Florida: Eleventh District|
Rep. Jim Davis (D)
Last Updated June 7, 1999
Tampa is one of America's boom towns whose history goes back just a little more than a century. Its industrial past can be traced to 1886, when Cuban cigar-makers left Key West for what became the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa. Soon after, it was the major takeoff spot for U.S. troops in the Spanish-American War of 1898. It also became a major citrus distribution center. The old industrial city developed along the waterfront, where today you can find the world's longest sidewalk (6.5 miles along Bayshore Boulevard) and still see the 13 minarets of Tampa pioneer Henry B. Plant's 1890s Arabian-style Tampa Bay Hotel (long since taken over by the University of Tampa). For a time, Tampa was Florida's one industrial city. Now, with a diversified economy, a fast-growing service sector, tourist attractions led by Busch Gardens, and a famously pleasant and convenient airport, it has moved ahead, with subdivisions and condominiums, office towers and low-rise commercial buildings spreading inland across swamps and lowlands.
Through all this, and in contrast to St. Petersburg with its many retirees, Tampa has remained a city of families and young people, a place with a blue-collar past which is quickly moving upscale as it expands--with a major league baseball franchise since 1995. The smell of cigars still wafts over Ybor City (though pollution controllers want to get rid of it) and Tampa is still an important military command center: Central Command, which ran the Gulf war, is headquartered at the still-thriving MacDill Air Force Base, and General Norman Schwarzkopf remains a Tampa area resident.
The 11th Congressional District consists of Tampa and two-thirds of surrounding Hillsborough County. Tampa was historically Democratic as St. Petersburg was Republican, but in fact the two sides of Tampa Bay have more or less converged politically; in the 1992 and 1996 Florida governor races Tampa and Hillsborough cast higher percentages for Republican Jeb Bush. But the 11th District voted twice for Bill Clinton.
The congressman from the 11th District is Jim Davis, a Democrat first elected in 1996. Davis grew up in Tampa, returned after law school, was elected in 1988, at 31, to the state House. There he showed insider skills and interests, favoring a requirement that criminals serve 85% of their sentences and rewriting the education formula to help Hillsborough County. After the 1992 election he was elected House majority leader--the last Democrat to hold that job, since Republicans won a majority in 1996. In 1996, 11th District Sam Gibbons decided to retire after 34 years, including seven months as Ways and Means chairman and a frustrating last two years in the majority. Davis was far from the best known candidate, but he showed great skill at raising money and was the only candidate running TV ads for the September 3 primary. Sandy Freedman, Tampa's mayor from 1986-95, led that contest, with 35%, and Davis came in second with 25%, just 274 votes ahead of County Commissioner Busansky. Attacks were thrown back and forth, but they did agree on some issues: both supported the balanced budget amendment, the 1996 welfare reform and called for more managed care. Davis won the runoff 56%-44% and then faced Republican Mark Sharpe in the general.
Sharpe was born at MacDill, where his father was stationed, and spent eight years in the Navy as an intelligence officer. In 1992, he ran against Gibbons and held him to a 53%-41% margin--startling, considering that Gibbons outspent him $960,000 to $51,000. In 1994 he ran again, this time spending $472,000; Gibbons spent $1.1 million, and won by only 52%-48%. In 1996 Sharpe had a tougher target. He attacked Davis as a fan of higher taxes and a career politician. But the St. Petersburg Times wrote that Sharpe admitted to making up poll numbers in his 1992 primary. The Tampa Tribune printed the shocking news that he had been teaching history at a Presbyterian school without certification. Davis insisted he was a New Democrat, supporting the Defense of Marriage Act and opposing the penny-per-pound sugar tax on the Florida ballot; he also called for more education spending. Davis won by a very solid 58%-42%.
In his first term Davis was elected the Democratic freshman class president and got a seat on the Budget Committee, where he worked to balance the budget. His voting record was one of the least liberal among Democrats. He favored a number of New Democrat causes: fast track on trade, federal funding of charter schools, the partial-birth abortion ban. He supported a freshman campaign finance bill, with a ban on soft money and disclosure for those spending more than $25,000 on issue advocacy ads. He pushed a Medicare anti-fraud bill passed in 1997. He called for more spending on education to reduce class size. Prompted by eviction of Medicaid beneficiaries from a Tampa nursing home, he joined Republican Michael Bilirakis and Senator Bob Graham in sponsoring a bill to stop such evictions, which Clinton signed in 1999. On impeachment, he started off saying, ''I'm not in the camp of 'I believe the president.' I'm in the camp of 'Let's have a thorough investigation and learn the facts.' '' But he voted against the Republicans' impeachment inquiry resolution and against impeachment.
All of this left Republicans with few targets in 1998. Their nominee, an architect and county commissioner, raised little money and promised ''creative campaigning.'' Not creative enough: Davis won by 65%-35%, the biggest margin here since 1990.
Probably Safe. Though this is hardly a safe Democratic district, Davis appears to have secured it for now, contingent upon any major changes in redistricting.
- Pop. 1990: 562,293
- 1.2% rural;
12.6% age 65+;
- 78.8% White,
0.4% Amer. Indian,
13.8% Hispanic origin;
46.1% married couple families;
20.7% married couple fams. w. children;
45.8% college educ.;
median household income: $26,166;
per capita income: $13,578;
median gross rent: $368;
median house value: $66,600.
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