It was mostly a time for celebration and sentiment on Monday as four members of South Florida held a ceremonial swearing in to mark their new terms in Congress. But there were also some somber moments and serious policy at the event, which took place on the one-month anniversary of the Newtown, Conn ., school shootings.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, said efforts to curb violence are one of the top issues they hope to tackle in coming months. Along with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, they said they think there is a chance the Republican-controlled House will take up legislation on the issue.
Deutch condemned what he said was the typical reaction that “too many of us have had for years now” that nothing can be done after a major gun tragedy. “That is not something that we can afford to happen this time,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat who represents part of South Broward, was more skeptical about the prospects for congressional activity. She said it’s largely going to be up to state and local governments to take actions to reduce availability and power of guns.
Besides tackling gun violence, Wasserman Schultz said she hopes Congress deals with marriage equality, immigration reform and takes a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. “None of the battles will be easy and change is sometimes slower than we want,” she sad. “Sometimes you have to [take] delight in incremental change.”
Deutch said the national and world issues he deals with in Washington, D.C., are local issues in South Florida: immigration, Israeli security, economic growth and recovery for Haiti, freedom for Cuba.
Wilson, a former educator and former Miami-Dade County School Board member, said she’s excited now that she’s made it to the House Education Committee.
“I have so many things that I want to do, so many things that I want to change,” she said. “Education determines everything in this nation.”
The event was mostly a way for the four Democrats – Broward’s other two members of Congress, Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, weren’t present – to celebrate the beginning of their terms in front of friends, family and political supporters at the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
The audience of 300 learned that when Wasserman Schultz was fresh out of college with her political science degree she was looking for a job in Tallahassee – and got turned away by Frankel. And Wilson can be tough to live with, according to Frankel (who roomed with her in Tallahassee) and Wasserman Schultz (who roomed with her in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C.), because she needs so much room to store her trademark hats.
Wasserman Schultz, whose job as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee often makes her one of her party’s most partisan speakers, singled out for praise two Republicans in the audience, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca and Southwest Ranches Mayor Jeff Nelson.
And there were warm words between Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs, who acted as emcee, and Frankel. “It is so perfect that it is me introducing her today,” she said. “I am so proud of you Lois. I am so happy to be with you here today.”
Frankel made her was to Congress by defeating Jacobs in the August 2012 Democratic primary. Publicly, at least for Monday, that was in the past as the two hugged.
The crowd wasn’t treated to what would have been the day’s best possible visual, suggested by Frankel. “I’m so excited that I could do a cartwheel, but it wouldn’t look good.”
The attendees included a Who’s Who of Broward political players – so many that I’m sure I missed some.
Among them: Sheriff Scott Israel; County Commissioners Sue Gunzburger, Dale Holness, and Chip LaMarca; Broward Democratic Party leaders Cynthia Busch, Maggie Davidson and Ken Evans, School Board members Laurie Rich Levinson, Rosalind Osgood, Robin Bartleman, Patricia Good, Ann Murray, Katherine Leach and Abby Freedman; Clerk of the Circuit Court Howard Forman; Mayors Lori Moseley of Miramar, Jeff Nelson of Southwest Ranches, Peggy Noland and Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale; and City commissioners Lisa Aronson of Coconut Creek, Tom Green of Wilton Manors, Wayne Messam of Miramar, Iris Siple of Pembroke Pines, Alex Lewy of Hallandale Beach, and former U.S. Rep. Larry Smith.