By Zayida Baker

Republican Congressman Steve Southerland would rather be called “Representative” because, as he says, he “represents” his constituents. He is part of the freshman wave swept in on a national tide of voter anger at government growth and government debt. When Blue Dog Democrat Allen Boyd switched his “no” vote on ObamaCare to “yes” despite loud and overflowing town halls, his constituents knew that he represented not them, but the national party. As he calmly brushed them aside at one meeting in Monticello, Boyd maintained that “This is not personal.” Perhaps especially because their threats to do so had met such detachment, they swore to replace him.

Steve Southerland stepped forward, vowing to rein in the government, cut back spending, and make Washington accountable to the people and their Constitution. He also renounced the sort of blind allegiance to party that might come between him and the Second District.

Since winning in November and taking office in January, he has bucked party leadership in at least two ways: he voted against the April 14 spending compromise that averted government shutdown, and he supported Democrat Dennis Kucinich’s, D-Ohio, bill for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Libya.

On June 6, at a meeting in Tallahassee of the tea party-minded group Capital Conservatives, Southerland claimed these contrarian votes as bona fides of his authenticity. He said he “proudly” cast a ballot April 14 against a spending resolution hailed by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as a deal to save $38.5 billion and keep the government running. The Congressional Budget Office said savings were only $352 million.

Here Southerland criticized not just the meager result, but the process. “We gave away our hand,” he said of Republican leadership, who, he thinks, was too obviously not “willing to walk away” from negotiations. Thus, with the threat of shutdown gone, leaders on both sides waited until the last minute, came up with an easy agreement, and put it in front of their caucuses. Instead of giving time for consideration and wrangling, they continued the tradition of hurried votes on unread bills. Southerland’s “no” vote was his statement against such impositions. He warned his audience that if “bad process” is what alienated the people, switching parties is not enough.

Southerland wants constitutional restraints on Obama’s power in Libya. He voted June 3 for Speaker Boehner’s weaker Libya bill, which he did not tout at the meeting, and Kucinich’s stronger one, which he did. Boehner’s nonbinding resolution passed, demanding that the Obama Administration justify its actions in Libya to Congress by June 17. Kucinich sought to require under the War Powers Resolution that American troops leave Libya within fifteen days. His bill failed with even support from both parties.

Southerland then joined a bipartisan majority on June 13 to attach the Sherman Amendment, which bans spending contrary to the War Powers Resolution, to a larger military-construction appropriations bill. That bill passed the House June 14. If it clears the Senate, those monies cannot be spent in Libya unless Congress approves.

Regional tea party leaders seem generally satisfied with Southerland’s record to date. At least one, Elaine Thompson of Jackson County’s Concerned American Patriots, agrees with him on Boehner’s spending compromise, saying of the savings, “That’s not even peanuts, and we grow those.”

She also disagrees with Obama’s actions in Libya and is glad that Southerland stood up against a war that will “weaken us [and Israel].” She expects that Southerland will be reelected in 2012, and she would know: before Boyd was defeated in November, she gave him 400 pink slips on behalf of her area.

You may wish to contact
Rep. Southerland: (202) 225-5235
Speaker Boehner: (202) 225-0600
Rep. Kucinich: (202) 225-5871

Zayida Baker covers Rep. Steve Southerland and Sen. Bill Nelson for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at zayida.baker@tppjournalism.org.