Brown-Waite won't relax in aftermath of slim win
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Ginny Brown-Waite has found herself as busy since she ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman as she was in the caffeine-fueled days leading to Tuesday's election.
The phones of the Republican from Brooksville have rung incessantly, and resumes from job-seekers have poured into her campaign office. Since she bested Thurman by a slim 4,241-vote margin -- one of just a handful of candidates able to defeat a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives -- more people than ever have sought Brown-Waite's ear.
And she still has much to do. Orientation starts Monday, and swearing-in is set for early January. The newly elected representative from Florida's 5th Congressional District must set up offices, hire a staff and learn a whole new way of doing business. She's learning as she goes.
Brown-Waite took some time out of her hectic schedule Thursday afternoon to talk with the Times about the hectic days after her election, her preparations to join Congress and her plans for the coming two years. Here -- with some minor editing -- is what she had to say:
Q: What's life been like since Tuesday?
A: Tuesday night was a total of 2 3/4 hours sleep, because I'm used to getting up at 5 a.m., so I was wide awake again at 5 a.m. (Wednesday). Lack of sleep, continuous lack of sleep, and playing catch-up on returning calls and accepting congratulations from people. It's just been nonstop.
Q: With whom have you been talking?
A: I didn't realize this, but after you get elected you have to start campaigning again for committee assignments, campaigning for votes from people who have your life in their hands on the steering committee. And so I've been calling them. I've been calling members of the (Florida) delegation and the speaker's office, I've been speaking to him, and (Missouri Rep.) Roy Blount, Speaker (Dennis) Hastert, (majority whip) Tom DeLay and, you know, obviously some of the many lobbyists who believed they were on the wrong side. I mean, on Wednesday they believed they were on the wrong side. Up until Tuesday, they thought they were on the right side. But just getting calls from them, telling them I understand, I understand completely the power of incumbency. But I believe in going on.
Q: What kind of lobbyists were they?
A: If I told you, they wouldn't appreciate that. But there were calls from many of the groups that were more than generous (with campaign donations) to my opponent.
Q: What did you talk about?
A: I tell them that there are all new rules. I won. I understand the power of incumbency. So talk to me. I'm not unreasonable. Talk to me. Tell me your side. And I'll always seek out the other side. That's what drives the lobbyists crazy.
Q: Over the years you've made some enemies. What do you do now to prove you are everyone's congresswoman, that there are no hard feelings?
A: Life goes on. I mean, the same thing happened to me in 1992 when I ran (for state senator). All the money, all the groups, went with Chuck Smith. So I'm used to this. It's nothing new. You get elected, you work hard and you prove yourself. And you ask people to remain open-minded. . . . What you do is you just work hard. You work darned hard.
Q: What about the Tom Mylander incident? (Days before the election, Mylander alleged Brown-Waite had used her position to get business for a family vending company.) Do you reach out to somebody like him as well?
A: I reached out to Tom Mylander when he first stated that he was supporting Karen. But what I said to him was America is a great place and he can support anyone that he wishes to. That's what makes America a great place. I have lots of Democrats that supported me. I had people on the Democratic Executive Committee who supported me, who were going and getting me votes, not only in this county but in other counties.
Q: The results were very close. . . . Did you get a mandate?
A: We were expecting them to be a lot closer. Do you remember me saying I thought it was going to be a 300- to 500-vote difference? . . . I thought it was going to be either won or lost with about 300 to 500 votes. So in comparison I guess it was a landslide.
Q: If you did better than you thought you would, was there a message sent to you?
A: I think the message just was that people believed that 10 years in office was just enough and they wanted a change.
Q: You campaigned on very specific issues -- Social Security, prescription drugs. What are you hoping to accomplish in Washington, and how are you going to get it done on those and other issues?
A: No. 1, I think that right now because it appears that the Senate is going to be Republican, we will pass a prescription drug plan. It's very important for almost every congressperson. On domestic security I think that you will see a domestic security bill passed by both houses. So there will be progress. Do two houses of the same party disagree? Oh, yeah. Think about the Florida Senate and the Florida House. They do disagree. But I think it's probably a difference of "How do we accomplish that?" vs. "How do we obstruct that?"
Q: Are there any needs specific to the 5th District that maybe haven't been accomplished that you'd like to see get done?
A: Well, additional veterans money to come down here and maybe getting a pilot project allowing veterans to use their family physician as opposed to going to the veterans clinic. Shortening those lines at the veterans clinics. Which may be accomplished just from a prescription drug bill. . . . There are a lot of areas on U.S. 19 where they need better signage, better lighting. I think we've widened things just about as far as we can go. Over in Lake County there are some road needs. There are some areas of (Interstate) 75 that need to be redone in this district. Issues such as that.
