2016 Legislative Races Preview: Part 2 – The Senate

450px-Old_Florida_CapitolPart II – The Senate

This is the year for even numbered seats, so there are twenty seats up for election. With only two competitive races in the Senate in 2014, this has to be the year for Democratic gains in the Senate because the chances for ’18 are slim (although hopefully Democrats will be able to take Jeff Brandes seat after his deep money connections are removed from the D-leaning seat). With Democrats standing at 14 in the Senate and one senate loss away from a  Republican super-majority, this has to be the year for at least two Democratic pick-ups to keep the body competitive.

Everything in the Senate will depend on the Republican struggle for leadership between Senator Latvala and Senator Negron as we discussed in the first part of this series.  While things will probably not be determined until the primary of 2016, look for some high-dollar and bitter primaries.  With a Senate map still in legal-limbo thanks to the League of Women Voters lawsuit, there is a wild card out there.

What is missing? Besides Dwight Bullard and Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, there are few strong progressive voices in the Senate. With a much more moderate feel, it is important for Democrats to send a few loud voices, especially on environmental issues. If public education is going to survive the last of the Scott years (and subsequent Putnam years after), there also needs to be more advocates for public education in the Senate.  While it is still early, this is an initial take on the seats that are available.

Here is the breakdown:

1. Representative Matt Gaetz, son of the former Senate President, is trying for Daddy’s old seat and will probably walk easily into the seat. With Jimmy Patronis out of the way, this race will be a cake walk.

3. Senator Bill Montford is a fairly moderate Democrat who stays in the political middle, which is very fitting for the district. His re-elections should be easy and this seat should remain a safe ‘D’.

5. District 5 is a really interesting race, as the district is geographically very large and very rural, but not as Republican as either of the two candidates. Although Representative Dennis Baxley has plenty of political connections to over-take Jimmy Smith, he has some pretty serious baggage as well and is about as far right as you can get:  HB1355, which created the voting mess of 2012 comes to mind, as well as “Stand Your Ground.”   This is simply a case of two fountains of bad ideas: Representative Jimmie Smith really really doesn’t like people on welfare – he pushed the law to drug test welfare recipients and also make sure their EBT money couldn’t be used at strip clubs. With this area being prime for springs protection and Amendment 1 money, which neither candidate has been in support of, it would be nice if an environmentalist from either side of the aisle would step in. Charlie Dean still hopes to push springs protection in the upcoming session, so his successor should be willing to take up the cause.

7. This is my home district and Senator Rob Bradley is something of an enigma.  In his election of 2012, the party put a token kid against him and even though the kid did absolutely no campaigning (he even refused to come up to Clay DEC to introduce himself), he still decisively beat Bradley in Alachua County. Although the district favors a Clay county Republican, Bradley has taken a number of issue stances that have irked many, such as opposing in-state tuition for the dreamers, which was a particularly important issue at the University of Florida. While a Democrat could win with incredible resources, time, and a flawless field game, there is a chance that Bradley could face a primary from Alachua as well. The seat will stay R and Bradley will probably return unless someone gets on the ground during legislative session of this year and plays hard to build a good field game.

9. Senator Audrey Gibson is in a safe D seat and there is little chance of her having a hard time returning to the Senate. Let’s just hope she can get her paperwork in order before the deadline, unlike fellow-Jax representative Reggie Fullwood.

11. Senator Alan Hayes is pretty safe in this conservative district. He should return.

13. President Andy Gardiner’s seat is up for grabs. Rick Roach has already declared and is a viable qualified candidate, although he has little support and little funding. However, a strong advocate of public education, he would be a great voice to send to Tallahassee to curb the influence of the for-profit charters. FEA and Labor should look to get involved in this race and helping him out.  While former Democratic Reps Karen Castor-Dentel and Linda Stewart could jump in, this seat could very well be a pick-up for the Democrats.

15. The fact that Senator Kelli Stargel, who never went to college herself, is head of the Higher Education Committee is exactly the reason few things in the Florida Legislature make sense.  This is exactly why we cannot have nice things. While this district is a safe Republican and there is little chance of her getting a primary challenger, the citizens of Florida deserve better.

17. While this is a safe R seat, Senator John Legg’s constant attacks on public education are a bit extreme. While the Florida Educator’s Association took a thrashing last cycle, they should come out hard against him.  Along with his shamelessly self-promoting Wikipedia entry, he seems to have little value than to serve the for-profit charter companies.

19. Former Rep. Betty Reed was elected in Arthenia Joyner’s House seat and is poised to take over her Senate seat as well. This seat should remain a D.

21. Senator Denise Grimsley has been in the legislature since 2004, but she seems to have stayed on the sidelines. A firm Negron supporter in a safe Republican seat, this would be an excellent spot for a primary challenge.

23. Is an open R-leaning seat, with no candidates filed yet. Do not expect that to stay that way for long.

25. Senator Joe Abruzzo shouldn’t have a hard time keeping his seat and the seat should stay D.

27. Senator Jeff Clemens will probably not have to pull off another 17-vote miracle to get re-elected, but there are rumors of a primary challenger particularly because of Clemens meddling in numerous local elections. But we would expect him to return to the senate.

29. This seat has an excellent chance of a Democratic pick-up, as former Representative James Waldman seeks to take over Senator Ring’s vacated seat.

31. With Senator Chris Smith facing term limits, Representative Perry Thurston has filed in his seat after his failed bid for Florida Attorney General and should have a fairly easy time.  This seat should stay D.

33. With Senator Eleanor Sobel term-limited this year, there is much speculation that Lauren Book will run, as she already has been raising money in a leadership fund. However, in this safe D seat, perhaps Florida would be better served with a more progressive Senator. While child abuse is an important issue, it is not the only issue Florida faces.

35. District 35 is a curious case, with State Representative David Richardson taking on incumbent Senator Gwen Margolis. What is even more curious is that Christian Ulvert is running his race after his ouster from the Democratic party, so this seems like another sign of the rising divide between the Black Caucus and the rest of the FDP.

37. Senator Anitere Flores was just named a rising star by the National GOP, so there is not much chance for her having a hard time returning to the Senate. Look for many more pro-life bills to be filed 2016-2020.

39. Senator Dwight Bullard has become a strong voice for progressive values and has staked out a position on the far left on most issues. With his recent appointment to the head of the Miami-Dade DEC, he should have an easy time getting re-elected. However, if he wants to go further than the Senate, he is going to have to put down some of his ideals and learn to compromise and reach across the aisle. While he is in no danger in this safe Democratic district, it will be interesting to see if a more moderate Democrat will decide to primary him.


  1. Are you fucking serious? · ·

    this has to be the worst, most uninformed “analysis” I’ve ever read regarding Florida political races. Katy, get your head out of your ass and spend your time doing something productive. No wonder the republicans always win… The Dems (all five of them) are too busy reading this misinformed, Google-researched garbage.


    1. This article and this site are written from a Democratic perspective. We leave the covering of Republican primaries and insider Republican politics to other sites that do it better like Saint Petersblog among others.


  2. Can someone explain the D35 race? How is the Black Caucus involved?

    “35. District 35 is a curious case, with State Representative David Richardson taking on incumbent Senator Gwen Margolis. What is even more curious is that Christian Ulvert is running his race after his ouster from the Democratic party, so this seems like another sign of the rising divide between the Black Caucus and the rest of the FDP.”


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