Rep. Connie Mack (R)
Florida 14th District
The edge of the tropics, in a physical environment once teeming with disease and inhospitable to advanced civilization, Florida’s Gulf Coast has evolved into a model for retirement living. Early on, there were only a few white settlements here. One was Fort Myers, built in 1850 as an Army post to pursue the Seminole Indians; in 1858, the last of the natives were driven out. For a century after that, this corner of Florida was mostly deserted. But in time, it became resort country, thanks to its wide, white-sand beaches with gentle breakers. The inlets and broad estuaries are perfect for boating, and the wetlands are graced with exotic birds. Thomas Edison had his winter home in Fort Myers, Henry Ford used to visit here, and tourists were drawn to beaches thick with seashells on nearby Sanibel and Captiva islands. But the local economy could not support many permanent residents, and at the beginning of World War II, there were only 68,000 people living on the Gulf Coast from Bradenton south to Naples.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
By 2007, there were more than 1.7 million. The climate and environment, and the fact that Florida has no state income or inheritance tax, attracted waves of affluent suburbanites from the Midwest and Northeast. Developers such as Barron Collier, who built the Tamiami Trail across the soggy Everglades and designed Naples with the wealthy in mind, were determined to avoid the high-rise canyons that line the Atlantic from Palm Beach to Miami. Their alternative was to construct low-rise, city-style developments such as Cape Coral, a retirement community that was the fourth-fastest-growing city in the nation in 2006. Named for Collier, the county itself grew 20% from 2000 to 2007. It has 409 miles of canals running through most backyards and boutique towns such as Naples, set amid St. Augustine grass and banyan trees. This is very much retirement country—for those who can afford it. Much of this area was damaged by multiple hurricanes over the past few years. But there was no appreciable slowdown in development until the recession took hold in 2008. That year, land values sank and a large inventory of housing went unsold. The area had the nation’s greatest number of housing foreclosures, and they accounted for nearly half of the home sales. Exurban Lehigh Acres became an extreme example of the boom-bust pattern, as housing growth suddenly stopped and the town was plagued by high crime. In February 2009, President Obama spoke at Fort Myers about the need for his economic stimulus plan.
The 14th Congressional District of Florida occupies the southern half of the habitable Gulf Coast below Tampa Bay. Retirees account for more than one in four residents. The 14th includes a small part of Port Charlotte and Charlotte County; all of Lee County; and the coastal strip of Collier County, including Naples and Marco Island. Two-thirds of the district’s residents live in Lee County, in Fort Myers and Bonita Springs, and on Sanibel and Captiva islands. In a state where Republican registration rates often understate Republican voting strength, the district in 2008 counted 48% of its electorate as registered Republicans. Just 29% were registered Democrats, the lowest percentage of any Florida congressional district.
Rep. Connie Mack (R)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Aug. 12, 1967, Fort Myers .
Home: Fort Myers.
Education: U. of FL, B.S. 1993.
Family: Married (Mary Bono Mack); 2 children.
Elected office: FL House, 2000-03.
Professional Career: Marketing consultant, 1994-2004.
The congressman from the 14th District is Connie Mack, a Republican elected in 2004. His father is also Connie Mack; he held the same seat for three terms in the 1980s and then served two terms in the Senate. His great-grandfather and best-known forebear was the owner and manager of baseball’s Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years, Cornelius McGillicuddy, who shortened his name to Connie Mack. Rep. Mack graduated from the University of Florida after seven years and worked as a marketing consultant. In 2000, he was elected to the state House from a district in Broward and Palm Beach counties. In Tallahassee, he formed the anti-tax Freedom Caucus, which was against increased state spending and in favor of lower taxes and limits on attorneys’ fees in personal injury and malpractice cases.
|Connie Mack (R)||224,602||(59%)||($1,008,108)|
|Robert Neeld (D)||93,590||(25%)||($15,252)|
|Burt Saunders (NPA)||59,699||(16%)||($165,327)|
|Connie Mack (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (64%), 2004 (68%)
In 2004, after Republican Rep. Porter Goss left the House to become the Central Intelligence Agency’s director, Mack resigned from the state Legislature and moved across the state to Lee County to run for the seat. He raised $1.4 million for the primary, outpacing his nearest Republican rival more than 2-to-1 and blanketing southwestern Florida with television ads. His three GOP opponents, state Rep. Carole Green, Lee County Commissioner Andy Coy, and Naples physician Frank Schwerin, attacked him as a carpetbagger who hadn’t lived in the district since he was a teenager. Mack countered that he was the only candidate born and raised in the district. His opponents claimed that he was an inexperienced lightweight, and editorial writers were dismissive of his business credentials. “What a hoot,” wrote the Palm Beach Post, noting that his marketing consulting included sending scantily clad young women who worked for the Hooters restaurant chain to charity events. The four Republicans differed little on the issues: All of them campaigned as conservatives and all backed President Bush’s policies. While he opposed abortion rights, Mack broke with the Bush administration on federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. Mack won the primary with 36% of the vote. Green was his closest competitor with 32%. In the November general election, Mack won easily, 68%-32%. Since then, he has not been seriously challenged.
In the House, he has a conservative voting record. But he is more moderate on environmental issues, especially those that threaten his district’s tourist trade. He parted with other Florida House members to oppose a compromise to permit oil drilling off the state’s coast. Mack sponsored a bill to find the cause of the red tide algae that plagued Gulf Coast beaches, killing dolphins and manatees. He also worked to secure money to widen Interstate 75. But he was drawn into the controversy surrounding Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, who in 2005 included a $10 million earmark for the federal purchase of Fort Myers-area property owned by a campaign contributor to both Young and Mack. Mack angrily said he knew nothing about the deal, which became part of a U.S. Justice Department investigation of Young.
In 2009, Mack became the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, where he has been an outspoken critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He introduced a bill calling on the administration to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In December 2007, Mack married Rep. Mary Bono, a California Republican and the widow of former pop singer and GOP Rep. Sonny Bono. Local Democrats appeared to get little traction with their criticism that Mack was ignoring the district and spending much of his time with Bono in California.