The already intriguing congressional race in Florida’s 13th District currently occupied by Republican David Jolly became even more so on Thursday, after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature must redraw the district for being out of compliance with the Fair Districts constitutional amendments. The court ruled that eight districts in all must be redistricted, including the CD 14 currently held by Democrat Kathy Castor — which should have a direct impact on Jolly’s CD 13 seat.
In its ruling, the court wrote that the trial court that initially heard the case and rejected the challenge to the way districts 13 and 14 were drawn in 2012 “erred” when it said that it could not conclude “that the decision to incorporate portions of South St. Petersburg into District 14 was done with the intent to benefit the Republican Party or the incumbent member of Congress.”
The Legislature had stated that its reason for putting more voters in the more African-American parts of Pinellas County was to increase minority voting strength in Castor’s CD 14, which it considered to be “preferable” from a federal Voting Rights Act perspective.
But the Florida Supreme Court ruled today that the trlal court “did not, however, make any findings that it was necessary to add black voters from Pinellas County to District 14 in order to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect a representative of their choice.
Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink by only two percentage points back in the special election in 2014. He then easily won re-election last November, when the Democratic Party failed to produce a candidate to challenge him.
However, David Jolly’s campaign team isn’t sweating it. For now, anyhow.
“Congressman Jolly has always considered District 13 to be a Pinellas County seat and has never concerned himself with where the district lines are drawn throughout the county,” said spokesperson Sarah Bascom. “The courts and the Legislature will determine next steps and Congressman Jolly will remain focused solely on doing his job and serving all of Pinellas County. As the congressman has said many times, if he continues to do the job he was elected to do, the politics will take care of itself.”
The only major Democrat to announce his candidacy in CD 13, Eric Lynn, said in a statement, “I’m excited that the Florida Supreme Court is demanding that Pinellas voters get the congressional district they deserve. The lines of this district may change but the contours of this race remain the same. I couldn’t be prouder to be building the strong fundraising, grassroots and political support needed to win and be the voice that Pinellas families need in Congress”
Meanwhile, former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern now says she’s only likely to get in the race if no other major Democrats do so.
Mulhern, who told Florida Politics on June 23 that “We’ll definitely be selling this house and buying (in Pinellas County),” now says that the court ruling is a “game-changer,” and may prompt her not to get into the CD 13 contest.
“I’m not going to make a big move and get into the race when I’m not sure that I’m going to do it,” she said today from Michigan, where she is vacationing with her family. “These are decisions that everybody makes when they run for office. The district is changing and the candidates are changing. It changes the equation.”
Democratic political consultant Ana Cruz agrees that there is a host of Pinellas County-based Democrats who could reconsider their earlier decision not to enter the race, including County Commissioners Ken Welch and Charlie Justice, Councilwoman Darden Rice (who said last week she would not run for the office) and Mayor Rice Kriseman.
But Cruz also cautions that the same Republicans who found a way to take South St. Petersburg out of the drawing up of CD13 are the ones responsible for correcting the problem.
“Republicans are going to do whatever they can do to maintain control of any governing body,” she said “And they proved that their intentions were not right and pure and that they were not following the rule of the voters, and they got smacked down by the court system today.”
Still to come is a decision by Jolly on whether he will run for re-election himself in CD13. The congressman is still considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, which so far only has Jacksonville U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox as official Republican candidates. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Panhandle area U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller are said to strongly be considering a run. Jolly has said that he would make a decision likely by the middle of this month.