PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Regarding Florida’s recently passed Election Administration Act, the Pinellas County Commission says the state of Florida is not playing fair.
Their concerns all boil down to about two paragraphs of text – basically saying that county commissioners in single-member constituencies must run again for their seats after a redistricting. This new provision also contains exceptions for Miami-Dade County, counties that do not have a charter, and counties with no commission term limit.
And when you factor that in, as of now, Pinellas County is the only county that’s affected.
ABC Action News sat down with Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long to talk about it.
“When you have something that only affects one county, that’s why you file it as a local bill because there are other requirements that come into play,” Long said. “You have to have two public hearings in the county and then it goes through a different process in the Florida Legislature and the Florida Senate. And so clearly, yeah that’s a very loaded question, it seems absolutely targeted.”
Pinellas County completed its redistricting process in December 2021. As the bill currently stands, this would mean Pinellas County Commissioners Rene Flowers in District 7 and Karen Seel in District 5 would have to again running for their seats – despite both having two years left on their current terms.
Some members of the commission are so committed to it that they voted in late April to file a lawsuit against the attorney general and secretary of state, seeking a temporary injunction at law. The lawsuit says the changes are illegal because they don’t apply to all levels of the state. It also says the law is unlikely to impact other counties in the future.
Pamella Seay, a law professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, weighed in on the suit. She said Pinellas County might be right.
“There is a general indication that he may have been targeted,” she said.
But, she also said a lot can happen between now and the next redistricting process.
“There’s a redistricting that will take place every ten years, so it’s very possible that other counties will be affected at another time,” Seay said. “So that’s something you have to be careful about.”
She added that legally there are good reasons to call for a new election after a redistricting process.
“A lot of things can happen, a lot of things can change, and a lot of things that are very important to people who live in these neighborhoods can be changed by people they never voted for,” she said. .
One of the candidates currently vying for one of the seats is State Representative Chris Latvala, who has filed for the District 5 seat of the Pinellas County Commission.
Latvala did not sponsor the bill that opened those seats, but he voted for it when he hit the floor of the house.
He released the following statement to ABC Action News:
“The bill they are referring to is a Senate bill that eventually passed the House and became law. I was not the sponsor of the bill and I was not involved in its adoption other than voting for it when it was tabled. It was a great election integrity bill that was a priority of our great Governor. It is the height of arrogance for the County Commission de Pinellas to use taxpayer money to sue the state to try to avoid running for re-election as some of their single-member districts added 16,000 residents who never had the opportunity Several counties have a policy of having their single-member county commissioners run for re-election in a redistricting year (Hillsborough being one). also running for re-election in the redistricting Pinellas wants special treatment, and they’re using taxpayers’ money to fight so they don’t have to run, and so they’re depriving our residents of their right to choose. I will leave it to the residents of Pinellas to decide who they agree with.”
We spoke to ABC Action News political analyst Dr. Susan MacManus. She said the idea of an appointed representative running for lower positions is not unusual.
“It’s not uncommon and then if they’re appointed locally, if there are term limits, then it’s not uncommon for them to go back to Tallahassee,” she said.
MacManus said it’s also not uncommon for people to search for a deeper political meaning behind certain things, like this new law, especially now.
“In an election year, people always look for a political motive in just about everything a public servant does. Election year politics is very different from non-election year politics,” he said. she declared.
Ultimately, Commissioner Long said the county would continue to fight the law.
“If the legislature just stops pre-empting all of our authority, well, that will be the solution,” she said.
There are also concerns about the timing of this bill and what the trial means for the election. The qualifying period for this year’s general election begins on June 13 and primary elections are held in August.
The fear is that incumbent commissioners who are due to run again will not have much time to decide whether to run or campaign if they do. At this point, Commissioner Rene Flowers has sought re-election and is currently unopposed, but Commissioner Seel has not filed. Rep. Latvala is currently running unopposed for Seel’s seat and has raised more than $100,000 for his campaign.
ABC Action News has reached out to the Attorney General’s office and the Secretary of State’s office for comment on the pending lawsuit and we are awaiting a response.