The midway point of the year is an interesting juncture for the Sunshine State’s political scene. With session in the rearview and 365 sleeps before the primary election blitz takes over the state — barring a special election — officials across the state are busy filling their political coffers while news outlets scramble to find enticing content.
While the lull of summer months marks somewhat of an offseason for Florida politics, there’s plenty of chatter around the water cooler to quench the thirst of even the most parched political pundit. There are two giant what-ifs that are the most talked about topics on Adams Street: redistricting and Senate leadership. They both go hand in glove.
Redistricting is a giant question mark for everyone this cycle. Everyone is whispering about it as if they’re discussing Lord Voldermort; if it is brought up with members within earshot, there are painful and quiet pauses. But it doesn’t take a soothsayer to notice a pattern — just go back and read reports from the last time around and understand that no one wants to get the subpoena to testify or be foolish enough to say something that could aid or abet a lawsuit that is likely to come regardless. So while there is very little confirmable talk, everyone kind of understands that there are staffers and consultants squirreled away and discussing every possibility related to a new map before the state gets the next round of census data.
What that means for the Congressional map is anyone’s guess. What we know is that Florida is definitely getting a new seat and that it is likely to land somewhere within an hour’s drive from the I-4 corridor. Sure, there are other dynamics that could put a few more Democratic seats in play for a Republican candidate, but we just won’t know until we see the first round of official maps.
For the State House map, redistricting means little to nothing. Yes, some districts may change slightly, but I don’t think that anyone is presuming that redistricting could cause Florida’s heavy Republican majority in the House to be imperiled, with State Representative Paul Renner wielding the gavel in 2024 looking like a foregone conclusion.
The same can not be said for the State Senate map. With only an 8 seat majority, every race and every open seat in the Senate for the Republicans always seems to matter. This cycle, the population growth in Florida has caused Democrats to surmise that some of the seats that Republicans won last cycle were only rented. Specifically, they point to the narrow Ileana Garcia victory over Jose Javier Rodriguez. I’ll save speculation on the other aspects of that race for another story.
Even more interesting is what the new maps may mean for the race for the Senate Presidency.
While both camps seem to be going above and beyond to project a unified Republican caucus, there is a tight race right now between State Senator Manny Diaz of Hialeah and State Senator Ben Albritton of Sebring. As I myself search for intel at the local country club or restaurant with friends, colleagues, and allies of Republican senators, no one seems to be willing to go on the record officially, but my count is currently as follows: Diaz with 8 cards signed, Albritton with 7 cards signed, and 5 cards on the table. One of the cards of the 5 we presume to be Passidomo’s, who by tradition as incoming Senate President would not usually participate in a leadership race. The remaining 4 on the table are the ones in play, and no one seems to be in danger of closing them out anytime soon. I could name names of the 4 that we sense are still uncommitted, but we have to accept some element of speculation, and I don’t want to put a target on their backs or on ours either. With such narrow margins in play, you can see what the 4 open Republican races and redistricting means for the future of the Senate. Even if Albritton got all 4 remaining cards, there is still a path for Diaz, and even if Diaz got all 4 cards, while it would be tougher for Albritton, there is technically still a path there for him by running the tables with the open seats.
The twist in this unfolding narrative, however, is Diaz’s connection with what’s playing out at the national level. With all the banter about critical race theory, Cuban independence, and school choice impacting this and future election cycles, having the first non-white Senate President be Diaz could be a no-brainer for Republicans. As a woman, crowning Passidomo queen of the Senate seemed to be a smart move after the Senate’s recent sexual harassment crisis.
But Diaz is not one to let his ethnicity define his public service record. The Hialeah Republican instead prefers to hang his hat on his core tenets — his merits, conservative values, and his magnum opus of expanding school choice for all Floridians. But one cannot deny his connection with South Florida and Hispanic voters that helped get a key minority bloc to put their faith in Republicans in 2020, and turn a once-Democratic bastion into a conservative playground. It’s that commitment to principle, coupled with his strong Latin roots, that has resulted in Diaz’s long-term success in the Senate and helped turn into a marquee show-opener for former President Donald Trump last election.
To be fair, Albritton is nothing to sneeze at. He’s from humble beginnings, closely linked to Florida’s agriculture industry, and has an evangelical bent to his worldview. He’s worked hard over the years to make it to the Senate and become an expert on water policy and the future of Florida’s growing industry. Albritton is a safe, clean, pick for the Senate leadership. Many say his appeal is the same as vanilla ice cream in that while he won’t ignite passion in the Senate for any major issues, he will be the slow and steady hand that they need to keep Democrats from being able to attack anything.
But is a safe choice the right move for Republicans? Or to paraphrase an ancient proverb: would the GOP rather have a warrior in a garden, or a gardener in a war?
Can Senate leadership politics impact Governor Ron DeSantis’ re-election bid? Not likely. It’s likely that Senators will look to cozy up to the Governor between now and the next election. It is interesting to note that every time DeSantis is in Miami, Diaz is by his side — as recent as last night’s town hall at Miami’s Cafe Versailles. Is that an advantage for Diaz? Who knows, but the optics don’t hurt.
In the meantime, DeSantis will continue to be the undisputed heavyweight of Florida, and while I doubt he gets involved in Senate politics or redistricting, his performance will be the key to Senate wins or losses more than any other factor.