Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D)
Florida 24th District
In 1960, central Florida was a sleepy place. Orlando was a small city surrounded by citrus groves. The Atlantic coast from Cape Canaveral north was a quiet winter-vacation spot, with small motels lining U.S. 1 and the beach. Then two outsiders—President John F. Kennedy and Walt Disney—transformed this part of America, making it in two different ways a leader in the world. Kennedy promised in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and the Kennedy Space Center was built on an island near Cape Canaveral. The Space Coast was created. In 1971, Disney opened Disney World southwest of Orlando, near the intersection of Interstate 4 and Florida’s turnpike. Other theme parks followed, and metro Orlando became the nation’s No. 1 tourist destination. In the process, the populations of metro Orlando and the Space Coast have more than quadrupled since 1960. People from all over the United States, and more recently, immigrants from Latin America, have come in large numbers; with the aid of ubiquitous air conditioning, they have transformed sleepy backwaters into vibrant metropolitan areas. This part of Florida has attracted many more young families and people in their working years than retirees. With a diversified economy—“Innovation Way,” a high-tech corridor, is being built between the airport and the University of Central Florida, and the university is opening a medical school—and continuing tourism, metro Orlando has been hit less hard by the recession than other parts of Florida. But Brevard County’s economy has been lagging, and the shutdown of the Space Shuttle, scheduled for 2010, threatens up to 4,500 jobs.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 24th Congressional District of Florida has about half its population in the Orlando area, much of it in affluent Orange and Seminole county suburbs north and northeast of Orlando. It takes in all of Oviedo and parts of Maitland and Altamonte Springs. The other half of the district is on the coast. The 24th covers nearly 80 miles of coastline and encompasses the northern half of Brevard County, including the main grounds of the Space Center, the Canaveral National Seashore, and the county seat of Titusville. The 24th also takes in the southern half of Volusia County, including part of Daytona Beach, where NASCAR is a big employer. Also in the district is New Smyrna Beach, founded as a colony by Andrew Turnbull, a Scotch doctor, where you can see the ruins of an 1820s sugar mill. The 24th is as close as Florida gets to a typical suburban district. There are higher than average numbers of homeowners, families with children, working women, and white-collar employees. This was designed by Republican legislators to be a Republican district, but after voting 55% for George W. Bush in 2004, it voted only 51% for John McCain in 2008.
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Feb. 25, 1944, Arlington, VA .
Home: New Smyrna Beach.
Education: Stetson U., B.S. 1998..
Family: Divorced; 4 children.
Elected office: FL House, 1997-2004.
Professional Career: Owner, Prestige Properties, 1979-present.
The new congresswoman from the 24th district is Suzanne Kosmas, a Democrat elected in 2008. Kosmas (KAZ muss) grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and attended Penn State University. In 1973, she moved to New Smyrna, Fla., where she raised four children and started a real estate brokerage, Prestige Properties, in 1979. She went back to school late in life and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stetson University in 1998. She was active in civic affairs, chairing the Southeast Volusia Zoning Board, volunteering for Friends of Spruce Creek, and working for Habitat for Humanity. At one point, she served on 20 community boards.
|Suzanne Kosmas (D)||211,284||(57%)||($2,083,810)|
|Tom Feeney (R)||151,863||(41%)||($2,002,969)|
|Suzanne Kosmas (D)||18,672||(72%)|
|Clint Curtis (D)||7,137||(28%)|
In 1996, she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. When she arrived in Tallahassee, the Republicans had just won a majority in the House, which they’ve held ever since. She voted for more funding for health care and education, especially pre-kindergarten, and lobbied successfully to change the state policy of refusing Medicaid payments for heart-transplant patients over age 21. She unsuccessfully tried to ban minors from riding in the back of pickup trucks and to abolish the statute of limitations on sexual assaults when there is DNA evidence. She aroused some controversy in 1998, when the Volusia County Cultural Arts Advisory Board recommended buying a sculpture for $25,000, twice as much as originally planned, from an artist who had contributed to her campaign. The artist later withdrew the piece.
In 2007, Kosmas decided to run against Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, who had held the seat since it was created in 2002. Feeney had been Jeb Bush’s running mate in his nearly successful 1994 campaign for governor. In November 2000, Feeney became the Florida House speaker. In the controversy over Florida’s electoral votes in the 2000 presidential contest, he aggressively challenged the rulings of the Florida Supreme Court and was a prominent defender of Republican George W. Bush’s position. In Washington, Feeney was an influential and sometimes controversial conservative. He won re-election with solid margins in 2004 and 2006. But in 2007, he was reprimanded by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for having traveled to St. Andrews, Scotland, on a golf trip paid for by disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He reimbursed the Treasury $5,643 for the trip and announced that he was cooperating with a Justice Department investigation. The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics named Feeney one of the “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress.”
National Democrats targeted Feeney, and with the help of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Kosmas at the end of the summer of 2008 had $836,000 in cash to Feeney’s $804,000. Feeney took the unusual step of running ads and making robocalls before the primary for Democrat Clint Curtis, whom he had beaten 58%-42% in 2006. But Kosmas won the August 26 primary, 72%-28%.
In the general election, Feeney maintained that Kosmas was too liberal for the district, that she had done little in the Legislature, and that she had been involved in a “shady art deal.” He charged that a vote she cast on driver’s licenses had allowed the September 11 hijackers to obtain Florida licenses, and he highlighted her vote against a ban on partial-birth abortion. Kosmas ads talked about “integrity,” while the DCCC emphasized that Feeney had spent $147,000 in campaign funds for legal fees. Kosmas’ ads portrayed soldiers criticizing Feeney’s record on veterans and called for withdrawal from Iraq.
In late September, after polls showed an even race, Feeney ran an apology ad saying he had made “a rookie mistake.” He said, “Five years ago, when I was first elected to Congress, I was invited on a trip to Scotland. I found out later that it was paid for by a corrupt lobbyist. I did everything I could to make it right. I reported it to the Ethics Committee, and I paid the money back. I embarrassed myself and I embarrassed you, and for that I am very sorry. … Public service is about being honest even when you make mistakes.” The ad seemed to backfire, or perhaps the news of Abramoff’s sentencing that month hurt. A Democratic poll taken afterward showed Feeney 23% behind. The final result was not that one-sided, but still decisive. Kosmas won 57%-41%, carrying every county and running 8% ahead of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
In the House, Kosmas was given a seat on the Financial Services and Science and Technology committees. She announced she would donate the automatic congressional pay increase to charity. And in January 2009, she sponsored an amendment to increase NASA funding in Obama’s economic stimulus bill from $600 million to $2 billion.