In Polk County, new state Senate districts – and new intrigues


After the announcement Tuesday of the new numbered districts following a court-ordered redistricting because the Florida Senate couldn’t or wouldn’t do its job, Polk County still will have three state Senate Districts. But it could have at least two new senators after the 2016 elections.

The districts won’t be in the same positions in the county.

The seat with eastern portion of Polk County occupied by Orlando Democrat, Sen. Darren Soto, is moved completely out of the county, but for Soto it is moot anyway. After the 60-day Legislative Session that begins next week, he will be busy with his run for Congress.

But Polk will continue to have portions of three Senate seats: District 22, held by Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican; Senate District 26 held by Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican from Sebring; and District 20 likely to be occupied by state Sen. Tom Lee, who is a Brandon Republican. But by moving to SD20 he would have a vacant seat to run in.

All three districts are evenly numbered meaning they will be two-year seats for the first election and will be up for election in 2018. That keeps the Senate with only half up for election once it gets back in sync.

After 2018, the even-numbered districts will return to four-year terms.

Stargel’s District 22, which also includes parts of Lake County, has the largest portion of the Polk County population with 387,860 or 64.4 percent of the county’s residents. With Soto’s district moved out of the county, Grimsley’s portion of Polk County in her massive multicounty district includes 157,354 of Polk residents in the south third of the county. That is 26.1 percent of the county’s population.

But the district is spread over all or parts of eight counties and Grimsley is chief administrator for two hospitals. She has not announced her plans amid a typhoon of rumors that she may not run.

Republican state Reps. Ben Albritton of Wauchula and Cary Pigman of Avon Park have already indicated they will run if Grimsley doesn’t.

Tuesday, a third and more senior representative facing term limits strongly hinted he may run. Rep. John Wood, a Winter Haven Republican, said he “will look at (political) options after the Session.” The only option would appear to be a run for the Florida Senate in District 26.

Lee, if he does run in Senate District 20, would have a district that includes extreme northwest Polk – largely Kathleen and North Lakeland – northwest Hillsborough County and a southern portion of Pasco County. His district share of Polk County’s population would be 56,881 or 9.5 percent.

But one thing about Senate District 20, which Lee a former Senate president certainly hasn’t overlooked, is that the Polk and Hillsborough portions are located in the 15th Congressional District now held by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican.

Lee worked to get more of Congressional District 15 out of Polk County and into his home Hillsborough County during the Florida Senate’s court-ordered redistricting. Ross is running for re-election this year and unlikely to be challenged by any serious candidate.

But when he gets tired of the whole thing up in Washington, sitting right in the district could be Lee ready to run.

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”


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