Bob Sparks: U.S. House District 5 race will be one to watch


This past week, former state Sen. Al Lawson revealed his intention to run for Congress in the newly configured 5th District. The announcement from Lawson, a Democrat from Tallahassee, puts in motion a chain reaction of events that will make this one worthy of attention.

“North Florida needs a strong, progressive voice in Washington to protect those issues important to our families,” said Lawson in a news release announcing his candidacy.

Lawson was expecting to run against U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown from Jacksonville. Could someone from Tallahassee defeat an incumbent based in the larger city of Jacksonville?

A case could be made for Lawson. The new district runs from Jacksonville to Gadsden County west of Tallahassee. As a former state senator, Lawson has represented four of the counties contained in the new congressional district.

He twice ran for Congress in the old District 2, which contained those same four counties, including Leon (Tallahassee). The others were Gadsden, Jefferson and Madison. That means thousands of Democrats have voted for him recently.

Brown, on the other hand, would have only a portion of Duval County remaining in the new district. The former District 5, which snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando, is now embedded within District 3 and District 10, located near Orlando.

In other words, most of the voters within the new District 5 will have never cast a ballot for Corrine Brown. A credible candidate such as Al Lawson would have a chance to win. First-term Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is also considering a run.

Such a match-up or match-ups in the Democratic primary would be a good story on its own. The numbers tell us that the winner of the Democratic primary will almost certainly win the seat. President Barack Obama earned 63 percent of the vote in 2012 from those now living in the new district, while former Gov. Charlie Crist earned 59 percent against Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

Such a match-up, however, will most likely never happen. Signs now point to Brown running out of a newly configured district in Orlando. District 10, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, is decidedly more Democratic than when Webster was elected in 2010. He’s unlikely to run for re-election from that district.

Brown has “given all kinds of indications she’ll run out of Orlando,” Lawson told the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

What will help Brown make up her mind? If she loses her federal lawsuit challenging the Florida Supreme Court’s approval of the new district map, Brown will apparently say goodbye to Jacksonville and hello to Orlando.

Brown claims that by their approval, the court is “disenfranchising African-American voters.” She is also unhappy with the fact that 46 percent of District 5’s prison population is African-American. Another 10,000 people in the new district are on work release or house arrest.

“They can’t vote,” she said. “This district is underperforming and they know it,” she told Jacksonville’s WOKV.

Brown has an uphill climb to win her lawsuit. The new District 5 is 45 percent African-American while the old district was 49 percent. An expert says Brown has “very little chance of succeeding.”

If Brown steps out of the District 5 race, who jumps in? From Tallahassee, Gillum could be waiting on Brown before announcing his intentions.

From Jacksonville, could term-limited state Rep. Mia Jones (chairwoman of the Duval legislative delegation) contemplate jumping in? How about former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown? Others will certainly think it over, making this race one to watch on primary night 2016.

If Corrine Brown somehow wins her lawsuit, the reader will disregard everything contained above this sentence.

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. 

For more state and national commentary visit Context Florida.

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @BobSparksFL.


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