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First the party, then the pain

Ginny Brown-Waite has much to look forward to this week: a reception, swearing in, open house - and a 4-foot stack of mail.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite plans to hit the ground running soon after she takes the oath of office Tuesday.

She already has a bill in the works, more than 1,000 constituent cases to handle and a stack of mail 4 feet high.

"I will have a hard-working office and be a hands-on legislator. We've already begun helping people," said Brown-Waite, a Brooksville Republican who ousted five-term incumbent Karen Thurman in the November general election for Florida's 5th District.

Brown-Waite will be the first Hernando County resident to serve in Congress since before the Civil War. David Levy Yulee, who lived in Homosassa when it was part of Hernando County, served as a territorial delegate to Congress in 1841 and was elected U.S. senator from Florida in 1845 and 1854.

A handful of key supporters plan to fly to Washington for Brown-Waite's swearing-in activities, which include a Monday evening black tie-optional reception at the Library of Congress and an open house Tuesday in Brown-Waite's Longworth House Office Building office.

"We'll be there to observe it and to offer our congratulations to a fine lady," said Tom Hogan Sr., Hernando County Republican state committeeman and an ardent Brown-Waite backer. "I'm very optimistic about her tenure in office there, and I think it will be a long tenure."

Groveland lawyer Scott Wynn, who played an instrumental role in Brown-Waite's strong Lake County showing, also intended to take in the events. Brown-Waite bested Thurman in Lake County by 5,733 votes -- a number greater than her overall margin of victory in the hotly contested race, which drew national attention.

"I am excited about going," Wynn said. "I thought it would always be something I'd remember by going. It's the payoff for all the hard work."

In preparation for her new job, former state Sen. Brown-Waite has begun to assemble her staff and open district offices.

Key appointees include her campaign press secretary, Brian Walsh, as her chief of staff, and her campaign manager, Shirley Anderson, as district services director. Walsh previously worked for U.S. Rep. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., who has retired.

Caryn McLeod, most recently an assistant press secretary for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., will be Brown-Waite's press secretary and communications director.

Most of Brown-Waite's Senate staff will continue to work for her in the district offices. Her main office is in the Hernando County Courthouse, and a satellite office is scheduled to open this week in Dade City.

She also is considering whether to open offices in other parts of the district, which includes part or all of Hernando, Citrus, Pasco, Sumter, Lake, Marion and Polk counties.

District caseworkers will have to handle as many as 1,500 constituent service requests immediately, Brown-Waite said. The bulk come from Thurman's office, but others come from redistricted areas once served by House members Adam Putnam, Cliff Stearns and Gus Bilirakis. Most involve veterans and immigration issues, Brown-Waite said.

Before the staff can do the work, it needs permission to review the pertinent records. Everyone in the district with an open case soon will receive a letter asking for a new records release form, Brown-Waite said.

"You would think it would just carry over, but it doesn't because of a person's right to have his records be confidential," she said.

Brown-Waite also intends to begin drafting a bill to limit punitive awards on medical malpractice cases, an issue dear to many Republicans who received hefty backing from doctors.

"That's my first order of business," she said.

She has not received her committee assignments, but has shown interest in Transportation, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture, as well as the powerful Ways and Means seat that Thurman held. The House leadership is expected to announce committee memberships Tuesday or Wednesday.

-- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (352) 754-6115. Send e-mail to .

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