On his way to a supportive gathering in Graceville Thursday afternoon (Sept. 18), U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland stopped in Marianna and granted the Jackson County TIMES an hour-long interview. The two-term Panama City Republican discussed a wide variety of subjects, including the election four weeks away and what he has learned and accomplished during his four years spent in Washington, D.C. as a member of Congress.
The TIMES started with his reelection campaign. The newspaper asked him to respond to recent sharp attacks, including public demonstrations, from his opponent, Democrat Gwen Graham. He disputed Graham’s claims that he is against legislation that would grant equal pay to women and that he opposes the “Violence against Women Act.” Southerland feels that Graham and the Florida Democratic Party may be attempting to make him part of the GOP’s alleged but highly disputed “War on Women.” Critics cite the Pro-Life incumbent’s recent vote against the Violence against Women Act, his holding of a men-only conference and his response to criticism about that conference in which he quipped that women don’t invite men to a “lingerie party,” calling that response irresponsible and insensitive.
Southerland says the criticism is unfounded and can be described as the use of negative campaign tactics, utilized to dislodge a popular and strong Republican holding in the House of Representatives. “I think she’s been very negative,” Southerland told the TIMES “especially for one who says Congress needs to work together and get along. She claims to be a person that can work across the aisle yet in a debate this week she hollers out at me and calls me a liar. If that’s the methodology that she is going to use to go to Washington and work for consensus, I think she has proven she is not the person for the job. Notice that they don’t point out that I also have had women-only conferences.”
Southerland said Graham’s campaign has twisted the facts around to make it appear that his support of the Violence against Women Act and equal pay for women is exactly the opposite. “I support equal pay for women and help for women victims of crime,” Southerland said. “The truth is, I voted for the Violence against Women Act two times,” he said. “It came up in 2012 and I voted for it. When it came up for a vote on the House floor the second time, I voted for it since I had read the act. The third time it came up, we had discovered that the new version had come straight from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and that Reid was just doing it for political gamesmanship. I hadn’t had a chance to study or even read the new version so I voted against it. It was a different bill; there had been no transparency resulting from the required committee process.”
Southerland said both Reid and President Barack Obama often use tactics that are more for what is “politically expedient than what is right. Two weeks ago, we passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through December 11 to avoid a government shutdown like before. But during that previous shutdown, Reid would not hear House bills to end it. Reid wanted a government shutdown because, as the President at one point admitted, they could blame it on Republicans. In fact, the President wanted to shift focus of the disastrous rollout of Obamacare to the government shutdown—it was politics and the President got his way.”
Southerland and Graham each will spend more than $2 million on this, the most expensive Florida District 2 US House of Representatives race ever. Southerland said his campaign spent $1.4 million to defeat incumbent Democrat Allen Boyd in 2010 and about $1.7 to defeat challenger Al Lawson, also a Democrat, two years ago. But one reason why Graham, a Tallahassee attorney and daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, has raised so much cash is that a lot of it is coming from outside the district, Southerland said. “We estimate that 74 percent of her money is coming from outside the district, he said, “when 74 percent of my campaign money is coming from inside the district. Some of her donors include celebrities Jerry Springer, Bill Maher and Al Sharpton. This is because (former Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi mentioned me as a target two years ago. She said this was a seat she wanted back to become Speaker again. They recruited Gwen Graham, obviously, because of the Graham name.”
Terrorism and the bombing of ISIS in Syria and Iraq
Southerland criticized the President’s decision to leave Iraq after America’s 10-year conflict and leave the Middle Eastern country without even a residual military presence; that decision is a root cause or reason behind the need for the current US bombing of the terrorist group ISIS and its locations in Syria and Iraq. “I support that bombing, but what is going on in Iraq right now is a direct result of the President not listening to his military advisors,” Southerland said. “This President chose not to listen to them. They wanted a residual force in Iraq to continue to train the Iraqi army and help them build a country. But the President wanted to keep a campaign promise so he did what was politically expedient rather than doing what was right. He pulled our Army out prematurely and then what happened? That void was filled by ISIS. We now have a well-financed significant threat and we’ve got to go in and clean it up.” President Barack Obama “I’ve met the President; he has a great personality and is a good father,” Southerland said. “I just don’t think he is a good leader. I think he believes his theory of government, unfortunately I think his theory is wrong. I don’t mean any disrespect to him as a person, but he has not provided good leadership.”
The Tea Party
Southerland said he still believes in the Tea Party---the grassroots, nationwide movement for lower taxes and smaller government that helped sweep him into power in 2010. But unlike some adherents further to the right, he gives cautious support to House Speaker John Boehner. “Boehner and the Republican Party in Washington know that you can’t fix (big government and high taxes) overnight. It takes time and a lot of work. I’ve gotten to know John Boehner—he has his good days and bad—but I’ll tell you this: he believes the answers to America’s problems are found in its people, not government. The President believes the answers are found in government, not the people. Would I support Boehner for Speaker again? Yes, if it’s between him and Nancy Pelosi, I will be voting for John Boehner.”
“Jackson County is important to me because of my roots,” Southerland said. “My grandmother Bobbie Bevis was born in Bascom. Her mother was a Hinson and her mother before that was a Williams. I go to the Bevis family reunions in Bascom and the Williams reunions in Graceville. This is home.”
In bills and measures of importance to Jackson County, Southerland said he is satisfied that his work and the work of his House Agriculture Committee has been successful. In proposals that could have overly restricted and regulated crop farming, in Florida particularly, the federal Environmental Protection Agency wanted to enact “numeric nutrient criteria standards.” But those standards for Florida were higher than all the other states, Southerland said, so we were able to “successfully back EPA down on that.”
Southerland met with Jackson County farmers in Washington D.C. during the recent passage of the 5-year national Farm Bill. The final bill as passed was acceptable to them, he said. Southerland was selected by the House Agriculture Committee, of which he is a member, to go to the conference committee between the House and the Senate to “find a consensus” and send the final version to the President.
The EPA also wanted to “virtually shut down the logging industry in the whole country,” Southerland said. “There were more than 400 sawmills in the country in the 1970s, for example Rex Lumber Co. in Graceville. Now there are about 129. The EPA wanted to require a federal environmental permit to be issued each time the timber harvesters made a road in the forest to cut the trees. It was called the forest roads regulation and it was in the Farm Bill. But we were able to stand up to the EPA, again, and have it removed.”
The future of America
“I have to be optimistic on the future of the country,” Southerland said. “I believe America’s better days are ahead, not behind her. America always has been a Christian nation and I believe it still is. Look around Washington D.C. at its buildings and monuments—it’s etched in stone. The founders were deeply religious men. George Washington himself said it is impossible to govern a people apart from God and those words are just as fresh today. The hope of this nation and the world is found in our spiritual leaning, not in political parties. I’ll always be a proponent of faith, family and hard work.”
Latest from Bo McMullian
- Ret. MSGT Albert Spurlock was as mean—and as decorated—as they come in the US Army
- On $334,508 grant: Florida’s Great Northwest CEO asks Jackson officials for input
- “Leaps and bounds” - Jackson 4-H members enter national competition for first time in 20 years
- Sgt. Major (US Army Ret.) Enoch Williams served 30 years in the Army 1961-1991
- 44 years at Bascom: Hon. George L. Hall to be recognized