Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D)
Florida 20th District
Back when Connie Francis made it famous in the 1960 spring-break movie Where the Boys Are, Fort Lauderdale was just a small town with a strip of motels along the beach and some nice houses fronting its canals. Now it’s the center of a sprawling metropolitan area with resort hotels on the beach but a much larger workaday population inland. It is a center of business and commerce and a major port. In 1950, Fort Lauderdale and Broward County had 183,000 people; in 2008, they had 1.76 million. From the strip of beach along the Atlantic Ocean, west to the Sawgrass Expressway and the Everglades Wildlife Management Area, the land has filled up with subdivisions, shopping centers, office complexes, warehouses, and trucking terminals. As it has grown, the ethnic composition of Broward County has changed. In the 1950s, it was understood that Jews couldn’t buy houses or rent hotel rooms this far north of Miami. But from the 1960s through the 1990s, as Cubans and other Latinos moved into the Miami-Dade County area, many Jews moved north, and Broward County became one of the most heavily Jewish parts of the United States. Nearer the coast, especially in the huge high-rises of Hollywood and Hallandale, most of Broward’s Jews were retirees from New York and other Northeastern cities. But inland, in towns like booming Davie, Plantation, and Sunrise, many young Jewish parents raised families in communities that prided themselves on fine schools and high property values.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Now Broward County seems to be changing again. Jewish migration over the past 15 years has gone farther north, to Palm Beach County. Broward’s population peaked in 2006, then for the first time in history, it fell, as whites moved out of the county and immigrants moved in. Fort Lauderdale and next-door Wilton Manors have become the home of choice for many gay people, and metro Fort Lauderdale now has a higher percentage of same-sex couples than any other metropolitan area except San Francisco/Oakland and Seattle.
The 20th Congressional District of Florida includes much of southeastern Broward County and the northern Biscayne Bay shoreline in Miami-Dade County. Precinct by precinct, its computer-generated borders are drawn to include heavily Democratic areas. It includes much of Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Dania Beach on the coast. But its biggest blocks of territory are inland. In Miami-Dade, it includes the shores of Biscayne Bay, both on the Miami and Miami Beach side, with expensive homes and huge high-rises. This is a strongly Democratic district, though in recent years not quite as strongly as in 2000, when it cast 69% of its vote for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Sept. 27, 1966, Forest Hills, NY .
Education: U. of FL, B.A. 1988, M.A. 1990.
Family: Married (Steve); 3 children.
Elected office: FL House, 1992-2000; Min. leader pro tem., 1999-2000; FL Sen., 2000-04.
Professional Career: State legislative aide, 1989-1992.
The congresswoman from the 20th District is Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat elected in 2004. She accomplished the unusual feat of winning her seat in Congress without a primary opponent or a significant general-election foe. Like many of her constituents, she was born in Queens. She grew up on Long Island, where she ran for student council every year and always lost. She got bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Florida. In her last year at school, she sent out 180 resumes to legislators in Florida and New York and got five interviews. Florida State Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Democrat and former New Yorker from Broward County, gave her a summer job, and then appointed her his legislative aide. In 1992, he ran for the 20th District House seat and urged Wasserman Shultz to run for his seat in the Legislature. She did, knocking on doors for six months and finishing far ahead of four opponents in the Democratic primary.
|Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D)||202,832||(77%)||($1,475,441)|
|Margaret Hostetter (NPA)||58,958||(23%)||($8,621)|
|Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (70%)
At age 26, she became the state’s youngest woman ever elected to the state House. Many of her constituents treated her like a granddaughter. She served eight years in the state House, including two years as minority leader, followed by four years in the state Senate. She calls herself “a pragmatic liberal,” and she sponsored a controversial law to require an equal number of men and women on state boards and a bill that failed to pass requiring that dry cleaners and some other businesses charge the same prices for women as for men.
