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Friends suddenly become enemies. Promising careers are abruptly cut short. And some politicians are driven to uproot their families and move in the midst of the expensive and hyper-competitive real estate market.
After the most contentious and polarized legislative session in years, many Florida state lawmakers are facing the most difficult election season they’ve ever seen ― not because of what they did or didn’t do in Tallahassee, but because of the once-a-decade change in boundaries of state legislative districts.
The politicians doing the scrambling and sweating right now undoubtedly won’t see much sympathy from the public. But the ripple effects from redistricting are extensive, especially in densely populated Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to dozens of state representatives and senators and millions of voters.
Boundaries of all Florida Senate, Florida House of Representatives and congressional districts are reconfigured every 10 years for the elections that take place two years after the Census. Under the one-person, one-vote doctrine handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the goal is to have districts with similar population sizes so the vote from someone from Boca Raton counts the same as a vote from an Orlando resident.
This year’s redistricting, based on population changes uncovered in the 2020 Census, is what creates the scenarios in which incumbent lawmakers find themselves in the same districts as other incumbents or discover they’re living in a less politically hospitable district that now includes more voters from the opposite political party.
A massive amount of attention has gone to the redrawing of congressional districts, which remains unresolved. Republicans who control state government haven’t been able to agree on districts for the 28 members of Congress Floridians will elect in November. They’re at loggerheads over whether to reduce the number of districts likely to elect Black candidates. Lawmakers will try again during a special legislative session starting April 19.
Already, the district lines in place for the 40 state Senate and 120 Florida House of Representatives seats are having an impact, even though the August party primaries and November general election are months away.
“It’s not a fun experience for anyone involved,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, a Broward Democrat who is party’s leader in the state House of Representatives. “Any year that ends with a ‘2,’ it’s going to be a wild election cycle.”
Steve Geller, a Broward County commissioner and former Florida Senate Democratic leader, said redistricting can lead to situations in which “your best friends become your worst enemies.”
In some ways, Geller said, it’s like any workplace where two friends — hired at the same time, working on the same team, developing the same products — compete for the same promotion.
The big difference: for the politicians, the one who loses is out of a job.
The newly drawn Senate District 37 includes a pocket in Miami-Dade County, but more than 83% of its residents live in coastal Broward County. Yet after the 2022 elections, this coastal district, which will includes most of the county east of Interstate 95 north of Fort Lauderdale and most of the county east of Florida’s Turnpike south of Fort Lauderdale, may end up being represented by state Sen. Jason Pizzo — from Miami-Dade County.
Pizzo would likely have an easy time winning election in the district, with one big caveat: State Sen. Gary Farmer, who lives in Broward, is weighing whether to run in that newly drawn district, which would set up a highly contentious and expensive Democratic primary fight between two incumbents.
Both have the ability to spend heavily on the race.
Farmer could opt, instead, to run for an open congressional seat. His intentions aren’t known. He said via text message Friday that it “will be at least another a few days” before he announces his decision.
There are many moving parts in what amounts to political musical chairs in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Some of the players are still moving — literally.
Senate District 34, Jones goes South: State Sen. Shevrin Jones — who grew up in Broward, who’s represented parts of South Broward for 10 years and whose father is a retired mayor of West Park — is moving south to run for re-election in a reconfigured District 34 that extends to part of Miami Beach.
Jones has represented Miami Gardens since his election to the Senate in 2020, and is relocating there in June.
House District 87, Caruso goes north: State Rep. Mike Caruso, a Republican who lives in Delray Beach is moving north, leaving a reconfigured district that includes a lot more Democrats and avoiding a campaign against another state representative, Democrat Joe Casello, who was put in the same district (District 90). Caruso will run in House District 87 in northeast Palm Beach County.
Caruso said he and his wife, Tracy Caruso, are “currently looking” for a new home. Tracy Caruso is also leaving behind political history in Delray Beach; she was an unsuccessful 2021 candidate for mayor.
House District 110, Fabricio goes south: State Rep. Tom Fabricio, a Republican who lives in Miramar, is moving south. Redistricting put his residence in a much more Democratic district. He’s filed paperwork to run in District 110, which is entirely within Miami-Dade County.
