Interview: Southerland Discusses Boehner, Career Plans
By Zayida Baker
After walking October 22 in Perry’s annual Forest Day Parade, Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., sat down for an interview with Zayida Baker of Tea Party Patriots.
ZAYIDA BAKER: I’ve heard you say a few times that you’re not planning to be a career politician. When do you think you’re going to be ready to pack it in and go back to private life? Do you have . . . a set of points you want to see through before you go back, or do you know yet?
STEVE SOUTHERLAND: Clearly I believe in smaller government. And the fact that this year we spent $3.6 trillion says that I’ve not accomplished that yet. . . . But the first thing you got to do is you got to familiarize yourself with the place. . . . We’re getting settled in, understanding the lay of the land, where our challenges are in D.C., who poses those challenges, and what are the possibilities of making the changes that the American people want to see us make. . . . [But] I love home, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We’ve sent enough people to D.C. that love the place. Well, we know how that’s worked out. It’s time that we sent people to D.C. that were more fond of their homes and their constituents than [D.C.]. . . .
ZB: So do you think you’ll just know at some point whenever you feel like—
SS: It’s a great question, and I’ll tell you [about] a conversation I had with [former] Congressman J.C. Watts [R-Okla.]. . . . He said for him, about that third term, that he started realizing, “This run is getting close to being over, and it’s best for me,” because he didn’t want to lose who he was. And so whether it’s three terms or four terms—you know, the people have a lot to say about that, . . . so you don’t want to be [presumptuous]—but . . . I’ve heard other members say . . . that that’s when you start to really feel things. . . .
ZB: You mean you start to become a creature of Washington?
SS: Well, yeah, the sense of urgency maybe slips, the hard line that is necessary . . . begins to blur maybe. . . . But I know this: I see these men that have been there for 10, 12, 14, 16 terms—that’s not me. I don’t see that. There [are] too many things I want to do with my family, with my kids, my wife. . . . Right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be. It’s our turn to do our part, and it’s an honor to be able to do it.
ZB: What do you think about the chances of [Speaker John] Boehner [R-Ohio] being challenged [for speaker in 2012]?
SS: That’s very small. I challenge the speaker with my votes. I have a very good relationship with John Boehner. He has been very hospitable to me, very kind; he has an open-door policy. . . . John Boehner’s got the toughest job in all of D.C. He’s got a Senate [majority leader] . . . under [whose] leadership they haven’t passed a budget in 900 days, [who] disagrees with everything that John believes in; you got a president that is divisive and tries to demonize the Republican Conference every day and blame us for everything; and yet they have the power; and then John has to come back and deal with . . . struggles inside of our own conference. But, all in all, . . . he controls one-half of one-third of the government.
ZB: So you think he’d be willing to, if Republicans had both houses of Congress, do what’s necessary to get the country back on the right track? Do you think he’d be willing to shift gears sufficiently?
SS: . . . I don’t think that there’s a likelihood that he would be challenged. Because here’s the problem: because whoever would challenge him is going to inherit the same situation, the same deck of cards that he has. The president’s not going to agree with any Republican.
ZB: But what if we have a different president?
SS: [If] we get a different president, a new hand of cards is going to be dealt for everybody. To say that the environment right now that John Boehner has to operate within would be the same environment with a Republican president and a Republican Senate—
ZB: Right, it would be very different—
SS: Well, sure.
ZB: But you think he would shift enough to make the kind of cuts that need to be made—
SS: John Boehner’s not a liberal. John Boehner’s not a liberal. I know that about him. John Boehner shut down the House Bank as a freshman.
ZB: That was a long time ago.
SS: It wasn’t that long ago—‘96? It wasn’t that long ago. . . . I think he has got a difficult hand.
John Lacquey, president of the North Central Florida Tea Party, thinks that Boehner has been a pushover. “I would tell Southerland that he needs to vote for somebody else.”
He noted that Southerland had also defended Boehner at a Live Oak town hall in December.
“I think he feels sorry for [Boehner] because [Boehner] has to go in there and have meetings with Barack Obama and Harry Reid. . . . But that is [Boehner’s] job, and if he can’t handle it, then we need to get somebody that can come out of a meeting with them and maybe have them mad as hell and Satan, not go along with them.”
Bob Root, head of the Taylor Tea Party, believes Southerland simply does not want to criticize the speaker publicly. He agrees with Lacquey that Southerland should vote against Boehner next year.
“I don’t think Boehner has it in him” to stand up for needed cuts, even with a Republican Senate and a Republican president.
You may wish to contact
Rep. Southerland: (202) 225-5235
Zayida Baker covers Rep. Steve Southerland and Sen. Bill Nelson for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.