Republican Congressman Steve Southerland has been targeted before – last fall, when national Democrats helped former State Senator Al Lawson in the Second Congressional District race. National Republicans fought back, investing as well, and Southerland won by 53 to 47 percent. He was first elected in 2010 with strong tea party support, stunning seven-term Rep. Allen Boyd, a Blue Dog Democrat from Monticello.
Since last year’s redistricting, though, the district is somewhat more Democratic – Southerland says by about 10,000 voters. Gwen Graham, daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, has challenged Southerland for 2014, and Republican super-lobbyist Brian Ballard – a family friend – is hosting her first big fundraising effort next week.
Southerland owns a funeral home in Panama City. He and his wife, Susan, have four daughters.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Steve Southerland:
Q: Where do you stand on the gun debate and what you think of how it’s unfolding?
SOUTHERLAND: Well, I think the debate is healthy. I believe in an open process and regular order. It’s good to see the Senate having their debates. I would imagine if they can get a bill out of the Senate, then obviously we’re going to have our chance to debate through the committee process as well as on the floor.
But as far as personally, I’ve been a strong advocate of our Second Amendment rights. That has never changed. I think some of the discussions that are being had right now are healthy because we’ve got to talk about how people who really have no business having guns – because of whether it’s their mental state or because they have been guilty of committing crimes, that they should not – while at the same time making sure that we protect hard-working, honest Americans with the ability to enjoy their Second Amendment.
So I think this is a normal thing and I’m glad it’s being debated. Rather than having just the media talk about it, it’s nice to actually be debating it here in the halls of Congress.
Q: Where are you on the background check and assault weapons ban?
SOUTHERLAND: Well, I am not in favor of any bans. I do believe that it is a good conversation to have regarding background checks. I am not in favor of background checks regarding individuals to individuals. I’ve seen some of the laws that have been put into place in some states, that I think run contrary to our Second Amendment. I think they go over the line. I am not a fan of bans.
I’m also very wary of some of the things that people are talking about that would have gone nowhere in preventing some of the tragedies that we have seen that have really broken the hearts of all Americans.
We’ve got to find the problem. What is the problem? One of the things that I’ve not heard one person talk about is that these young men who commit these heinous acts – where are their fathers? What happened to fathers being the role models and training their children to be conscious contributors to society? Where are the dads? And that certainly hasn’t received any attention at all in this debate.
Q: As you know, the Legislature is looking at plans for implementing the Affordable Care Act. What do you think the state should do? Should Florida expand Medicaid with federal money?
SOUTHERLAND: First of all, this is a mammoth piece of legislation that is law. And I believe in the rule of law, and I believe that as long as something is on the books, it has to be honored until it is repealed or changed.
In its current state, it is a mammoth task to get the (insurance) exchanges up. And that’s where I see the most challenges. I know that (U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services) Kathleen Sebelius mentioned just two or three weeks ago – two things. Number one, insurance rates are in fact going up on the American people after years and years and years of promising they would not. And number two, that they are not ready to implement this by 2014. It is going to be virtually impossible for them to have those in place.
I think that those who are pushing and trying to implement – first of all, they owe an explanation to the American people why it’s not doing what they said it would do. And I think that’s a fair request by the American people. And secondly, I think that perhaps pushing back a date of implementation, because it just can’t, I don’t see – and that’s probably a question better suited for members in the state – but just from my observation, I see states all over the country that just are not prepared to have the exchanges ready for this.
I’m not a fan of the expansion because they took money out of Medicare to expand Medicaid. But it is law, and no matter how much I dislike it, if there is a law that mandates the states must do something, then I may fight to disagree, I may fight to repeal or change. Now if the state has an option and they have a choice, again, that’s a states’ rights thing. I can weigh in as a personal citizen of Florida. When you take from a program so important as Medicare to expand Medicaid, I think it’s fundamentally flawed.
Q: You’ve been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. What does that feel like?
SOUTHERLAND: Well, I was targeted in the last race, so this is not anything that I haven’t lived with before. It should be of no surprise to our constituents in the district that I’m doing exactly what I promised I would do when we ran and when we were elected and when we were re-elected.
And so therefore, if you’re over the target, you’re going to take flak. Because there are many here (in Washington), and especially Mrs. Pelosi and the leaders at the (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), don’t care for our North Florida values. And they don’t care for the things that we believe in.
And so, since I am a product of that and part of a family that’s lived in our district for 200 years, I almost feel like it is a navigational tool – if they are coming after me, then obviously I know my true north, and I am representing hard-working men and women in Northwest Florida against those who believe that the federal government should be involved in every area of our life from birth to death. I just vehemently disagree with that, and so do the residents of Florida’s Second Congressional District.
Q: Your new opponent, Gwen Graham, is presenting herself as the voice of reason in the district. Have you been unreasonable?
SOUTHERLAND: To be honest with you, I don’t think it matters what I think or matters what any candidate who gets in the race thinks. I think what matters most is what the men and women of Florida’s Second Congressional District think. And they have spoken resoundingly that I am very reasonable, I am very fair, that I am not what some would try to paint me as, even though they have tried over and over and over again – playing the same record over and over.
We take our message and our orders directly to and from the people that live in Northwest Florida and call it home. No one in the D-Triple-C votes for me. I listen to (constituents), and I think that they appreciate the work we’ve done on things such as the RESTORE Act and what that’s doing to our coastal communities. I think they appreciate the work we’re doing on a bill that we’re introducing here in the next several days – Building Rural Communities Act – I think that’s wonderful for our 12 rural counties. I think people would say that’s a reasonable plan, the RESTORE Act is reasonable. I think supporting our free trade acts that were introduced by the president, approved by the Senate – I think people found that to be reasonable. I think it’s also reasonable that I voted against sequestration. I think sequestration and across-the-board cuts is a lazy way to govern.
But let me say this: The D-Triple-C – they have a job to do, and their job is to circumvent the proper process of voting. And so their job is to hand-pick who they want to come here and to fall right in line in pushing their agenda. I understand they don’t respect the people of our district and so therefore they’re going to come in and try to coronate someone. And that’s their right, but I gotta tell you, the people my family has lived with for the past 200 years, they’re pretty smart. I think they’re going to see through these attacks, just as they did in the last two elections.