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Rep. Scarborough chooses kids over D.C.

The Pensacola congressman and musician will resign Sept. 6, but his seat is expected to remain Republican.

By BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001


WASHINGTON -- Rep. Joe Scarborough is famous for his conservative politics, his odd newspaper and his rock 'n' roll band. Now, he says he wants to focus on being a dad.

Scarborough, 38, a Pensacola Republican elected to Congress at the start of the Newt Gingrich revolution, announced Friday that he was resigning on Sept. 6 to spend more time with his two sons.

"The realization has come home to me that they're at a critical stage of their lives and I would rather be judged at the end of my life as a father than as a congressman," Scarborough said at a Pensacola news conference. He choked up several times and wiped away tears.

His youngest son, Andrew, 10, was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago. Scarborough normally spends about half the year in Washington, but that has been difficult this year because of Andrew's need for medical treatment.

Scarborough is divorced and has joint custody of Andrew and Joey, 13. The congressman has said he wants to be home when his boys go through "the Smashing-Pumpkins-teen-angst phase."

Like many in Congress, Scarborough has found it difficult to balance the duties of parenthood and the House of Representatives. He and his ex-wife did not want to move the boys to Washington, as some other members have done, because their families are in Pensacola.

"It's impossible to be a good father and a good congressman," Scarborough said in an interview Friday night. "You are home 180 nights out of the year and you're in D.C. 180 nights. No matter where you are, the kids are going to be without you half the year."

Even when he was with his boys in Pensacola, he was constantly on the job. "You can't sit and watch a baseball game where your kid is playing without 20 people coming up to you saying, "What's Newt like?' " he said. "I literally had to brush people aside to watch my kid get a hit. You can never give your children undivided attention."

Scarborough found out Andrew had diabetes last summer when he was running for re-election. Andrew's disease had a powerful effect on Scarborough because he had a close friend with diabetes who died in December.

"If I had a crystal ball and could have foreseen the future, I probably wouldn't have run last year," Scarborough said at the news conference.

In a Congress filled with serious legislators, Scarborough has been an odd duck.

As publisher of the Independent Florida Sun, a weekly Pensacola newspaper, he has written a quirky mix of political columns and Hunter S. Thompson-like ramblings. Although he won't discuss pseudonyms, the columns written by Izzy Walser (the paper's national affairs correspondent who frequently wrote dispatches from Nepal) and Esther Bankhead ("Central Alabama Demolition Derby Champion 1961-64") read remarkably similar to Scarborough's writings.

The congressman also is a musician and songwriter. As the guitar-playing lead singer of the rock band Regular Joe, Scarborough has written an eclectic mix of songs that range from the straight-ahead rocker Guess I'll be a Congressman to the ballad Austin, Texas. His band played at the Republican National Convention this past summer, performing a mainstream rock song that he described as a cross between Lee Greenwood and John Mellencamp.

His congressional seat is likely to stay in Republican hands. In the U.S. Senate race last year, his district was won by Republican Bill McCollum over Bill Nelson, 63 percent to 35 percent, even though Nelson won statewide.

Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday called a special primary election on July 24, with a second primary, if necessary, on Sept. 4. The general election will be Oct. 16.

That should avoid a long period with an empty seat, which would shrink the slim Republican majority in the House. There are 221 Republican seats, 210 held by Democrats, two by independents and two open seats.

Possible candidates for Scarborough's seat mentioned Friday by the Pensacola News Journal include businessman Collier Merrill, a member of the Board of Regents; Randy Knepper, chief of staff to Scarborough's predecessor, Earl Hutto; state Rep. Jeff Miller of Chumuckla; Okaloosa County School Superintendent Don Gaetz of Niceville; Escambia County Commissioner Tom Banjanin; and Pensacola lawyer Bob Condon, who challenged Scarborough in the Republican primary last year.

Merrill, who is likely to be the front-runner, is a friend and business partner of Scarborough. Merrill published a rival weekly that merged with Scarborough's paper this year.

Scarborough, who was an insurance lawyer before he was elected to Congress in 1994, said he does not know what he will do after he leaves Congress. He said he has received offers from TV networks and has talked to President Bush about a possible White House appointment, but said it would have to be something that let him spend most of his time in Pensacola.

He has also been offered a job by Fred Levin, a prominent Pensacola trial lawyer.

Levin said he would like Scarborough to act as "a rainmaker," attracting new clients, and says the congressman's frequent appearances on talk shows such as Politically Incorrect indicate he would be a good courtroom lawyer.

"He's bright, he's very attractive and he's got a lot more confidence now than he had eight years ago," Levin said.

Asked Friday night about his motivations, Scarborough said they were partly selfish. "This is about me as much as it is about my boys. I don't want to miss them any more than they want to miss me."

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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