In 2004, when Deutsch ran for the Democratic nomination for Bob Graham’s open Senate seat, Wasserman Schultz moved to again replace Deutsch, this time in Congress. She began laying the groundwork early. More than a year before the primary, she had raised $115,000. By February 2004, she had lined up endorsements from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and six of Florida’s seven House Democrats. Wasserman Schultz ultimately collected more than $1 million for what turned out to be an uncompetitive race, since no one else filed to run in the decisive Democratic primary. In June 2004, she pledged $100,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a substantial contribution from a non-incumbent. Wasserman Schultz called for repeal of the Bush tax cuts, a reduction in the budget deficit, greater use of diplomacy overseas, improved prescription-drug coverage, gay civil rights, and abortion rights. Against a Republican who attacked the “homosexual agenda” in the public schools, she won 70%-30%.
In the House, she has a mostly liberal voting record, though it’s more centrist on foreign policy. Within days of arriving in Congress, she was making an impact. In the debate then raging over whether to intervene to retain the feeding tube for severely brain-damaged Terri Schiavo of Florida, Wassermann Schultz argued that Congress would set a dangerous precedent if it attempted to circumvent the courts. After an insurance company denied her additional life-insurance coverage because she said she might travel to Israel, the House passed her bill barring such denial of coverage, though it allowed increased premiums. She also sponsored a bill, passed by the House in 2007, toughening the Internet Crimes Against Children program by adding hundreds of federal agents at a cost of $1 billion over eight years.
In 2006, after working hard for the DCCC, Wasserman Schultz was appointed co-chairman of its “Red to Blue” effort. Working closely with DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel, now White House chief of staff, she became a party spokesman and a mentor to Democratic recruits. She helped Ron Klein, a longtime colleague in the state Legislature, upset longtime Republican incumbent Rep. Clay Shaw in the neighboring 22nd District.
When Democrats won House control, she was a prime beneficiary. Majority Whip James Clyburn tapped her as a chief deputy whip. She got a seat on the Appropriations Committee, which controls the government purse strings, and immediately became a “cardinal” as chairman of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee. Working with ranking Republican Zack Wamp of Tennessee, she took charge of the Capitol Visitors Center project, which was plagued by cost overruns, and extracted commitments on costs and completion dates. She pushed successfully for a unionization vote at the Government Accountability Office. She founded the Cuban Democracy Caucus and argued that Cubans, like Jews, extolled the democratic process against the efforts of extremists and totalitarians. In June 2007, she lobbied House members against New York Rep. Jose Serrano’s proposal to repeal the ban on travel to Cuba. He angrily dropped the proposal. She also joined the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equality Caucus.
In the 2008 election season, Wasserman Schultz continued working with the DCCC incumbent-retention program. She was criticized by liberal bloggers in March 2007 when she refused to campaign against the three Cuban-American Republican members from South Florida who were facing unusually strong Democratic challenges: Ros-Lehtinen and brothers Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart. (All three incumbents were re-elected.) She was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s co-chair in Florida and nationally. She protested the decision depriving Florida of its delegation at the national convention and tried all spring to have it reversed.
In late 2008, Wasserman Shultz was interested in becoming vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus if the incumbent, California’s Xavier Becerra, a favorite of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was appointed Special Trade Representative, and she was mentioned as a candidate to succeed Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen as DCCC chairman. But Becerra did not accept the job, and Van Hollen was reappointed. Wasserman Shultz, who had supported Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer over Pelosi candidate John Murtha of Pennsylvania for majority leader in 2006, was named vice chair of the DCCC’s incumbent-retention program, a challenging assignment now that Democrats have so many more incumbents to protect. She showed no interest in running for the Senate in 2010 after Democratic Sen. Mel Martinez announced his retirement. When asked about her relatively quick success in the House, Wasserman Schultz says she advises other new members to work hard rather than always anticipating the next promotion, because hard work gets rewarded. Her rise seemed all the more impressive when she announced in March 2009 that for much of the previous year she had been battling breast cancer. Although her tumor was in early stages, which would typically require only surgery and radiation, she said that she elected to have a double mastectomy after learning that as an Ashkenazi Jew, she has a greater predisposition to recurrence. The mother of three school-aged children, Wasserman Schultz was diagnosed just after turning 40. She talked about her experience on ABC’s Good Morning America as a way of educating young women about early diagnosis.