Fundrais­ing is No. 1 job, for­mer reps say

Tampa Bay Times - - Tampa Bay - BY WILLIAM MARCH Times Cor­re­spon­dent Con­tact William March at we­march@gmail.com.

TAMPA — Ger­ry­man­der­ing, closed pri­maries and the role of money in pol­i­tics are the big­gest forces push­ing mem­bers of Congress to ex­treme po­si­tions and pre­vent­ing bi­par­ti­san prob­lem­solv­ing.

That’s the as­sess­ment two for­mer mem­bers of Congress, one Demo­cratic and one Repub­li­can but both mod­er­ates, of­fered at a fo­rum Thurs­day.

“The amount of time you’re ex­pected to fundraise — fundrais­ing is the No. 1 job, 20 to 30 hours a week,” said for­mer Rep. David Jolly, R-St. Peters­burg, when asked to name his big­gest sur­prise on tak­ing of­fice.

Pa­trick Mur­phy, a Demo­crat from Jupiter, re­sponded with a story about form­ing a bi­par­ti­san group with a Repub­li­can fel­low fresh­man to try to work on is­sues both sides could agree on, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing gov­ern­ment waste.

They pro­duced a bill iden­ti­fy­ing $450 bil­lion in waste, he said. But the ef­fort fell apart when Repub­li­can House Speaker John Boehner told Mur­phy’s Repub­li­can col­league he wouldn’t al­low a bill to come up if it in­cluded a Demo­cratic co-spon­sor.

Mur­phy said the Repub­li­can was told, “We’re not go­ing to make Mur­phy look good — we’re try­ing to de­feat him. If you work with him, we’re go­ing to drop you from your com­mit­tee.” That would have pre­vented the Repub­li­can col­league from rais­ing money for re-elec­tion.

Thurs­day’s fo­rum at the Univer­sity of South Florida, “Why grid­lock rules Wash­ing­ton, and how we can solve the cri­sis,” is one of a se­ries on cam­puses by the two for­mer rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Jolly won the St. Peters­burg House seat in a spe­cial elec­tion in 2014, but lost it to Demo­crat Char­lie Crist in 2016, af­ter alien­at­ing party lead­ers by pub­licly de­cry­ing the em­pha­sis in Congress on fundrais­ing.

He said when he first ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton, GOP cau­cus lead­ers told him his first re­spon­si­bil­ity was to raise money, not learn about is­sues.

Mur­phy, a for­mer Repub­li­can, changed par­ties in 2011 be­cause he felt the GOP was be­com­ing too ex­treme. He won his House seat, but then lost to Marco Ru­bio in the 2016 Se­nate race.

Mur­phy said fresh­men are sub­ject to “brain­wash­ing” to raise money and make hold­ing or gain­ing ma­jor­ity con­trol for their party their top pri­or­ity.

“The sin­gle big­gest change I would make is ger­ry­man­der­ing,” he said. Be­cause 90 per­cent of con­gres­sional dis­tricts are ba­si­cally pre­de­ter­mined as Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, “There’s only one elec­tion that mat­ters,” he said. “You’ve got to win a pri­mary.”

To win a pri­mary, Mur­phy said, “You’ve got to go to the far left or the far right.”

Jolly said he be­lieves he lost his re-elec­tion bid largely be­cause the PACs and party lead­ers he had alien­ated aban­doned him.

But he said the en­cour­ag­ing mes­sage is, “Vot­ers can fix these things.”

He cited the Fair Dis­tricts Amend­ment passed by Florida vot­ers in 2010, which less­ened ger­ry­man­der­ing, and suc­cess­ful ini­tia­tives in other states to in­sti­tute open pri­maries. In Florida’s closed pri­maries, only mem­bers of the party can vote.

But, Jolly said, “It will take a scan­dal to change any­thing on cam­paign fi­nanc­ing.”

Jolly

Mur­phy

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