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Congress about to see several new faces from Florida

 
U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, announced Thursday he will not seek re-election. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, 2015)
U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, announced Thursday he will not seek re-election. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, 2015)
Published May 22, 2016

This year is on track to produce the biggest shake-up in Florida's congressional delegation in decades.

A whopping one-third of the Sunshine State's 27 U.S. House members are leaving the House after this year.

Three other representatives face potentially tough re-election fights: Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, whose districts were significantly redrawn, and Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, who is running in a different district than he currently represents.

Redistricting is a big reason for all the turnover — essentially knocking Democrat Gwen Graham of Tallahassee out of office — as is the decision by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio not to seek a second term, creating a rare open Senate seat. Among those leaving the House to run for Rubio's seat: Democrats Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter; and Republicans David Jolly of Indian Shores and Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.

But it's not just political ambition and opportunity remaking Florida's delegation. To members old and new the job simply isn't that appealing any more.

North Florida Republican Reps. Jeff Miller of Chumuckla and Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville both began their congressional careers in 2001 and are calling it quits after this term.

Republican former Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent only got to Congress in 2011 and has had enough. He's tired of living out of a suitcase, he said in announcing his retirement in November.

Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, took even less time. Elected in 2014, the businessman announced last week that his mother's recent death helped him decide he had spent enough time in Washington.

"Since my mother's passing last year, our family has gone through significant change and transition. I believe that now is a good time to pass the baton and spend more time close to home."

Rebukes of Beruff

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff called President Barack Obama an animal recently. As in: "Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call president, because he's an animal, okay — seven and a half years, has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretary of defenses."

That promptly drew rebukes from critics on both sides of the aisle, but Beruff says he's a plain-spoken guy and has no intention of apologizing for remarks taken out of context.

"I use strong language and it was meant in the context of the (current) dismantling of the military," the wealthy Bradenton builder told the Star-Banner. "I could have called him a bird, plane, anything," Beruff said.

This, of course, makes complete sense: "Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this PLANE we call president, because he's a PLANE, okay — seven and a half years, has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretary of defenses."

Anyhow, critics continue to seize on it.

Jolly brought it up in the context of everybody expecting Rubio soon to formalize his endorsement of Carlos Lopez-Cantera for his seat. Said Jolly: "I have so much respect for Marco Rubio that I'd expect he'd withhold his endorsement until Carlos condemns Beruff's racist remarks against the president of the United States."

The campaign of Democratic candidate Murphy released a statement from Joyce Cusack, a Democratic National Committee member from Volusia County: "Carlos Beruff's racist and derogatory comments about the president of the United States are not just unacceptable, but completely out of line. By refusing to accept responsibility for his racial dog whistling, Mr. Beruff has revealed a deeply concerning commitment to a cynical brand of politics that seeks to divide Floridians with hatred and fear," said Cusack.

Trump numbers rise

The bad news for Donald Trump in must-win Florida is that a new Florida Chamber Political Institute poll finds that 57 percent of Hispanic voters, 57 percent of independent voters, and 61 percent of women voters have an unfavorable view of the presumptive Republican nominee.

The good news? His numbers are improving in the Sunshine State and he is neck-and-neck with similarly unpopular Hillary Clinton. She leads Trump 45 percent to 43 percent in the Chamber's poll.

"Right now, no one knows who will win the general election and will be our next president, but we can tell you it seems to be improving for Trump daily," Marian Johnson, the Chamber's senior vice president for political strategy wrote in a memo to Chamber members. "A disgruntled, angry electorate seems to work in his favor."

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.