Right-wing reps of a left-wing town


Published: Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 7, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.

Given Gainesville's reputation as a liberal bastion, it's sometimes startling to see how conservative some of the lawmakers representing the area can be.

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, is the most obvious example. Given the tea party support that fueled his rise, that's no surprise. It's nice he took the time to attend a recent immigration forum, but unlikely he's going to become an outspoken supporter of amnesty anytime soon.

It's more interesting to watch the evolution of state Rep. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican serving his second term. When I covered Perry at a community breakfast soon after he was first elected, he pleasantly surprised me as someone who talked about the unsexy issue of prison reform rather than the usual rhetoric.

At a legislative review last week at Santa Fe College, Perry sounded more like a doctrinaire conservative. Maybe he's been that way all along, or maybe a couple years in the compromise-averse House of Representatives hardened his positions.

A discussion about legislation protecting gay rights is an example. Perry said he was a Constitutionalist and didn't support putting government in the position of protecting all rights. “Any time the government protects us, the government controls us,” he said.

He went on to say that a large centralized government leads to the downfall of society. A young audience member later questioned whether he was suggesting that gay rights leads to a society's downfall, something that Perry said was an out-of-context distortion of his position.

The back-and-forth was one of several energetic exchanges between Perry and the audience, a few of them about Medicaid expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act, the state is eligible for about $51 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid. The feds would foot the bill for all of the expansion for the first four years and 90 percent after that.

Perry bashed the idea of expanding what he deemed to be a “broken system.” Fair enough. No one is pretending Medicaid is perfect.

But Perry's argument that it's unnecessary to cover all the 1 million uninsured Floridians because there are a lot of young, single and currently healthy folks in that group is a little weak. No one thinks they need health insurance until they get sick, and we all end up paying anyway when the uninsured end up in emergency rooms.

I caught up later with state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who also represents Gainesville and was unable to attend the event. Bradley and the rest of the Senate passed a plan that would have used the federal money to provide private coverage to the 1 million uninsured, but the House refused to budge on its idea of using only state money to provide basic coverage to 130,000.

Although Bradley tangled with the Alachua County Commission on the wage-theft issue, he said that he viewed himself as a pragmatic problem solver. He was just a freshman this session, but was able to get legislation passed that included a bath-salts ban.

And maybe that's the reason liberals shouldn't get heartburn about conservative representation. With a Republican-dominated Legislature, at least it means being represented by someone who's on the winning side of a few issues.

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