Veteran Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns is in for a tough fight this week as congressional Republicans choose the next chairman to head up the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee -- one of the most powerful chairmanships in Congress.
First elected to Congress in 1988, Stearns represents a sprawling portion of North and Central Florida, stretching from Jacksonville through Gainesville and Ocala before reaching the outskirts of the Orlando suburbs. He represents parts of Alachua, Clay, Duval, Lake, Levy and Marion counties, and all of Bradford and Gilchrist counties.
Currently serving as the ranking Republican on the U.S House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, Stearns looks to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee -- but three other Republicans stand in his way. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas is currently the ranking Republican on the committee but, due to rules set up by the Republicans, he needs a waiver from incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to wield the gavel. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and U.S. John Shimkus, R-Ill, are also in the running.
The committee ranks as one of the most influential in Congress, overseeing energy issues, domestic and international commerce including trade issues, consumer matters, telecommunications including the Internet, some environmental matters and some public health issues.
While Stearns has been a solid favorite to win re-election every two years, usually taking more than 60 percent of the vote, he is considered an underdog to prevail in the contest. Some Beltway observers believe Upton is the favorite to wield the gavel.
The GOP Steering Committee should vote on the chairman on Tuesday, with the entire Republican conference weighing in on Wednesday.
Stearns team has highlighted the congressmans conservative credentials -- including strong ratings from the American Conservative Union -- to draw attention to his bid to be chairman.
Stearns has also won the support of Brian Forte, president of the Republican Business Council, based in Ocala -- the congressmans hometown.
Cliff Stearns has seniority on the Energy and Commerce Committee and has been a forceful and effective chairman or a Republican leader on several Energy and Commerce subcommittees, insisted Forte.
Forte also pointed to Stearns record in the private sector and Floridas important role in national politics -- including hosting the 2012 Republican Presidential Convention. Florida should have a key role in the U.S. House, noted Forte.
At the very least, Stearns had one consolation prize when he was named chairman of the Florida Republican delegation back in November. With 19 Republican members, the Sunshine State is tied with California behind Texas for the second largest number of the new congressional majority.
The Florida delegation is the nations fourth largest and with seven freshmen members, the delegation will have great influence, said Stearns. We share a commitment to advancing the interests of Florida and the people we represent, and I look forward to working with the states delegation on our priorities.
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