tampabay.com

Sept. 5, not Nov. 7, decides many races

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 31, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - There's a dirty secret when it comes to how Floridians elect their legislators: Most districts are drawn to favor one party or the other.

That means in many districts, one party sits the race out, or has a candidate who doesn't have much of a chance. That means the decision on who will represent many voters actually takes place in the September primary, rather than November.

Case in point: 20 of the 40 state Senate seats are technically up for election this year. Only five of those will have a Republican and a Democrat on the November ballot. One major party or the other is taking a pass on the other 15.

And of 120 seats up for election in the House, one major party will sit out in 49, although a few districts have minor party candidates.

So for many Floridians who want a say in who makes their laws, primary day, Sept. 5, is the day to decide.

Not that all districts will have a primary either. In the Senate, of those 15 seats where one party is sitting out the November election, nine have already been decided because only one candidate is running.

Still, there are some primaries that are competitive, interesting - even controversial.

One Republican state Senate primary is drawing attention in conservative circles around the country because it includes Operation Rescue founder and radio host Randall Terry taking on one of the Legislature's most established members, former Senate president Jim King.

Terry and King squared off last year during the debate over the fate of Terri Schiavo. Terry was a spokesman and legal adviser for her parents, trying to keep her alive. King voted against state intervention.

Another GOP Senate primary has Gov. Jeb Bush thinking of working against Sen. Alex Villalobos of Miami because of the senator's vote against school vouchers.

Bush said recently that he thinks Villalobos is "out of step with the Republican Party."

And in the House, a GOP primary pits incumbent Rep. J.C. Planas against challenger J.P Planas.

Rep. Juan-Carlos "J.C." Planas, R-Miami, represents House District 115. At the last minute, a man named Juan E. "J.P." Planas qualified to run against him.

The incumbent Planas called the move "typical dirty tricks," and said unnamed people who want to defeat him recruited the other Planas to run to confuse voters. Rep. Planas said J.P. Planas is a distant cousin.

"I think it's very sad someone would try to do something to divide a family," the incumbent said. "And it's extremely disturbing that someone would want to confuse voters like that."

Juan E. "J.P." Planas didn't return a call for comment.