A congressional map proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis could result in shuffling the delegation deck in a Republican-heavy region. One political consultant is already calling the cartography a “torpedo to Southwest Florida politics.”
Three Republican congressmen — Reps. Vern Buchanan, Scott Franklin and Greg Steube — must reevaluate where to seek re-election to the U.S. House. None have announced a decision yet. That’s quite a development after other maps considered by the Legislature largely left the region alone.
The map submitted by DeSantis’ Office (P 0109) would shake up the makeup of the Sarasota-Bradenton area particularly. It’s a sign of how the map has rattled the political class in Republican and Democratic areas alike, and barely two months out from a June 17 candidate qualifying deadline.
Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican seeking his ninth term in Congress, will make a decision in the coming weeks about where to run. Insiders say the less-senior members in flux will likely defer to Buchanan, who is in line to Chair the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans retake the House in November.
But his decision on where to run isn’t obvious, and he seems to be waiting for a Special Session of the Legislature to unfold before making big news.
Buchanan’s district today covers all of Manatee County and the northern portions of Sarasota County, as well as part of southeast Hillsborough.
But DeSantis’ map reimagines that. Florida’s 16th Congressional District as proposed runs from State Road 60 in Brandon, with U.S. 41 on the west, to lump about a third of Hillsborough County with all of Manatee County. But it goes no further south. The majority of Buchanan’s constituents do end up in the new CD 16, though Buchanan’s South Longboat home does not. That’s not a huge deal, as members of Congress, unlike state lawmakers, are not required to live in their districts.
But the proposed seat in Florida’s 17th Congressional District covers all of Sarasota County, where Buchanan lives, and Charlotte County, as well as a significant part of Lee County, including North Fort Myers and much of Lehigh Acres. Buchanan represented all of Sarasota County when he was first elected in 2006 and he continued to his first eight years in Congress.
Today, much of that ground is represented by Steube, a Sarasota Republican whose current district covers south Sarasota County but also reaches deep inland to include all of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, along with parts of Lee and Polk. While the Sarasota County portion remains the most populous part of Stuebe’s existing district, a majority of his constituents now live outside of his home county.
Many of those more rural counties under DeSantis’ map land in the new Florida’s 18th Congressional District. That’s an expansive seat — with a 181-mile drive from a northwest corner in Polk County to a southeast corner in Hendry County — that includes much of Franklin’s Polk County base. Could Franklin, a former Lakeland City Council member, absorb much of the Florida Heartland into his seat?
Much depends on Buchanan, a longtime Sarasota business leader whose name adorns the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce headquarters, just one such structure with his name visible from the road. His son, state Rep. James Buchanan of Venice, also represents Sarasota County and will continue to do so under a state House map already approved for the 2022 midterms.
While the bulk of Buchanan’s constituency remains in Manatee under the proposed map, many suspect his heart lies in Sarasota. But if he runs in the more southern CD 17, that begs the question of what would happen with Steube.
Of note, Steube boasts roots in Manatee County, and likely could run in the new CD 16. He first won election to the state Legislature in a Manatee County state House seat and only moved to Sarasota when he ran successfully for the state Senate. He ultimately spent only a short time there before winning his spot in Congress in 2018. His father, Brad Steube, served for years as Manatee County’s Sheriff. The Steube name still holds a lot of pull in the Bradenton area, enough so that the Congressman was able to organize a Trump Train out of Manatee County during the 2020 election cycle.
Most expect Buchanan’s choice to shape Steube’s, but any of the incumbents could lay claim at any moment to one of the proposed seats.
Those decisions will certainly bring ripple effects. Florida House leadership pulled state Rep. Mike Beltran from a redistricting subcommittee over a belief the DeSantis map created an opportunity — in that Hillsborough-Manatee seat where either Buchanan or Steube could run. Of course, it still could remain an open seat if Steube sticks with the inland district.
But that also requires a glance to the north at options for Franklin. The Lakeland Republican currently represents part of Hillsborough County. But much of Lakeland, where Franklin just a couple years ago served on the City Council, lies in the proposed CD 18 made up largely of Steube country.
Franklin also has the option of running in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, a seemingly open seat that covers much of northeast Hillsborough County along with a piece of the Lakeland area. But there are already some power players running there, including former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross and state Rep. Jackie Toledo.
Undoubtedly, there is space on the map for all three incumbent members of Congress, and arguably places where competition will either step aside or offer little threat to a sitting Representative. But decisions have to be made very quickly, and a lot more choices exist than did under a map vetoed by DeSantis which largely left the existing configuration of Southwest Florida’s districts intact.