Feb. 7, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

In Florida: Anger, Confusion, Musical Chairs

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Allen West’s former Democratic opponent called him a “coward” for seeking re-election in Florida’s 18th district rather than in the 22nd, which he currently represents.

There is plenty of evidence that the political discourse in this country has degenerated into the gutter. But anger, hatred, name-calling and political musical chairs all at the same time? Welcome to the soap opera that is Southeast Florida.

Last week, freshman Republican Rep. Allen West, a favorite of the tea party, announced that he would seek re-election in the proposed 18th district rather than in the 22nd district, which he currently represents. The 18th would be left open because two-term Republican Rep. Tom Rooney has announced that he will seek re-election in the 17th district.

West’s move prompted one of his Democratic opponents, Patrick Murphy, to issue a press release with the following headline: “Murphy: West Move to Rooney Seat an Act of Cowardice.”

West is, by any standard, a loose cannon who uses absurdly over-the-top language against his political opponents.

He has called Democrats “vile,” “vicious” and “socialist”; compared President Barack Obama to a “third-world dictator”; referred to the U.S. government as a “tyranny”; and called Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz “the most vile, unprofessional and despicable Member” of the House. Civility apparently isn’t a high priority with the Congressman.

“This is a guy who makes a career of very tough talk, of being provocative toward Democrats ... [and who] had just told Democratic leaders that they need to get the hell out of the country — and two days later, he gets the hell out of his district,” notes Eric Johnson, Murphy’s general consultant.

But a coward? For running in a different district after the state adopted new district lines? It sounds as if Murphy is itching to get into a playground fight that’s more about testosterone than about representative government.

Was California Democratic Rep. Jim Costa a coward because he switched districts after redistricting to improve his chances of being re-elected?

How about North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler (D)? Was he a coward because he decided not to seek re-election in a district redrawn to make his prospects difficult?

And is Rep. Steven Rothman (D-N.J.) a coward in choosing to run against fellow Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell instead of against Republican Rep. Scott Garrett?

Certainly not. Each was simply making a cold-blooded decision about his political future.

Members, Democrat and Republican, make these kinds of decisions all the time. They are merely strategic decisions based on what political hopefuls — incumbents and nonincumbents — see as their chances for victory.

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