U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite could not be gracious or fair-minded even on her way out the door. The Brooksville Republican insulted her constituents and fellow public servants by secretly hand-picking her successor and then announcing her retirement minutes after Friday's deadline for qualifying for office. A congressional seat is not a family heirloom to be handed down to a friend.
Brown-Waite abused the electoral process by qualifying to run for re-election this week, then privately telling only Hernando Sheriff Richard B. Nugent she actually planned to retire and ask that her name be removed from the ballot. Nugent is an extremely credible Republican candidate, but this was a cynical move by Brown-Waite to reward a friend and clear the field of other viable candidates. She cheated voters out of making up their own minds, and she did Nugent no favors by leaving him to explain the collusion on the campaign trail.
Brown-Waite's conceit aside, her decision to retire due to health reasons creates a greater opportunity for more enlightened representation of the 5th Congressional District, which includes all or portions of Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and five other counties. In her previous roles as Hernando County commissioner and a Florida state senator, Brown-Waite's independence often served the public good. But after her election to Congress in 2002, Brown-Waite morphed into a Bush White House apologist. Later, she ably filled the role of mean-spirited, rhetoric-filled partisan with the near single-minded mission to discredit the Obama administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It is an unfortunate political legacy for someone who bucked the party line in Washington with her support for embryonic stem cell research and her noble opposition to congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo feeding tube controversy. The latter stages of her career reflected a penchant for unprincipled grandstanding. She inaccurately characterized Puerto Rican citizens as foreigners; called economic stimulus legislation "extortion''; alleged health care legislation would decimate care for seniors; and wrongly insisted President Barack Obama had to ask permission of Congress to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Let's not forget her 2006 postelection letter defending local politicians' anti-Muslim rant with her own gem that except for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, "all terrorists are Muslims.''
Brown-Waite's insensitive outbursts are surpassed only by her lack of respect for open elections and the voters in her district. In the long run, she did Nugent no favors by anointing him as her successor. But he will have an opportunity to demonstrate during the campaign that he cares more about public policy and pragmatic solutions than his co-conspirator in rigging the election.