PoliticsRIC KELLER'S GREATEST HITS
It’s been nearly six years since Ric Keller first graced the halls of Congress, and what a six years it’s been: wars, tax cuts, more wars, scandals, even Keller’s own divorce and remarriage. But through it all, Ric has been there, telling us in that soothing, reassuring voice that if we follow President Bush, it’ll all work out. Keller’s not the most charming or attractive fellow, but he’s undeniably grown as a politician, from the obtuse, far-right lawyer Orlando residents first met in 2000 to the polished pol he is today.
He faces voters for the fourth time Nov. 7 in a race against Democrat Charlie Stuart that he’s expected, but not guaranteed, to win. What better time to trace the political arc of Ric via his greatest hits on the campaign trail and in public office?
Aug. 29, 2000: Keller tells this newspaper, “People like James Dobson are like heroes to me.” Not surprisingly, since his election the Christian Coalition has consistently given Keller high marks for his “pro-family” record.
Jan. 22, 2001: Votes yes on the No Child Left Behind Act. Aside from the oft-discussed emphasis on standardized testing, this law also contains a provision mandating that public schools attest in writing that they won’t deny students the right to pray, lest they lose federal funding.
March 1, 2001: Supports a bill that overhauls the nation’s bankruptcy system to make it easier for banks to collect from debtors.
March 2, 2001: Votes yes on reducing the so-called “marriage penalty” tax.
March 7, 2001: Votes yes on eliminating funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to enforce ergonomics rules.
April 4, 2001: Votes to eliminate the estate tax, which Republicans call the “death tax.” The proposed legislation, which passed and becomes fully effective in 2010, largely benefits the very rich — approximately 0.2 percent of Americans.
Aug. 1, 2001: Votes no on prohibiting drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Aug. 1, 2001: Votes no on a bill raising fuel-economy standards, forcing automakers to produce more fuel-efficient automobiles and providing incentives for alternative-fuel vehicles.
Oct. 12, 2001: Backs a bill which permits schools to display the words “God Bless America” as an expression of support for the nation.
Oct. 24, 2001: Votes for the USA PATRIOT Act.
Feb. 14, 2002: Votes no on a campaign-finance bill that bans soft money donations. Known as McCain-Feingold, the bill eventually clears both houses of Congress and is signed by President Bush.
July 10, 2002: Votes yes on a bill to allow commercial airline pilots to carry guns. The bill, known as the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, passes, allowing commercial pilots to be deputized as federal law enforcement officers.
Sept. 25, 2002: Votes yes on a bill that funds health-care providers who don’t provide information on abortion to expectant mothers.
Oct. 10, 2002: Votes yes on authorizing military force in Iraq.
March 5, 2003: Keller and his wife of 10 years, Cathleen, divorce. He agrees to pay $4,500 per month in child support and alimony. The couple splits custody of their two children.
April 3, 2003: Votes for an emergency $78 billion appropriation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only two Republicans vote against it.
April 9, 2003: Votes yes on a measure that prohibits people from suing gun makers and sellers for misusing guns. Keller has a very pro-gun reputation; the National Rifle Association has consistently rated him an “A.”
June 3, 2003: Votes yes on a proposed amendment to ban flag-burning. The House passed the proposed constitutional amendment, but the Senate rejected it. Three years later, the House — with Keller’s support — passed it again, but it was short one Senate vote of being sent to the states for ratification.
June 10, 2003: Votes yes
on a bill that would ban Internet gambling by credit card.
July 24, 2003: Votes no on a bill allowing prescription drugs to be imported from Canada.
Nov. 18, 2003: Votes yes on the Bush-Cheney energy bill that was conceived in closed-door meetings between the vice president and oil executives.
Nov. 21, 2003: The Chronicle of Higher Education newspaper quotes Keller on his pet cause — and one of few issues on which he strays from the GOP line — Pell Grant funding for college: “It is a core philosophy of conservative Republicans that we should help those who help themselves. So I believe that helping a poor kid who wants to go to college achieve his dreams and become a good contributor to our tax rolls is a good thing.”
Jan. 28, 2004: Votes yes on a bill that restricts Americans’ ability to declare bankruptcy. Critics label this a sop to lenders who prey on those in precarious financial positions.
Feb. 26, 2004: Votes yes on a bill that makes it a crime to harm a fetus while committing another crime.
