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  1. Florida Politics

DeWitt: Nugent's challenge of House speaker is all about job security

Published Jan. 15, 2015

It looks like a bold move, but is actually a play for safety.

It looks as if U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, is willing to take on the very model of an entrenched politician, when the idea is to become more entrenched himself.

Nugent, as you've no doubt heard by now, voted for Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, instead of incumbent John Boehner for House speaker earlier this month. On Saturday, he doubled down, releasing a statement that blasted Boehner's leadership.

That's what Nugent said his support for Webster was about — leadership, not conservative ideology. But then he went on to complain that Boehner, the leader of a historically antagonistic House, was, in fact, not antagonistic enough in pressing for hard-right goals.

Boehner wasn't quick enough to appoint a select committee to investigate what another House committee has determined is a non-issue — Benghazi — Nugent wrote. The statement from Nugent, who didn't respond to questions from the Times, also made it seem as if suing the president over his executive actions was a minor task that Boehner should have checked off his to-do list long ago.

As for Webster's challenge of Boehner, it was about a rare hopeful sign of compromise: the December spending agreement that guaranteed the federal government would remain up and running for several months. Webster, instead, wanted to be able use the threat of starving the agency that enforces immigration rules to challenge Obama's recently announced immigration plan.

Though obviously not as extreme as the 2013 government shutdown, the general idea is the same: Foul things up to make a political point; stand in the way of compromise and statesmanship; let an important government function grind to a halt.

That's just what we need, Nugent is saying with his opposition to Boehner.

Actually, it's just what he needs.

As is clearer than ever, the only way for Nugent to lose an election is from the right, in a primary. A fresh reminder of this, and of the hazards of getting too close to House leadership, came with last year's primary defeat of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at the hands of an uncompromising conservative.

So far, Nugent's strategy is playing well with voters such Scott W. Charboneau of Spring Hill, who wrote in a letter to this paper that Nugent "stood up for 'we the people,' by taking a stand against House Speaker John Boehner."

And there are lots of voters like Charboneau in Nugent's deep-red 11th District of Florida. All of the representatives who voted against Boehner come from "very conservative districts," said James Thurber, director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in Washington, D.C.

Nugent, it seems, "was willing to give up his power position on the (House) Rules Committee because he was afraid he was not going to get elected," Thurber said.

Yep, that's the downside. Boehner booted Webster and Nugent off that committee, an influential post that gave Nugent leverage to work for his constituency and the causes he cares about.

Also, out of apparent deference to his far-right opposition, Boehner has announced he will take a harder line on immigration — the familiar path of more standoffs, fewer actual accomplishments.

Which may be okay with Nugent. After all, being entrenched isn't about doing the job, but keeping it.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.

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