News Section: Opinion
Ironically, Fair Districts Act Could Aid Bennett's Congressional Run
BRADENTON – Though he vehemently opposed Amendments 5 and 6, which required that legislative districts be drawn according to counties and defined municipalities whenever possible (rather than for political purposes), Florida Senator Michael Bennett may now benefit from the new voter-driven referendums which were cleared by the Department of Justice this week.
Bennett has been lobbying to have the Congressional districts drawn as to split Manatee and Sarasota Counties, which would allow him to run for Congress without having to face fellow Republican Vern Buchanan in a District 13 primary. Bennett plans to run for what is now District 11 and seems confident that at least part of Manatee County will be included after redistricting, though he's said he'll move if he has to.
District 11 incumbent Kathy Castor has been utterly dominant in that seat since first being elected to Congress in 2006. Even in the pro-Republican 2010 cycle, the former Hillsborough County Commissioner managed a 20-point landslide – her slimmest margin of victory in three elections. Redistricting would have to be a major factor if Bennett were to be competitive, especially since Castor took 80 percent of the vote in Pinellas County last time out.
Bennett, who turned 66 in January, likely sees 2012 as his best chance (and perhaps last considering his age) to make a run on Washington. Congressman Buchanan has ruled out running for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson, and though Buchanan has been dogged by continued accusations that he used illegal campaign contributions to help him win in 2006 and 2008, he's largely seen as lock to hold the District 13 seat sometime into the future.
The number two man in the Florida Senate behind Mike Haridopolos (who is running for the GOP nomination to face Nelson), Bennett has forged powerful alliances and has proven himself a very effective fundraiser both for himself and others, establishing numerous PAC's in which he's been able to bundle big money from fellow land developers to help like-minded candidates at all levels. It can only be assumed that he has more than a couple favors to call in.
In 2010 Republicans dominated Florida races, winning several statewide offices with 70 percent or more of the vote. Straight ticket voting seemed to help cause a number of upsets in what had been seen as safe Democratic districts. Seeing this as a harbinger of things to come in 2012, potential candidates instantly began testing the waters in races not previously considered in play. No less than nine other Republican candidates will join Haridopolos for a shot to take on Nelson, who has been targeted, despite having easily fended off a challenge from then District 13 Congresswoman Katherine Harris in 2006.
However, momentum may be beginning to shift as evidenced by the surprise upset victory of Alvin Brown in last month's Jacksonville mayoral race. After such a disappointing 2010, Democrats were heartened when an African American Dem managed to pull off an unlikely victory in Florida's largest county, which includes the entire city of Jacksonville. Governor Rick Scott, who only narrowly defeated Democratic opponent Alex Sink last fall, also has the lowest approval rating of any U.S. governor in the wake of the first legislative session. A year from now... who knows?
It is, however, ironic that Amendment 6 would possibly end up being a positive factor in a Bennett run, since he tried so hard to kill it, though it goes without saying that it will draw close scrutiny to any involvement or influence Senator Bennett has on how the Fair Districts Act is implemented. That being said, using the prescribed county lines method, the inclusion of the Republican stronghold of Manatee County where virtually every statewide Republican winner outperformed their overall percentages, could only help Bennett's chances. Who'd have thought?
Dennis Maley is a featured columnist and editor for The Bradenton Times. An archive of his columns is available here. He can be reached at email@example.com.