Florida: Sixteenth District|
Rep. Mark Foley (R)
Last Updated May 28, 1999
Urban Florida has fanned far across the swamplands from its original nuclei in beachfront resort communities. Thus Palm Beach has spread out from its original locus at the Breakers Hotel, across Lake Worth and well beyond the less fashionable city of West Palm Beach: these are now just neighborhoods in a vast metropolitan area. Old beach towns, such as Hobe Sound, located northward along the ocean, have become the hub of extremely affluent developments that stretch all the way to Stuart in Martin County. Farther north, near the old town of Fort Pierce are larger, but more modest developments like Port St. Lucie. Entire square miles west and northwest of West Palm Beach have been reclaimed from swampland and made into condo communities surrounded by golf courses or tracts of factories and warehouses. Once, metro Palm Beach was a narrow stretch along Lake Worth; now it runs inland almost halfway to Lake Okeechobee.
The 16th Congressional District includes much of greater West Palm. Its boundaries include the beach towns from Jupiter north to Port St. Lucie, but they are convoluted to avoid the black-majority 23d District. The district also takes in many recently and soon-to-be developed parcels in inland Palm Beach County. One-sixth of the district's residents live in citrus and vegetable growing areas around Lake Okeechobee, and as far away as Sebring, site of an auto racing track: here is the source of the Everglades, the 50-mile-wide and six-inch-deep ''river of grass'' that flows slowly to the Gulf of Mexico. This is a Republican-leaning district, though much of Palm Beach County has been trending Democratic, and it can be competitive.
The congressman from the 16th District is Mark Foley, a Republican first elected in 1994. Foley was born in Massachusetts, moved to Florida at age 3, dropped out of Palm Beach Community College and opened The Lettuce Patch restaurant in Lake Worth at 20. He was active in politics, working for Democratic Congressman Paul Rogers; he was a real estate broker and served on civic boards. Foley was elected to the Lake Worth City Commission at 23, to the state House as a Republican in 1990 and the state Senate from a Democratic district in 1992. In 1994, when Republican Congressman Tom Lewis decided to retire after 12 years, he and the local Republican organization supported Foley, who won a three-way primary with 61% of the vote. In the general election he outraised the Democrat and outpolled him 58%-42%, though by only 52%-48% in Palm Beach County.
In the House, Foley's political skills caught the leadership's eye, and he was named one of 14 deputy whips and a member of task forces to abolish government departments. But Foley also displayed an independent streak and concentrated on issues with local ramifications--immigration and agriculture. He proved capable of shifting on issues, voting in 1995 to cut EPA monies and in 1996 against the cuts; his 1996 vote for repeal of the assault weapons ban contrasted with his support of some gun control measures in Florida. He supported funding of AIDS research, family planning, and public broadcasting. He pushed for the deportation of imprisoned illegal immigrants, and to amend the Constitution so that children born here are not automatically citizens. But he also worked to increase the number of immigrants admitted as farmworkers, although many overstay their visas and never return home.
Much of his work focused on the Everglades. In 1996 he got Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole to earmark $200 million for Everglades restoration--land acquisition and water filtration--into the farm bill. But he also took the side of the sugar industry, opposing the Florida referendum for a one-cent tax on sugar and opposing the Dan Miller-Charles Schumer effort to repeal the sugar program which imposes quotas on imports and doubles the U.S. price of sugar; Miller and Schumer argued that phosphorus runoff from sugar cultivation has killed off flora and fauna in the Everglades. The sugar program has not come up again, and Foley has continued to work for Everglades restoration, criticizing the Martin County Board of Commissioners for not acquiring the Allapattah Ranch; he unveiled in 1998 a 30-year, $8 billion plan to save the Everglades.
In his 1996 campaign, Foley described his record as ''moderate, moderate, moderate.'' He was part of the Green Scissors Coalition seeking to eliminate expensive programs like the Gas Turbine Modular Helium Reactor. He sponsored an amendment to force insurance companies to open up records of policies of Holocaust victims. In 1998 his Volunteers for Children Act was passed; it would allow volunteer groups like the Boy Scouts to check records in the FBI database. He seeks to build an agricultural and science center in the northern part of the district.
Foley won re-election by 64%-36% in 1996 and was unopposed in 1998; he held ''thank you'' barbecues around the district and $609,000 cash on hand in mid-October. After the election he got a seat on Ways and Means; he has dissented from other Republicans on substantive issues but has been careful to stay loyal on procedural votes. Redistricting after the 2000 Census might be a problem for Foley, since Palm Beach County has been growing rapidly and growing more Democratic; the 16th had more registered voters in 1998 than any other Florida district. But the governor and legislature are both Republican, and Foley is likely to get a favorable district.
Safe. Though there are certainly more Republican districts in Florida, Foley seems as safe as any incumbent can be. Foley took a look at running for Connie Mack's open Senate seat and then backed off, but don't be surprised to see him seek higher office down the road. For now, consider him safe.
- Pop. 1990: 561,856
- 21.8% rural;
24.7% age 65+;
- 93.2% White,
0.4% Amer. Indian,
6.2% Hispanic origin;
60.8% married couple families;
20.8% married couple fams. w. children;
44.9% college educ.;
median household income: $30,582;
per capita income: $16,952;
median gross rent: $483;
median house value: $88,500.
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