Charlie Crist, the ex-Republican, ex-governor and current Democrat from Florida, was working the crowd at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club last week and running for Congress. He didn’t know it, but Sacramento campaign consultant Steve Smith helped open his path to a comeback. I happened to be in the room as the well-tanned politician schmoozed. Political junkie that I am, I introduced myself. Good politician that he is, he treated me like a confidant and dished a little about one of his old rivals, Marco Rubio. Crist was elected Florida governor as a Republican in 2006, lost the U.S. Senate race to Rubio as an independent in 2010, endorsed Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, and as a Democrat failed to unseat his successor, the climate change-denying Gov. Rick Scott, last year. Although the election is a year away, Crist is said to be the front-runner in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which encompasses St. Petersburg, where he has a waterfront condo. The reason has everything to do with a topic that Californians have come to know well: redistricting intended to make congressional lines less partisan.
Crist’s candidacy also provides a lesson in why the makeup of a state supreme court 3,000 miles away matters – which is where Smith comes in – and on the threat posed to democracy by attempts often orchestrated by partisan conservatives to unseat justices not to their liking.
As happened in many states after the Republican electoral victories of 2010, the Republican-controlled Legislature in Florida drew congressional district lines in ways that protected Republicans.
Although Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in Florida, 17 of Florida’s 27 congressional members are Republicans and 10 are Democrats. Not for long.
By a 5-2 vote, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Republican-drawn lines violated a voter-approved constitutional provision requiring that lawmakers “redistrict in a manner that prohibits favoritism or discrimination.” The justices took particular umbrage with the 13th Congressional District.