Florida: Twentieth District|
Rep. Peter R. Deutsch (D)
Last Updated May 28, 1999
Fort Lauderdale, back when Connie Francis first made it famous in the 1960 spring break movie Where the Boys Are, was just a small town with a strip of motels along the beach and some nice houses fronting canals. Now it is the center of a vast metropolitan area with its own major airport. Fort Lauderdale and Broward County had fewer than 100,000 people in 1950; now it is about 1.5 million. The land from the strip of beach along the Atlantic Ocean west to the Sawgrass Expressway and the Everglades Wildlife Management Area has filled up with subdivisions, shopping centers, office complexes, warehouses and trucking terminals. Broward County is no longer just vacation country; it is also a major port and business center with high-tech companies and startups that have become national giants, including Blockbuster Video.
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. Today, after three decades of Cubans moving into the Miami area and many Jews moving out, Broward County is the most heavily Jewish part of Florida, indeed 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 are retirees from New York and other northeastern metro areas. But inland, in towns like Pembroke Pines and Davie, and Plantation and Sunrise that didn't exist a few decades ago, there are many young Jewish parents raising families in communities that pride themselves on fine schools and high property values. This is one reason that in the 1990s the number of children in Florida has been rising more rapidly than the number of seniors, with school enrollment rising more than 35% in Broward alone.
The 20th Congressional District includes most of southern Broward County, though not the precincts nearest the beach, which are in the 22d and 23d Districts. The district also takes in the mostly unpopulated Everglades west of the Sawgrass in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, plus the Florida Keys. At the end of the Overseas Highway is Key West, now a bustling tropical outpost that echoes its historic seafaring roots. This southern-most city in the continental United States was long accessible only by sea, and treasures from shipwrecks along the miles of coral reefs once gave its residents the highest per capita income in the nation. Key West has attracted famous residents--Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Buffett--and a large gay population, many living in restored ''conch houses,'' quaint clapboard bungalows. Politically, this is a heavily Democratic district.
The congressman from the 20th District is Peter Deutsch, a Democrat first elected in 1992. Deutsch grew up in New York, graduated from Yale Law School in June 1982, moved to Florida and by November was elected to the state legislature. Two years later, he was re-elected with the largest vote in Florida and was unopposed in the next three elections. A Miami Herald reporter said Deutsch was ''viewed by colleagues as bright but abrasive, and an expert at using procedural rules to advance or torpedo legislation.'' The newly drawn 20th District looked as if it were drawn for Deutsch. He became the first congressional candidate in Florida history to get on the ballot by petition. He started off his campaign by loaning it $350,000. Dante Fascell, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, confronted with the prospect of a district dominated by unfamiliar Broward County, decided to retire after 38 years in the House. Deutsch won the primary nearly 2-1 and the general election 55%-39%.
Deutsch has a mostly liberal voting record and is a member of the New Democrat Coalition. He does not waste time: on his first day in Congress, while most freshmen were attending swearing-in ceremonies, he held a press conference to announce he had introduced a bill to increase flood insurance benefits. His early achievements were passage of a law to protect the health care benefits of police officers and fire fighters injured in the line of duty, named after two Plantation fire fighters injured in a 1995 explosion, and a $1.5 million law enforcement training program on missing children, named after 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce of Miami Beach who was abducted and murdered. He has opposed raising the Medicare age in tandem with Social Security, a $5 fee for home health visits and means-testing to determine Medicare premiums. He has worked to have Medicare reimbursements reflect cost in densely populated areas and opposed adjustment of the CPI.
Deutsch has spent much time on Everglades restoration. When appropriators called for cuts in planned spending, he helped negotiate a five-year agreement to keep money coming in for land acquisition and increasing water flow. In 1998 he helped settle a dispute with the Miccosukee Tribe, who wanted to develop new land near the Tamiami Trail. He opposed Florida legislation sought by the sugar industry, which would have increased federal land acquisition costs, and helped persuade Governor Lawton Chiles to veto it. On the International Relations Committee, he pursued matters of local interest. He went on trips with Bill Clinton and Chairman Benjamin Gilman to the Middle East. In 1998 he charged that a United Nations agency was funding antisemitic textbooks in Palestinian schools, and got language in the State Department appropriation to end it. He supports the Helms-Burton Act and Radio and TV Marti, and criticized Fidel Castro for building a Chernobyl-style nuclear reactor. The Florida Keys have different interests: he is faced with protests from a Conch Coalition of fishermen, real estate agents and treasure hunters opposed to government bureaucrats declaring, despite previous assurances, no-fishing zones in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary established in 1990.
Deutsch has won re-election easily, but not without raising plenty of money: $2.3 million in the 1996 and 1998 cycles. He has handled it well too: he invested $700,000 of campaign funds in January 1997 and it grew to $1.1 million 15 months later. He was unopposed in 1998 and had $1.5 million cash on hand at the end of the year. All of which raises the question of whether he wants to run for statewide office. In late 1996 some thought he wanted to run for Bob Graham's Senate seat. But, after mulling the Senate race to replace Connie Mack in 2000, Deutsch opted out. With a safe Broward seat, he can wait and see if the state turns more Democratic.
Safe. Deutsch will have no trouble holding on to this heavily Democratic seat.
- Pop. 1990: 562,673
- 8.9% rural;
16.8% age 65+;
- 92% White,
0.4% Amer. Indian,
12% Hispanic origin;
58.2% married couple families;
24.7% married couple fams. w. children;
50.6% college educ.;
median household income: $35,378;
per capita income: $18,285;
median gross rent: $540;
median house value: $103,200.
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