Q: How do you get something like that done?
A: Hard work and noodging.
Q: Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young (of Pinellas County) has that down to a science.
A: I just got off the phone with him. He's on the steering committee for committee assignments.
Q: So what did you ask him for?
A: Appropriations or Ways and Means. Which is a long shot. They never put freshmen on it. But I thought, I'm not shy. You can aim high. But I did ask for Transportation and Veterans.
Q: You're known as someone who doesn't always follow the party line if you don't agree. . . . Yet you've also campaigned that you will be the president's partner. How can you be both?
A: How do you make a marriage work? Do you always agree with your wife? . . . You can partner and still compromise. And I'm not going to sit by and not make suggestions. And I will never vote for a bill, I don't care who has it, that is not in the best interest of my constituents.
Q: So do you see any areas that you might differ immediately with the president?
A: Immigration. I do not believe we should give U.S. citizenship to people who have already broken the law in coming to this country illegally. So right away I'm at odds with the president. But as I go around this district, that's an issue that's important to people. They don't believe we should grant them U.S. citizenship either when we have hundreds of thousands of people waiting to get here legally.
Q: Anything else?
A: I think the TIPS program (where civilians would offer information to authorities) in the domestic security package bothers me. . . . It's not alive and well in the Senate, also known as dead. But it will be back next year.
Q: How do you voice that disagreement?
A: I don't do deferent well. It's not my style. We had a conference call yesterday with all the newly elected people. I was the only one who asked a question.
Q: Orientation begins Monday. What do you think you will have to learn? And whose guidance will you seek?
A: A boatload. It's a different process than the state Senate here. The same way I had to relearn all the procedures here from the New York state Senate. It's almost like I have to totally use that mental eraser and erase everything I know because the process is so different.
Q: So whom do you turn to? Who are your gurus?
A: (West Palm Beach Rep.) Mark Foley, clearly. Mark and I just really get along and have, I think, the same ideology. I would turn first to Mark. Tom Reynolds from New York is another person. He was a member of the House in New York State. That's where I know him from.
Q: What kind of congresswoman can the people in the district expect you to be? Will you live in D.C.?
A: God, no. I will be on the Tuesday morning flight and coming home sometime on Thursday night or early Friday morning to be back in the district. That's what is expected of me. That's where my constituents are. That's where my family is.
Q: Are there going to be any changes to the constituent program?
A: No, it's going to be the same excellent constituent service. . . . And the constituent service that we had in our Senate office will be even better because you have the ability to have more constituents but also more staff devoted to constituent service. . . . We're going to hold town meetings, we're going to have advisory groups, we'll do all of those things to be inclusive.
Q: Will you have the same district offices?
A: I don't know. . . . We're limited to a couple of thousand square feet of office space. . . . We need to have satellite offices. So we're just looking at exactly where those would be. Because we need one that's in close proximity to Lake and Sumter (counties), and one for Pasco and Polk.
Q: How soon will those be set up?
A: We're going to be asking (Thurman) to give us any unfinished congressional business. Because what I don't want to have is any lapse in service. I don't want to have somebody who maybe had their case worked on for a couple of weeks and have them be disappointed. . . . I want to have as smooth a transition as possible. The important thing really isn't square footage. It isn't how many offices. It's making sure that constituent needs are being met.
Q: Will your main office be in the Hernando County Courthouse?
A: I truly don't know. I'd like to remain there. It's convenient. People know where we are. But I don't know at this point. I will know better after orientation. . . . We will have an office in Hernando County. But what I'd like to do is have a phone system that is interconnected, so if somebody calls and the number is busy it will roll to wherever the other office is.
Q: After your two years in Congress are up, people will judge you based on your performance, based on your promises. What things do you want them to measure you against when the time comes?
A: All efforts to accomplish a prescription drug plan. Working on health care issues and also taking better care of veterans. And cutting taxes. It's philosophically what I believe in.
Q: So the marriage penalty and the death tax and the things you've been talking about?
A: Well, they passed in the House. I believe they will pass in the House again. And I believe with new leadership they will pass in the Senate also. And I think too that the Democrat Party is really stunned around the nation that they lost so many races. And they lost so many races because they were clinging to that, "Well of course we want to raise taxes because it's the only way to stimulate the economy." The public did not want to hear that. The public just did not want to hear that.
Q: Going to the House as a member of the majority, is there more pressure on you as a Republican House member to deliver?
A: I'm one of those people, I self-impose pressure. Just because that's my personality. It has nothing to do with who's in control of the White House, or who's in control of the Senate or who's in the minority. I'm a workaholic. So I'm going to work just as hard regardless of who is in control.
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