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Politics

A Busy Year for Florida Delegation Sets the Stage for Dramatic 2016

December 23, 2015 - 6:30am
Dan Webster, Corrine Brown, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Jeff Miller and Ted Deutch
Dan Webster, Corrine Brown, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Jeff Miller and Ted Deutch

The Florida congressional delegation endured a year of highs and lows as they focused on veterans issues, the Middle East and leadership contests even as redistricting back home made them keep their focus on 2016. 

With Marco Rubio saying he would not run for a second term in the Senate, several members of the Florida delegation tested the waters for 2016. Republicans Vern Buchanan, Jeff Miller and Tom Rooney both took long looks at entering the race but decided against it. After two terms in Congress, fellow Republican Ron DeSantis decided to jump in and, after redistricting made it near impossible he could he keep his Pinellas County seat, so did David Jolly. On the Democratic side, both Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy also decided to forego reelection to get in the Senate race. 

Other congressmen from Florida also looked to move up the political ladder. Florida Republicans Dan Webster and Ted Yoho challenged John Boehner from the right to start off the year. Webster proved more of a threat to Boehner than Yoho did but neither could topple the Ohio Republican. For his trouble, Webster and fellow Florida Republican Rich Nugent got tossed off the Rules Committee. 

When Boehner announced in the fall that he was resigning his seat, Webster tried again, this time with Yoho’s support, and made more of an impact even if he came up short against Paul Ryan. There could have been another Florida Republican in the mix as conservative groups urged Curt Clawson, who voted for Rand Paul instead of Boehner at the start of the year, to get in the race but the Southwest Florida Republican stayed out. With the support of the House Freedom Caucus, Webster rounded up enough votes to ensure Kevin McCarthy would not take over as House speaker. With McCarthy staying where he is, Florida Republican Dennis Ross had to scrap his bid to take over as GOP whip though he remains senior deputy majority whip. 

While he did not get in the Senate race or end up as chair of the Intelligence Committee like he hoped, Miller had a busy year as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, trying to push reform after the VA spent most of 2014 dealing with the aftermath of reports that its medical facilities across the nation put veterans on altered waiting lists as they awaited treatment. Fellow Florida Republican Gus Bilirakis was Miller’s vice-chair while Sunshine State Democrat Corrine Brown led her party on the committee, defending the Obama administration’s handling of the VA. 

Buchanan also avoided the Senate race but he had a good year. Already on the Ways and Means Committee, Buchanan also claimed a seat on the Budget Committee. Buchanan also scored a big win as his bill replacing the DD-214 for a veterans ID card was signed into law. He also took over as the chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee in November, giving him a large seat at the table on federal welfare. 

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was honored on Capitol Hill as her portrait was installed, honoring her time as the first woman to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee. The South Florida congresswoman continues to remain one of the leading congressional Republicans on international issues and she currently chairs the important Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. Ted Deutch from Florida is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee and he has shown no hesitation in working with Ros-Lehtinen in supporting Israel. Deutch even broke with Obama over the White House’s deal with Iran over its nuclear program. 

Other members of the Florida congressional delegation also focused on international affairs and national security issues. Besides taking over the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, Republican Ander Crenshaw continued his efforts to secure funding for naval facilities on the First Coast. South Florida Democrat Frederica Wilson was one of the leading voices in the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign against Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor was one of the biggest champions of normalization with Cuba while South Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart led the resistance to it. 

Two new members of the delegation made splashes at the start of the year. While he spent much of the year focused on education issues, Carlos Curbelo began 2015 offering the Spanish response to Obama’s State of the Union address. On the other side of the aisle, North Florida Democrat Gwen Graham kept her campaign promise and voted against Nancy Pelosi to lead the caucus. 

Veteran members of the delegation also made their mark in 2015. Besides voting for Webster against Boehner at the start of the year, Florida Republican Bill Posey looked to give the private sector more opportunities in mining asteroids and ensure insurance policies aren’t used for bailouts. Posey also teamed up with South Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings backing a resolution condemning the Palestinian Authority’s support of attacks against Israel. Thankfully, Hasting’s call for a congressional pay raise went nowhere in 2015.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz continued to have her hands full leading the DNC while fellow South Florida Democrat Lois Frankel has increasingly waded into national politics, slamming Donald Trump and pushing back against the GOP's plans to defund Planned Parenthood. 

Much of the delegation teamed up trying to get funds to battle citrus greening. Rooney is taking over the Citrus Caucus and he and Democrat Bill Nelson joined up to secure funds under the federal omnibus to fight citrus greening. 

Still much of 2015 was about 2016. Looming over the delegation was the continued battle over congressional redistricting. Brown continued to push back against the Florida Supreme Court’s decision, insisting it hurt minority representation and planning to take the issue to federal court. Webster looks shut out after redistricting and both Curbelo and Graham will have tough roads to win second terms in 2016. 

In the meantime, expect a few changes to the delegation. Nugent surprised observers by announcing he would not seek a fourth term in 2016. DeSantis, Grayson, Jolly and Murphy are all running for the Senate, leaving more open seats. Brown and Webster could run for districts they currently don’t represent.

A busy year for the Florida congressional delegation to be sure but next year looks to pose even more drama. 

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN

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