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Column: Rep. Gus Bilirakis' mistake was caring about your flood insurance

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, right, with Sen. Marco Rubio at the Pinellas County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner in 2012.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times (2012)

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, right, with Sen. Marco Rubio at the Pinellas County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner in 2012.

Gus Bilirakis screwed up. He made you his priority.

As you can imagine, that's a major sin in Congress these days. It's akin to breaking a handful of Washington commandments at the same time.

Thou shalt honor major donors.

Thou shalt obey party leaders.

Thou shalt fear the tea party.

And thou can worry about the folks back home in thou's spare time.

Bilirakis, a four-term U.S. representative, knew he was stepping out of line. It's one of the reasons he resisted it for a couple of weeks.

But, eventually, the Republican from Palm Harbor decided it was more important to represent his district's interests so he crossed party lines in a procedural vote to support Senate legislation that would have delayed flood insurance rate hikes.

His reward?

House leaders stripped him of his position on a Republican Party leadership team.

Bilirakis had to know it was coming. The same kind of thing had already happened to a Louisiana legislator who had also voted for the flood insurance reform.

And so Bilirakis did not whine and he did not criticize. He was already in trouble with House honchos, and so he wisely played it as low-key as possible.

You, on the other hand, should be outraged.

For this is everything that is wrong with Congress in one rotten nutshell. Partisan politics have so gripped Washington that a representative is actually punished for choosing his constituents instead of his political party.

And don't think this is a one-sided problem. Democrats are just as guilty — and in some cases more egregiously guilty — of goose-stepping to leadership's commands.

Of course, none of this qualifies as a revelation. These machinations have been a part of politics forever. The difference is it has become more common. More shrill. More shameless and more pathetic. An alarmist might even say it has begun to threaten the entire concept of representative government.

Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano got a firsthand and painful look at it during his final years in the state Senate and House.

Fasano once stood up to former Senate president Mike Haridopolos — a soulless hack who was trying to ram through the corporate welfare package known as prison privatization — and was subsequently stripped of his chairmanship of a key committee.

When Fasano was elected to the Florida House a year later, he was still being punished. He was given none of the normal courtesies afforded someone with his seniority, and any bills he sponsored were killed before they could even get out of committee.

Fasano, one of the most compassionate lawmakers to ever pass through Tallahassee, had done nothing illegal, unethical, immoral or unfair. He simply had a difference of opinion, and for this was made a pariah.

"Once when I got on an elevator in Tallahassee, a member from my own party turned to me and called me a piece of (expletive),'' Fasano said. "It's a shame we've come to this. It's a shame that our leaders have allowed this to happen.''

As for Bilirakis, he will survive. He's won four elections with relative ease, and his stance on flood insurance reform should do nothing to hurt him with voters.

And if he no longer has his leadership post, he at least has his good conscience.

Column: Rep. Gus Bilirakis' mistake was caring about your flood insurance 02/22/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 22, 2014 8:54pm]
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