Rep. Bill Posey (R)
Florida 15th District
When Cape Canaveral was chosen as the nation’s rocket testing site in the 1940s, there were only 20,000 people in all of Brevard County, which stretches along 63 miles of the coast north and south of the Cape. It was reliant economically on fishing and citrus-growing, and chosen because it was on the sunny Atlantic coast. Rockets could be launched eastward so that spent parts fell into the ocean. In 1948, the Brooklyn Dodgers (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) established their spring training home in Vero Beach, 60 miles south of Canaveral in Indian River County. Their training facilities were affably nicknamed Dodgertown, but Jim Crow segregation laws remained in place through the mid-1950s, until Dodger executives used an ingenious method to flex their economic muscle in the service of integration: They stamped the team’s name on 20,000 dollar bills and told players and reporters to spend them freely at local establishments. Local officials got the message, easing off enforcement of segregation, at least when Jackie Robinson and his teammates were in town. Today, the region has come a long way. Brevard County has 536,521 people, and the Kennedy Space Center attracts 1.5 million visitors annually. The county has no city center but plenty of shopping centers along strip highways, with a white-collar, service economy, knitted together by interest in the space program. But the scheduled retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 threatens the local economy, as NASA estimates that as many as 4,500 shuttle-related jobs could be lost at the center. Development in other areas has continued to be strong. Proximity to Disney World has spawned growth in the cruise line business, and Port Canaveral is the second-largest passenger port in the world. And Vero Beach lost the Dodgers. The team held its last spring training there in 2008 before moving to Glendale, Ariz. in 2009.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 15th Congressional District of Florida includes much, but not all, of the 72-mile Space Coast; the area code here is 321. Its northern end is at Cape Canaveral itself, but most of the space center facilities, including the visitors’ center, are in the 24th District. It runs south along the Atlantic Coast and includes 75% of Brevard County and all of Indian River County. Among the bigger towns are Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, Palm Bay, and Vero Beach. To the west, the district includes all but a small piece of Osceola County; the population there is just south of Disney World and concentrated around Kissimmee and St. Cloud. This is the fastest-growing part of the district, with a rapidly increasing Puerto Rican and Latino population. The district also includes the northern tip of Polk County. The population there is a mix of young workers and retirees, plus military families stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, home of the 45th Space Wing.
Politically, the district leans Republican. In 2004, the Bush campaign worked intensively on outreach to the new Latino voters in Osceola County and won the county 52%-47%, after losing it four years earlier. Brevard remains Republican too, but it is becoming less so. Republican Charlie Crist got 54% there in his successful 2006 governor’s race. Republican John McCain won the district in 2008 with 51% of the vote to Democrat Barack Obama’s 48%.
Rep. Bill Posey (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Dec. 18, 1947, Washington, DC .
Education: Brevard Comm. Col., A.A. 1969..
Family: Married (Katie Ingram); 2 children.
Elected office: Rockledge City Cncl., 1976-86; FL House, 1992-2000; FL Senate, 2000-08.
Professional Career: McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co., 1966-69; Crawford & Co./Gay & Taylor, 1970-74; Founder, Posey & Co. Realtors, 1974-present.
The new congressman from the 15th District is Bill Posey, a Republican who succeeded seven-term GOP Rep. Dave Weldon in 2008. Posey was born in Washington, D.C., but moved several times due to his father’s work in the aircraft business. His family landed in Brevard County in 1956, and after graduating from high school, Posey took a job with McDonnell Douglas Astronautics at the Kennedy Space Center. He worked on the Apollo 11 Launch Team and attended Brevard Community College at night. After Apollo 11 successfully put men on the moon, Posey received a congratulatory letter from the director of NASA, and a month later, was laid off. Despite the turn of events, Posey does not harbor ill will towards NASA. “There’s only one thing in this world that the United States is first and foremost respected in right now, and that happens to be space exploration,” he says. Posey changed careers and went into real estate. He founded Posey & Co. Realtors in 1974 and is still president of the company. Posey is also an accomplished stock car racer, although an accident at an Orlando speedway in 2004 left him with spinal fractures and he says he has taken a break from racing.
|Bill Posey (R)||192,151||(53%)||($909,257)|
|Stephen Blythe (D)||151,951||(42%)||($113,372)|
|Frank Zilaitis (NPA)||14,274||(4%)||($38,694)|
|Bill Posey (R)||40,892||(77%)|
|Alan Bergman (R)||7,809||(15%)|
|Kevin Lehoullier (R)||4,519||(8%)|
He was the first member of his family to register as a Republican, a decision inspired by a college professor who lauded the Democratic Party’s championing of inflation and deficit spending. “He literally was trying to convince the class that inflation was good because you could buy the things you wanted now and finance them later with cheaper money,” Posey recalls. He was elected to the Rockledge City Council in 1976 and served until 1986. Four years later, he won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, and served until 2000, when term limits forced him to resign. He then won a close and contentious state Senate race.
After Weldon announced his retirement in January 2008, Posey decided to run for the seat. He got Weldon’s endorsement and that of Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer, who called for the party to unite behind Posey. Veteran state Rep. Stan Mayfield, who had also announced his candidacy, fell in line, withdrew from the race and endorsed Posey.
Florida Democrats were unable to find a strong candidate after former Brevard County Commissioner Nancy Higgs dropped out of the race in February, and Posey became the clear favorite to win the general election. He won the GOP primary with 77% of the vote, and entered the general election with $230,000 in cash on hand. Stephen Blythe, a Melbourne family physician, won the Democratic primary with 65% of the vote and entered the general election with $8,789 in cash.
Posey made government accountability the central theme of his campaign. In the Florida House, Posey authored legislation that set new standards for state government accountability, and he wrote a book entitled, “Activity Based Total Accountability” detailing his work on the issue. The legislation won praise from the American Legislative Exchange Council. Posey also stressed immigration reform, advocating securing America’s borders and deporting all illegal immigrants who are known to have committed a crime.
It was an amiable contest. Both candidates expressed mutual admiration and said that they would vote for each other if they could not vote for themselves. Posey outspent Blythe by almost 9-to-1, and won 53% to 42%. Independent candidate Frank Zilaitis got 4%.
Once in Washington, Posey got a seat on the House Financial Services Committee, the center of the action in the House on the ongoing government bailout of the financial markets. In January 2009, Posey took his first step towards his goal of increasing government transparency when he succeeded in getting the committee to post the results of every committee vote on its website within two days. He said he will not accept the cost-of-living pay raise that House members receive each year, and will return the money to the Treasury or donate it to charity.