By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Floridians won’t get to cast a ballot for more than one-fourth of the people in charge of making laws and piecing together the state budget over the next two years.
Of the 160 offices that make up the Florida House and Senate, 42 drew only a single candidate who qualified for the Aug. 30 and Nov. 8 general elections. The state Division of Elections officially finalized the list of qualified candidates just minutes before 9 p.m. on Friday.
In 2014, eight Senators — all Republicans — and 37 members of the House — 22 Republicans and 15 Democrats — were elected without opposition.
But this year all 40 Senate seats and 120 House seats were up for grabs, due to the court-ordered adoption of a Senate redistricting plan. The newly-drawn legislative seats were the result of the voter-approved “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments that prohibit lawmakers from crafting districts that favor incumbents or parties.
University of Central Florida political-science professor Aubrey Jewett said the “fair districts” lines have increased the number of competitive districts.
“It is inevitable that some seats will not be competitive since some regions, counties, and cities are heavily one party simply because of housing patterns,” Jewett said. “Fair Districts requires compact districts that follow local government lines where feasible. In fact, ironically, you would have to gerrymander if you wanted to create all competitive districts. On balance, though, the districts being used now are an improvement over the previous districts and compared to those drawn in previous decades.”
In 2012, nine members of the Senate — seven Republicans and two Democrats — were automatically elected, even though they competed in newly drawn districts. That same year, 33 people cruised to victory in the House after qualifying ended.
Republicans and Democrats will go head-to-head in 58 House match-ups and 19 Senate contests — about 48 percent of the total legislative seats — this year.
Based on the number of unchallenged contests and the races in which a Republican primary will decide the winner, the GOP is in line to retain 28 House seats and 14 in the Senate. Those numbers could increase by two in each chamber, if Republicans emerge the winners — as expected — in races against write-in candidates.
Meanwhile, Democrats have 25 House seats and six Senate posts in their pocket, based on candidates who were elected without opposition and others who face only primary contests in August.
A total of 30 House members were declared victors on Friday, including incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, one of 16 Republicans whose campaign seasons ended early. House Democrats claimed 14 seats.
Other returning House Republicans are Halsey Beshears of Monticello; Cyndi Stevenson of Saint John; Larry Metz of Yalaha; Danny Burgess of San Antonio; Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando; Cary Pigman of Avon Park; Jake Raburn of Lithia; James Grant of Tampa; Jim Boyd of Bradenton; Dane Eagle of Cape Coral; Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers; and Bill Hager of Delray Beach.
The Republican freshman class will include Don Hahnfeldt from The Villages and Ralph Massullo Jr. of Lecanto, who were both elected without opposition.
Returning House Democrats are Janet Cruz of Tampa; Larry Lee of Port St. Lucie; Bobby DuBose of Fort Lauderdale; Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek; Jared Moskowitz of Coral Springs; Katie Edwards of Plantation; Evan Jenne of Dania Beach; Joe Geller of Aventura; Shevrin “Shev” Jones of West Park; Sharon Pritchett of Miami Gardens; Cynthia Stafford of Miami; Kionne McGhee of Miami; and Clovis Watson of Alachua.
Boynton Beach Democrat Sen. Joseph Abruzzo will move across the rotunda to the House without facing any opposition.
In the Senate, eight Republicans and four Democrats won on Friday.
Bay County Commissioner George Gainer was elected to the upper chamber without any opposition. The other returning Senate Republicans are incumbents: Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach; Rob Bradley of Fleming Island; David Simmons of Altamonte Springs; Wilton Simpson of Trilby; Tom Lee of Brandon; Bill Galvano of Bradenton; and Denise Grimsley of Sebring.
Among the winning Senate Democrats are incumbents Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens, who will take over as minority leader after the November elections.
Democrats joining the Senate for the first time are Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who is the daughter of influential lobbyist Ron Book, and former House minority leader Perry Thurston of Lauderhill.
Two additional Republican in the House — Jay Trumbull of Panama City and Jay Fant of Jacksonville — and two in the Senate — Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg — are almost assured re-election victories. The incumbents will appear on the November ballot next to a space for a write-in candidate.
Republicans should also retain 10 additional House seats, thanks to write-in candidates who closed pending GOP primary contests.
After the August primary, Democrats will have six senators as they head into the November elections.
Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill is the lone Senate incumbent whose challenger — independent Richard Paul Dembinsky of Port Orange — is unaffiliated with a major political party.
In the House, four November races will feature a Democrat running against an independent or minor party candidate, without a Republican on the ballot. In five House contests, Republicans will face off against an independent or third-party candidate, without any Democrats in the race.