"We have three good Democratic districts in Palm Beach County and three good Democratic senators," Sachs said. "We're all just trying to get acclimated but we're all going to sort it out so that wherever your political base is that's where you'll agree to run."

Sachs said that her political base in Boca Raton means she'll run in the 29th district. She added that Abruzzo's traditional base is up in Royal Palm Beach, so it makes sense for him to run in district 30.

That is not how Abruzzo sees it.

"I will be running in district 29, the vast majority of the current district I represent right now," Abruzzo said. "I'm working very hard for the western community and look forward to representing new areas like Boca Raton and Coconut Creek and Parkland.''

As for the northern district 30, Emily Slosberg, daughter of state Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, has filed to run. Although he hasn't filed yet, Slosberg will likely face competition from state Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach.

Broward County

A small part of southern Broward County will still be represented by state Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. But every Broward-based senator — Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale; Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood; and Jeremy Ring, D-Parkland — is out of office due to term limits.

Using the old map as a guideline, former state Rep. Jim Waldman and attorney Gary Farmer both jumped in to replace Ring. Waldman, who lives in Coconut Creek, and Farmer, a Parkland resident, both live in Ring's old district.

Meanwhile, with a big bankroll, anti-sex abuse activist Lauren Book became the prohibitive nominee to replace Sobel. But under the new map, Waldman and Farmer live in a small Broward portion of Palm Beach-based district 29, which will already be crowded with incumbent senators Abruzzo and Sachs.

So, Waldman and Farmer are hitting the beach. District 34 includes the entire coastline of Broward County, cutting in a little westward in Deerfield Beach and in Hollywood. Book and her big money are looking at the western 32nd district.

"I intend to run, and that is definitely the district I am running in," Waldman said.

Finally, state Rep. Gwen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, and former state Rep. Perry Thurston are both looking to replace Smith in the 33rd district, which includes Lauderhill and parts of the surrounding communities, including Fort Lauderdale.

Miami-Dade County

There are currently three Hispanic districts in Miami-Dade County. The new state Senate district map has four Hispanic districts. So, good for Hispanics, right? Well, not if you're a Republican Hispanic.

The four Hispanic districts in the new map all went for Obama in 2012. Further, two of the county's three current Republican Hispanic state senators have been drawn into seats with incumbent Democrats. Only state Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, is sitting pretty in district 36. Not only does he not have a fellow senator drawn into his district, he's also in the district that went to Obama by the thinnest margin in Miami-Dade — just 52 percent.

But state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, finds himself drawn into district 37 with state Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove, who has represented the area for decades. Further, state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is now in district 40 with state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, a district that is among the most Obama-friendly.

The two Republicans could go to one of the open seats in Miami-Dade, but the prospects there aren't much better. District 38, which hugs the coast from the Broward County line through Miami Beach, is overwhelmingly Democratic. Finally, district 39, which includes the Everglades and the Florida Keys, is marginally more Republican-friendly than Flores' current district.

While Palm Beach and Broward counties have their redistricting messes, they both remain dominated by the same political party. Reflecting generational change in the Cuban community and an influx of Democratic northerners and Hispanics from outside Cuba, the new state Senate map is a sea change in Miami-Dade.

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