The decennial redistricting process always creates interesting match-ups for congressional seats and 2012 is no exception. As you look around at the most interesting races resulting from this process, the battle over Florida’s 7th District, which features freshman Republican Sandy Adams against 20-year Republican veteran John Mica, has to be at the top of the list.
More than any other race in the country, this race provides the starkest contrast between the new brand of Tea Party conservatives and the “Old Bulls” of the free-spending pork-barrel Republican majorities of the last decade. In reality, the former was created in response to the latter.
Mica, a state legislator and wealthy businessman before being elected to Congress 20 years ago is the chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, a plum perch to grant pork projects to colleagues. That favor-factory has made Mica a very powerful chairman and his influence over K Street has given him a decided financial advantage over Adams.
As he currently tries to pass a budget-busting transportation bill, he has taken considerable criticism from conservatives over its price tag. Once asked about earmark reform, he proudly boasted, “There’s no way in hell I’d support banning earmarks.”
Adams spent four terms in the Florida House and is a former Deputy Sheriff. A Tea Party heroine, Adams defeated an incumbent Democrat by 20-points, even though she was outspent 2-1. But that’s not what’s interesting about Sandy Adams.
As the GOP looks for strong conservative female voices, Sandy Adams does not come to Congress by a typical path. Adams dropped out of high school, joined the Air Force, and found herself, with a young daughter, trapped in an abusive marriage. Concerned for her daughter’s safety, she fled, with nothing but a suitcase.
Rebuilding her life as a single mother, she worked three jobs, earned her G.E.D., and joined the police academy. Eventually getting a job in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, she served seventeen years as a Deputy Sheriff. There she met and married her second husband, a fellow deputy.
But tragedy struck and Sandy’s husband was killed in the line of duty.
As a result, Adams’ got involved in victims’ rights causes and that eventually led to a run for the state legislature on a crime and safety platform. Outspent, but not outworked, Adams won a 5-way GOP primary in 2002 and served eight years in the Florida House of Representatives.
Mica is vacating the seat he has represented for 20 years. While his residence is technically in the new 7th District, Mica abandons 72% of his current district in the new 6th to challenge Adams. Even odder, his current district is a much safer Republican seat. John McCain won the 6th by 8% while he barely won the 7th by .05%. Congressional leadership, fellow freshman, and political observers are all scratching their heads over Mica’s decision to force an unnecessary member-on-member primary.
If Mica were to run in the 6th District, he would likely run unopposed in the Primary and face token opposition in the General. The same would happen for Adams in the 7th. Instead, expect as much as $5 million to be spent by candidates and independent expenditures in Republican primaries in both districts and an uncertain outcome.
Not only does Mica’s decision waste all that money, it has also caused dissension within the House Republican Conference. Adams’ freshman colleagues are upset, as are female members. And it is complicating passage of the transportation bill.
Normally senior members like Mica demonstrate their leadership by helping the team. In this case, Mica seems more interested in helping himself.