House Democratic Co-Leader Evan Jenne is hammering Gov. Ron DeSantis after DeSantis announced Special Election dates which could leave three seats in the Legislature unfilled next Session.
Those elections will decide successors for Sen. Perry Thurston and Reps. Bobby DuBose and Omari Hardy. All three of those Democratic lawmakers were forced to resign their respective seats to pursue the open seat in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. All three represent strongly left-leaning districts.
DeSantis set the Special Primary Elections for Senate District 33 and House Districts 88 and 94 for Jan. 11. If a Special General Election is necessary, that would be held on March 8.
The 2022 Legislative Session is scheduled to end on March 11, meaning those seats could remain unfilled for virtually the entire Session.
Asked by a reporter whether Jenne thought the delay was deliberately aimed at limiting Democratic representation in the upcoming Session, Jenne demurred.
“I don’t know, but that will be the ultimate effect,” Jenne said.
“I don’t believe, I don’t want to believe, that that was the intent. But that was a known outcome if these steps were taken. So the best case scenario here is no one cared, the people making these decisions simply did not care.”
In his remarks, Jenne noted there are scenarios where those seats could be filled in time for new lawmakers to participate in the 2022 Session. In races where a General Election is not necessary — for example, if only Democrats run — then the winner of the Jan. 11 Primary Election will be able to join the Legislature.
The HD 88 and HD 94 races only feature Democratic candidates so far. But Republican candidate Joseph Carter has filed to run in SD 33, setting up a potential General Election contest. And there is still time for a Republican on non-part affiliated candidate to do the same in one or both House races.
Florida Politics reached out to Christina Pushaw, Gov. DeSantis’ Press Secretary, to learn more about why these dates were chosen and to ask for a reply to Jenne’s remarks.
“By scheduling Special Elections for the vacancies in the Florida Legislature, the Governor has fulfilled his constitutional and statutory duties related to the vacancies, among which is his statutory duty to consider any upcoming elections in the jurisdictions where the Special Elections will be held prior to setting the Special Election dates,” Pushaw said.
Pushaw did not respond to a direct question about why these specific dates were chosen despite running the risk of leaving the seats unfilled during Session.
In terms of vote counts, any unfilled seats likely won’t impact whether certain bills will or won’t pass. Republicans have clear majorities in the Senate and House, leaving Democrats largely powerless even at full strength.
But Jenne argued it’s unfair to residents of those districts for the seats to remain unfilled. He also promised, however, that he and his colleagues would help voice those resident’s concerns in Tallahassee.
“While we debate everything that’s going on in this state right now, there’s going to be a significant portion of people that have no access, no one to call, no one to represent them,” Jenne said.
“That’s not to say that offices like my own that are adjacent to that congressional district won’t step it up. In fact, I would encourage anyone that finds themselves in that situation during Session, where they don’t have a representative because of a decision that was made by someone in Tallahassee, to please call my office, to call the offices surrounding them. We’re going to be there to help you. But when it comes to actual representation, you have just guaranteed that a community of color will not have that in Session.”