Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Self-styled D.C. “outsider” Steve Southerland turns up as Washington lobbyist

in Top Headlines by

On the campaign trail, former U.S. Rep.  Steve Southerland would always take great pains to remind anyone who would listen — especially anyone with a camera — that he was from the “real America.” He’d tell you he wasn’t some snobby sophisticate with insider ties to Capitol Hill power players like his 2014 opponent Gwen Graham.

By Southerland’s account, the admittedly polished Graham was so tied in with the Washington establishment she was “more Potomac than Gulf Coast,” to use the National Republican Congressional Committee’s phrase. Graham had even committed the ultimate heresy — kind of, sort of registering as a (gasp!) lobbyist 25 years ago, a claim PolitiFact rated “Mostly False.”

Now that Southerland has accepted a job as senior vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based Capitol Hill Consulting Group,  a lot of that rhetoric looks plumb silly.

Confirming our earlier reporting that Southerland would not run again for his old seat, the 49-year-old inheritor of a minor Bay County funeral home fortune is taking his talents from Panama City Beach to that den of corruption on the Potomac he once relished railing against.

Capitol Hill Consulting, founded by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Brewster and rating near the middle in D.C.-lobbying corps power rankings, continues to beef up its roster by feasting on the congressional revolving door. Besides Southerland, CHGP hired on Brian Sutter this year, a former staff director for a health subcommittee on the powerful House Ways & Means panel.

The firm counts among its clients industrial giants such as Verizon, Swiss pharmaceuticals manufacturer Novartis and international energy conglomerate ExxonMobil — not exactly the North Floridian little guys Southerland so often vowed to protect from the incursions of big government.

Voters in his erstwhile Congressional District 2 can only assume he was moved by “the smell of opportunity,” as Southerland put it in an idiosyncratic campaign elegy he once delivered to a friendly crowd of Panhandle supporters, as well as a Democratic tracker.

“I grew up in a family where we smelled that smell in the morning, and that’s bacon and eggs. That’s what bacon and eggs smells like; you know what I’m talkin’ about. If you were raised in the community — that’s the smell of opportunity. That’s the smell of earned success,” Southerland said in extemporaneous remarks during the 2012 campaign cycle.

Some may find a hint of hypocrisy in Southerland’s latest move in pursuit of earned success. But as we learned from the way Graham put an abrupt end to his two-term stint in the U.S. House, sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at [email protected]

Latest from Top Headlines

Go to Top