Senate District 30, Polsky goes South: State Sen. Tina Polsky is moving south from her Palm Beach County home, heading to a District 30, which contains much of the territory she currently represents, and avoiding a clash with another Palm Beach county Democratic incumbent, state Sen. Lori Berman (District 20).
Polsky said the decision to move was “difficult, but this new district is the right one for me, as I represent over half of it already.”
(Farmer could run in the northwest Broward/southwest Palm Beach County that Polsky is running in, though political insiders see that as the least likely scenario.)
Incumbents usually win their re-election attempts, but it’s harder in a redistricting year. “A candidate will most likely pick up new voters that they’ve never represented before,” said Richard Giorgio, political consultant who has run federal, state and local campaigns.
Many candidates filed paperwork in March, signaling their intentions to run in newly drawn districts.
Caruso and Polsky said they’re looking for new homes. So is state Sen. Lauren Book.
Book is a good example of the redistricting ripple effect. The new map has her living in the same territory (District 32) as newly elected state Sen. Rosalind Osgood — while the vast majority of the territory Book has served in the Senate was placed in a different district.
She decided to move from her Plantation home into the newly formed District 35 in southwest Broward so as to avoid a divisive primary battle, but former Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief upended that plan when she announced she was also running, setting off the Democratic primary clash.
Book is the leader of Democrats in the Florida Senate (and almost all the party’s senators have endorsed her) and had expected to spend the coming months raising money for and providing help to the party’s slate of candidates, the Sharief primary contest means she’ll be tied down much more in the district.
Sharief, who lost a special congressional primary last year, used to represent part of the new District 35, which lies mostly south of Interstate 595 and west of Florida’s Turnpike plus part of western Sunrise near the FLA Live Arena and Sawgrass Mills and the Everglades west of the Sawgrass Expressway.
Chris Smith, a former Democratic Party leader in the Florida Senate and the Florida House, said redistricting is responsible.
“The perfect example in Broward now is the Lauren Book-Barbara Sharief race. It is 100% because of redistricting. Had new lines not been drawn, and drawn in the way they are, you wouldn’t have had this clash of titans. That’s a direct result of redistricting,” Smith said.
Though it’s a “high anxiety” time for elected officials, it’s not high on the list of concerns for most voters, few of whom know about redistricting, said Eric Johnson, a political consultant who has run federal, statewide and local campaigns.
Redistricting can play an outsized role in determining who controls the Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation for the next 10 years. But it attracts little public attention, especially not this year, Smith said, when the Legislature took up highly contentious issues such as limits on discussion of sexual orientation in schools, restrictions on school and workplace training on race and racism and reductions in access to abortion. “You didn’t hear about redistricting because it’s not sexy,” he said.
“Most voters don’t know about it and don’t necessarily care,” said Mitch Ceasar, a former Broward Democratic Party chairman. “They should, but that’s not the American experience.”
Jenne and Smith said the changes can cause temporary setbacks for communities. Smith started his time in the state Senate representing a district that included part of Palm Beach County, building relationships and opening an office there. Then a court ruled that the boundaries in an adjacent district had been crafted to benefit Republicans, and ordered changes that transformed Smith’s district into a Broward-only seat.
“I’d gotten to know them well and [was] making great strides representing them the way they deserved. All of a sudden I wasn’t representing them anymore,” he said.
Term limits prevent state representatives from serving more than eight consecutive years and eight (sometimes 10) years for state senators.
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Owing to the combination of redistricting and term limits, there are many open seats statewide without an incumbent, said state Rep. Kelly Skidmore, a Palm Beach County Democrat. She began legislative work in 1996, as an aide to then-state Rep. Ron Klein, who later went on to serve in Congress.
“The Legislature is going to be very, very different in November 2022,” Skidmore said. “And depending on your perspective, that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
It can even turn out fine for the politicians currently biting their fingernails. In 2012, Jenne found his home redistricted into territory with another incumbent and missing the territory he’d been representing for years. He decided not to run for re-election and not to move.
Two years later, he ran for an open seat with no incumbent. Re-elected since, he’s risen to House Democratic leader. “Everyone that’s screaming the sky is falling right now needs to realize I went through this exact same thing and I ended up being the minority leader when the story was told,” Jenne said.
He leaves office in November because of term limits.