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Freshman Steve Southerland Shuns Beltway Culture

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

For someone who wants to fight, Southerland chooses to do so with words more than with bills. He has yet to offer an amendment and has introduced one bill, which was tied to his professional background. The bill would clarify that certain prearranged funeral and burial arrangements were not to be considered assets under the Supplemental Security Income program, and it drew accusations from Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith that it was solely to benefit the Congressman’s funeral-home industry.

But that was a minor tiff compared to what happened to the freshman during the summer.

When Southerland suggested his $174,000-per-year salary was not overly generous, considering his security risks and time on the job, during a talk at a retirement community in his district, Democrats pounced.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that he said: “If you think this job pays too much, with those kinds of risks and cutting me off from my family business, I’ll just tell you: This job don’t mean that much to me. I had a good life in Panama City.”

The remark is sure to appear in campaign ads, even if he didn’t mean it how it was interpreted by his rivals.

On the Hill, Southerland doesn’t shy away from the microphone, though he doesn’t rush toward it. He is not a frequent speaker on the House floor, but he has participated in a handful of network TV interviews.

He’s a co-founder of a Florida tea party group and joined the conservative Republican Study Committee when he arrived in Congress.

He voted against a final version of debt limit legislation in August, wanting more spending cuts and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. But one month later, he voted for a stopgap bill to keep the government running into fiscal 2012, legislation many tea-party-type Members opposed.

A fellow Floridian, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R) said he can count Southerland as “very straightforward” and “dependable.”

“I’ve never had a problem with him on an issue,” Mica said. “He’s not one I have to worry about. He’s valuable to the state on the committee and definitely important to me.”

For transportation polices, Southerland wants to increase, or at least maintain, the return his state gets on infrastructure spending.

He calls the Environmental Protection Agency the “single greatest threat to free enterprise in America today,” and looking to the next farm bill, Southerland would like more attention for research, especially relating to some of Florida’s specialty crops.

Life’s Work in Funeral Home

Southerland, who turned 46 today, was born in Tennessee but has spent most of his life in Florida. The funeral-home business started by his grandfather was a constant presence, with four business phone lines ringing in the house at all hours. It established his life’s mantra — and has molded him as a legislator.

“We’ve never signed a death certificate in the history of our family company, never have we signed a single death certificate that said this individual died from work,” he said. “Work is a good thing. We were made, created, to be creative. To work. To put our hand on the plough. To make a better life and a better world. It defines your character.”

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