Robert W. McKnight: Despite role in election, Florida lacks clout in Congress

Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 10:48 p.m.

During the last two years, Florida's 25 members of Congress enjoyed extraordinary political clout, ranging from the chair of the National Democratic Party to chairs of two of the most important committees in the U.S. House of Representatives — Foreign Affairs and Transportation.

The expectation for the Florida delegation in 2013-14 was for even more clout. Two new members were added on the House side, and the delegation's senior senator was just re-elected to a six-year term.

But now that the committee assignments have been announced, the Florida delegation will be enjoying less, not more, clout. The delegation does not boast even one chair of the seven most important committees in the House — Financial Services, Judiciary, Transportation, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Administration or Rules.

The same dismal result occurs with the Senate — no chairs from Florida on any of the five most important committees —Appropriations, Budget, Energy and Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, and Homeland Security-Governmental Affairs. If we then move over to the executive branch, there is not a single Floridian sitting in President Barack Obama's Cabinet.

In evaluating what appears to be a serious political slight, it is ironic to recall that both presidential candidates — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney — went to great lengths to emphasize the importance of Florida to their election, and how appreciative they would be to the Sunshine State if they were able to carry it. President Obama won the election with the key support of Florida, but perhaps forgot the appreciation part.

So, with this discouraging outlook for our delegation in 2013, let's look at what we do have in the Capitol.

In the Senate, Bill Nelson will largely continue on his previous committees, while Marco Rubio is fighting the temptation to start his race for president in 2016. Neither is considered part of the Senate leadership.

In the House, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz gets a lot of press, but with it generates questionable benefit to the state or her South Florida district. Congressman Alcee Hastings and Congresswoman Corrine Brown remain actively involved with the black caucus, but again with that caucus generates questionable direct benefits to Florida and their district.

Republican Chairs Bill Young (of a major Appropriations Subcommittee), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (of Foreign Affairs) and John Mica (of Transportation) will continue to have a major influence on committee legislation, but without the absolute authority of being chairs. Perhaps most promising is the seniority advancement of Republican Congressmen Ander Crenshaw and Dennis Ross, as potential chairs of major committees in the future.

These disappointing committee assignments and absence of Cabinet appointments for the Florida delegation in Washington should not go without response. The leadership of the delegation should confer with the chairs of the two Florida political parties to develop a solid, bipartisan list of nominees.

These individuals should be submitted to the leaders in Congress and the president for immediate consideration to be appointed to positions of leadership. Nothing less should be expected for what is becoming the third largest state in the country.

Robert W. McKnight is a former Florida state senator and representative.

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