Friday, December 15, 2017
Politics

Two former Florida Congress members explain partisan gridlock

TAMPA — Gerrymandering, closed primaries and the role of money in politics are the biggest forces pushing members of Congress to extreme positions and preventing bipartisan problem-solving.

That's the assessment two former members of Congress, one Democratic and one Republican but both moderates, offered at a forum Thursday.

"The amount of time you're expected to fundraise — fundraising is the No. 1 job, 20 to 30 hours a week," said former Rep. David Jolly, R-St. Petersburg, when asked to name his biggest surprise on taking office.

Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Jupiter, responded with a story about forming a bipartisan group with a Republican fellow freshman to try to work on issues both sides could agree on, including eliminating government waste.

They produced a bill identifying $450 billion in waste, he said. But the effort fell apart when Republican House Speaker John Boehner told Murphy's Republican colleague he wouldn't allow a bill to come up if it included a Democratic co-sponsor.

Murphy said the Republican was told, "We're not going to make Murphy look good — we're trying to defeat him. If you work with him, we're going to drop you from your committee." That would have prevented the Republican colleague from raising money for re-election.

Thursday's forum at the University of South Florida, "Why gridlock rules Washington, and how we can solve the crisis," is one of a series on campuses by the two former representatives.

Jolly won the St. Petersburg House seat in a special election in 2014, but lost it to Democrat Charlie Crist in 2016, after alienating party leaders by publicly decrying the emphasis in Congress on fundraising.

He said when he first arrived in Washington, GOP caucus leaders told him his first responsibility was to raise money, not learn about issues.

Murphy, a former Republican, changed parties in 2011 because he felt the GOP was becoming too extreme. He won his House seat, but then lost to Marco Rubio in the 2016 Senate race.

Murphy said freshmen are subject to "brainwashing" to raise money and make holding or gaining majority control for their party their top priority.

"The single biggest change I would make is gerrymandering," he said. Because 90 percent of congressional districts are basically predetermined as Republican or Democrat, "There's only one election that matters," he said. "You've got to win a primary."

To win a primary, Murphy said, "You've got to go to the far left or the far right."

Jolly said he believes he lost his re-election bid largely because the PACs and party leaders he had alienated abandoned him.

But he said the encouraging message is, "Voters can fix these things."

He cited the Fair Districts Amendment passed by Florida voters in 2010, which lessened gerrymandering, and successful initiatives in other states to institute open primaries. In Florida's closed primaries, only members of the party can vote.

But, Jolly said, "It will take a scandal to change anything on campaign financing."

Contact William March at [email protected]

Comments
House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s not leaving Congress soon

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s not leaving Congress soon

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he’s not leaving Congress anytime soon, trying to squelch rumors that he will walk away in triumph after the Republicans’ treasured tax bill is approved. Politico and the Huffington Post published re...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Pence to delay Mideast trip as tax deal nears vote

Pence to delay Mideast trip as tax deal nears vote

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is delaying his weekend departure for the Middle East as Congress nears completion of a tax overhaul, his office announced Thursday. White House officials said Pence now plans to leave for Egypt on Tuesday so he...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Senator: Comey’s remarks on Clinton probe heavily edited

Senator: Comey’s remarks on Clinton probe heavily edited

WASHINGTON — A draft statement former FBI director James Comey prepared in anticipation of concluding the Hillary Clinton email case without criminal charges was heavily edited to change the "tone and substance" of the remarks, a Republican senator s...
Updated: 6 hours ago
William March: AG candidate Ashley Moody called ‘liberal;’ bill takes Orlando money for Tampa transit

William March: AG candidate Ashley Moody called ‘liberal;’ bill takes Orlando money for Tampa transit

Ideological divides in Florida’s Republican attorney general primary race are producing some early negative campaigning, with a strong Tampa Bay area flavor.State Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, one of four candidates, has attacked the early frontrunn...
Published: 12/14/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Nationally, the word "evangelical" has become in recent years nearly synonymous with "conservative Republican" and Alabama is one of the most evangelical states in the country. But in Alabama, there is a difference: black Christians.While in many par...
Published: 12/13/17
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to fill fellow Democrat Al Franken’s Senate seat until a special election in November, setting up his longtime and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018...
Published: 12/13/17
Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Still-uncounted ballots are unlikely to change the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Alabama enough to spur an automatic recount, the state’s election chief said Wednesday as Democratic victor Doug Jones urged Republican Roy Moore...
Published: 12/13/17
Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

The Democrats’ seismic victory Tuesday in the unlikely political battleground of Alabama brought jubilation — and a sudden a rush of confidence — to a party that has been struggling to gain its footing since Donald Trump won the presidency 13 months ...
Published: 12/13/17
Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on Tuesday rushed toward a deal on a massive tax package that would reduce the top tax rate for wealthy Americans to 37 percent and slash the corporate rate to a level slightly higher than what businesses and co...
Published: 12/12/17