By Tom Tillison
Florida Political Press
Republican Congressman John Mica (FL7) held a 'meet and greet' this past weekend in his district office in Maitland that was attended by a half dozen local tea party leaders, including myself.
Somewhat surprisingly, the event was held in the lobby of the building, which equated to a long hallway with small openings at each end. The turnout was very respectable and the hall was more or less full from one end to the other. As Congressman Mica arrived, folks were asked to stay put and told that Mica would work his way toward everyone, which he did, working the crowd much like a reception line.
The tea party was present to discuss the rail issue with Mica. To his credit, upon reaching our entourage, Mica did spend considerable time with us explaining his vision of rail. We were under the assumption that the event would be more of a traditional town hall where questions could be posed and, even though we were able to ask a few questions, it was loud and difficult to hear.
Sizing up the situation, I could see that this was not a productive environment and I proceeded to pull one of his aides aside and, identifying myself as a member of the tea party, I politely asked to have a meeting set up with the Congressman so we'd be able to discuss rail in a more appropriate environment.
I did not catch the aides name, however, she was very attentive to my comments, asking questions and taking notes as I spoke.
She then took me to the other end of the hallway and introduced me to John Booker, identified as a 'Special Projects Coordinator' on the business card he produced. Again, Mr. Booker was very cordial, and upon repeating my request for a meeting, he assured me that I would be contacted.
Well, John was true to his word as I was contacted today by District Representative Dick Harkey. The conversation that ensued left me dumbfounded upon it's completion.
Having interacted with dozens of elected officials and their staff by this point, I've come to learn that respectful, productive dialogue is critical if you hope to have your concerns heard. Being very conscience of this, I was quick to defer at all times throughout the conversation, giving Mr. Harkey every opportunity to do the right thing.
Upon identifying himself, he inquired as to what I was hoping to achieve in having a meeting with Congressman Mica. I explained that the tea party was interested in discussing the rail issue, as a considerable gap existed between Mica's position and the majority of those who make up the tea party movement.
In paraphrasing the conversation, Harkey seemed to be more intent on deflecting this meeting than he was on actually scheduling it. He stated several times that he did not see what there was to discuss as we were on the opposite side of the issue as Mica and "that's not going to change", all the while being very careful to suggest that the meeting could still take place.
Harkey said, "He's (Mica) spent 15 years working on this, it's moving forward and we're just waiting on the Governor to make his decision. I've been with him for 18 years and I know him and he's not going to change his mind."
I attempted to sell him on the idea that a dialogue with the tea party could be a positive step for the Congressman, suggesting that with his knowledge and experience, perhaps he could help us better understand why rail is a good idea. His response was to refer me to a web site.
He made several comments that led me to believe Mica does have somewhat of an understanding of where folks stand on rail. He acknowledged that Sun Rail will not pay for itself and that it will require government subsidies. He also said, "we realize a lot of people don't support rail."
At the same time, he was quick to point out that there was a unanimous vote for commuter rail and that "if you get enough people to vote for it, you win."
I asked him to clarify this vote and he referenced the votes by the elected officials in the four counties that Sun Rail will cover. Upon suggesting that this did not necessarily represent the will of the people, he replied that we have a "representative democracy".
I reminded him that the Democrats had the votes to pass ObamaCare, but that did not represent the will of the people. He replied, "yes, and the Democrats were voted out". Not sure if that was a suggestive comment on his part or not.
It would be untrue to say that Mr. Harkey was rude or condescending, however, he was very candid and matter-of-fact in his demeanor. He was quick to point out that "there's always two sides to every issue, that's politics", adding that if we did not support Mica's position on rail that we could "vote for someone else."
He also added that if the tea party was going to vote based on a single issue, without taking into consideration Mica's over all track record, "then so be it".
I attempted to deflect any notion that the tea party's goal was to oppose Mica, just to present our position on the issue, upon which Harkey replied that Mica won his last election with 70% of the vote and that "if the tea party wants to oppose Mica, OK, we accept that."
I mentioned earlier that this conversation left me dumbfounded. I say this because I was at a loss as to how to respond constructively to an elected official who gives the impression, through his staff, that he doesn't care if you agree with him or not, that he has the power and doesn't think there's much you can do it about it'.
I wanted to inquire as to how much influence the lavish amounts of money that flows into Mica's campaign coffers has to do with the rigidness of his position, but felt it would have been a waste of time.
It's worth mentioning that, as a member and now chair of the Transportation Committee, Mica has been a magnet over the past four years of PAC donations related to the industries the committee regulates. That includes $40,000 from BNSF Railway Company, $33,000 from Union Pacific Corporation, and $25,000 from CSX Corporation.
I'm sure upon hanging up the phone, Mr. Harkey dutifully crossed the task off his list, feeling confident in his ability to maintain a tight perimeter around his boss and protect him from awkward encounters with unseemly opposition.
I hung the phone feeling that another small part of the Constitutional Republic our Founding Fathers bequeathed us died today...
Mica's Top PAC Contributors
- BNSF Railway Co., one of the largest U.S. railroads — at least $40,000
- Union Pacific Corp, which operates railways in 23 states — at least $33,000
- Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents 400,000 aviation employees — at least $27,500
- United Parcel Service, the shipping giant — at least $26,500
- CSX Corp., a railroad company — at least $25,000
- Honeywell International, a manufacturer of civil and military avionics and other aerospace products” — at least $25,000
- PACs gave at least $1.3 million to Mica’s campaign account and his Majority in Congress leadership PAC. Mica received almost $445,000 more in contributions from PACs than from individuals