Rep. Robert Wexler (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Jan. 2, 1961, Queens, NY .
Home: Boca Raton.
Education: U. of FL, B.A. 1982, George Washington U., J.D. 1985.
Family: Married (Laurie); 3 children.
Elected office: FL Senate, 1990–96.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1985–96.
The 19th District had been represented since 1997 by Democrat Robert Wexler, one of the most pro-Israel members of Congress. He announced in October 2009 that he would step down from the seat the following January to become president of the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, a Washington-based group devoted to a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The six-term lawmaker said that he believes the Middle East is at a critical juncture in history and that heading the center “offers me an unparalleled opportunity to work on behalf of Middle East peace for an important and influential non-profit institute.” The race to succeed Wexler effectively will be an all-Democratic affair in the left-leaning 19th District, anchored by Palm Beach and Broward counties. Democrats considering the as-yet unscheduled special election are: state senators Jeremy Ring and Ted Deutch, West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter and former Broward County Commissioner Ben Graber.
|Robert Wexler (D)||202,465||(66%)||($2,372,548)|
|Edward Lynch (R)||83,357||(27%)||($61,352)|
|Ben Graber (NPA)||20,214||(7%)||($425,784)|
|Robert Wexler (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (72%), 2000 (72%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (66%)
Wexler was first elected in 1996, and is one of South Florida’s two Queens-born members; the other is Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He grew up in Florida from age 10 and graduated from the University of Florida and the George Washington Law School. He went into law practice in Boca Raton. In 1987, he ran for county commissioner and lost. In 1990, at age 29, he was elected to the state Senate, beating incumbent Democrat Don Childers, who had supported George Wallace in 1972, a sign of the change in Florida’s Democratic party and Palm Beach County politics. In the state Senate, Wexler backed chemical castration of repeat sex offenders at the same time that state Sen. Charlie Crist, now the governor, was backing forced work for convicts; they became known as “Castration Bob” and “Chain Gang Charlie.” In 1996, when U.S. Rep. Harry Johnston retired, Wexler was one of three Democratic legislators who jumped into the race. In the primary, he led with 47% to 29% for state Sen. Peter Weinstein. The runoff was bitter, and Wexler won 65%-35%. Weinstein filed a $10 million defamation suit against him, citing an unflattering picture of himself in a Wexler television ad, but the suit was soon dropped. In this heavily Democratic district, Wexler has not faced serious Republican opposition.
With seats on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees, Wexler has a liberal voting record in the House and a flair for gaining attention. In his first years in Congress, he made his greatest mark as an ardent defender of President Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment proceedings. Wexler was a fixture on cable news shows, where he brought energy and conviction to his defense of Clinton. He had another round in the cable news spotlight during the Florida presidential recount controversy in 2000. In the next election, in 2004, he demanded that Florida election officials provide paper printouts from touch-screen voting machines to assure a credible paper trail. After losing several court proceedings, he supported Crist’s efforts as attorney general and then as governor to switch to machines that left a paper trail.
In 2005, Wexler again became a frequent face on national news shows, this time with a less welcome voice for his party as he introduced his own Social Security bill in response to President Bush’s, which would have incorporated private investment in the program. Wexler’s plan imposed a 6% tax on income above the existing $90,000 cap. Democratic leaders were unhappy with his defection and sought to isolate him, but Wexler said, “My allegiance to seniors is greater than my allegiance to the Democratic Party.” He said he wanted to show that the financial problems of Social Security could be solved without a cut in benefits or privatization.
Wexler is known as a passionate defender of Israel. In December 2002, he said that Israel was engaged in full-scale war and that it was time for the United States to force the ouster of terrorist leaders in the Mideast, including Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He voted for the Iraq war resolution, but changed his mind on Iraq and in 2005 called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. In September 2007, he sponsored a resolution supporting Israel’s bombing of an apparent nuclear facility in Syria.
In March 2007, Wexler endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, becoming the first Jewish official outside of Illinois to do so. He became Obama’s Florida co-chairman, while neighboring Democrats Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Alcee Hastings endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton. Wexler later said of Obama: “He wanted somebody who had longtime credentials in the Jewish community to be part of his inner circle on Middle East policy.” Obama did not carry the 19th district in the primary, but Wexler remained steadfast in his support, representing his campaign at the May 31 Rules and Bylaws meeting, where Florida regained some but not all of its convention representation. Speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, Wexler proclaimed Obama a supporter of Israel.
In his quest for media exposure, Wexler has sometimes risked embarrassment. In a now infamous July 2006 appearance on The Colbert Report, he allowed host Stephen Colbert to get him to say, “I enjoy cocaine because it’s a fun thing to do.” Opponents seized on this spoof, but to no political effect. In June 2008, Wexler published an autobiography, Fire Breathing Liberal: How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress, which catapulted up the chart on Amazon. In July 2008, Fox News reported that Wexler did not live in his district. Wexler admitted that his family lived in Potomac, Md., a suburb outside Washington, and that his district residence was in fact his in-laws’ Delray Beach apartment. He cited an 1879 Florida Supreme Court decision that members of Congress don’t lose their residency while “attending to the duties of public office” in Washington. To be on the safe side, he rented an apartment in Boca Raton. There was some political fallout in the district, but not much in the way of a change in attitude. In November, Wexler was re-elected with 66% of the vote.