April 24, 2004: Votes to permanently eliminate the “marriage penalty.” The bill is seen as a promotion of family values and no Republicans vote against it.
May 12, 2004: Votes yes on a bill that bans medical malpractice damages in excess of $250,000.
May 18, 2004: Supports a bill that requires hospitals to gather and report information on illegal aliens who receive medical treatment. Keller actually went against the grain and voted for this bill even though most Republicans voted against it. The bill was rejected.
June 6, 2004: Keller supports a measure to aid the Minuteman Project, a volunteer group of armed border patrollers that President Bush has referred to as “vigilantes.”
Sept. 23, 2004: Votes yes on a measure that “protects” the use of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Critics (including this newspaper) note that the pledge’s author, Francis Bellamy, was a Christian socialist who would have objected to the 1954 addition of the words “under God” to the pledge.
Sept. 30, 2004: Votes yes on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. It has yet to gain enough support to head to the states for ratification.
Nov. 20, 2004: Votes yes on a measure to promote commercial human space flight. The bill passed, with 99 percent Republican support, and is designed to “stimulate the nation’s commercial space transportation industry.”
Jan. 6, 2005: Speaks about the dispute over ballots in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election: “There is a wise saying we have used quite a bit in Florida over the past four years that the other side would be wise to learn — ‘Get over it.’ Is it not ironic that the very people who refuse to ‘move on’ are the people from MoveOn.org and their hero, Michael Moore?”
Feb. 16, 2005: Votes yes on a bill that would drastically increase the penalties for broadcasting “indecent” material. Such increases were pushed by conservative groups for years and gained traction after Janet Jackson’s breast slipped out during a halftime performance at the 2004 Super Bowl.
March 21, 2005: Fails to vote on a bill that would have given federal courts jurisdiction over the Terri Schiavo affair.
April 27, 2005: Votes yes on a measure to restrict interstate transport of minors seeking abortion.
May 24, 2005: Votes no on legislation that would fund human embryonic stem cell research. The bill [H.R. 810] passed despite conservative objections. In 2006, after the Senate approved this bill, it hit President Bush’s desk, and it became his first-ever veto.
May, 25, 2005: Votes against an amendment seeking to allow military personnel and their dependents overseas to use their own funds to obtain abortion services in overseas military hospitals. The amendment failed.
June 17, 2005: Votes yes on a measure that would restrict U.S. funding of the United Nations. The bill passed in the House but has yet to become law.
July 28, 2005: Votes yes on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, or DR-CAFTA. Critics of the agreement say CAFTA will limit the power of Central American countries to regulate their own economies.
Sept. 29, 2005: Votes yes on a bill that would force the government to compensate landowners if their development plans are affected by efforts to protect endangered species. The bill, which also eliminates “critical habitat” protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, passed.
Oct. 7, 2005: Votes yes on the Gasoline for America’s Security Act, which authorizes construction of new oil refineries and allows the president, in times of crisis, to forgo restrictions on gasoline formulas that protect air purity. The bill passed by a two-vote margin, with every Democrat in opposition.
Oct. 19, 2005: The House passes the “Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act,” or the “cheeseburger bill,” which Keller sponsored. The bill bans obesity lawsuits against restaurants. Keller, however, didn’t get to vote on his most famous piece of legislation. He was in the hospital after suffering a case of cardiac arrhythmia the day before.
Dec. 14, 2005: Backs the extension of the USA PATRIOT Act. The next day, the Washington Post quotes Keller saying, “Renewing the Patriot Act before it expires in December is literally a matter of life and death.”
Feb. 1, 2006: Votes yes on a measure that slashes $40 billion in funding on welfare, school loan and child support programs in an effort to reduce the budget deficit.
March 1, 2006: Keller is named chairman of a subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which allows him to opine on his favorite thing: Pell Grants. He was given that chairmanship as a parting favor by newly christened House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Keller was the only Florida Republican to support Boehner in his quest to replace Rep. Tom DeLay in the House leadership.
March 30, 2006: Votes no on a measure to give $84 million in federal grants to black and Hispanic colleges.
May 10, 2006: Votes to extend the Bush tax cuts permanently.
May 30, 2006: The New York Times quotes Keller on the (potential) next House Speaker: “Is America ready for Nancy Pelosi’s Contract With San Francisco?” Keller has since made the threat of a Pelosi speakership a central point in his campaign against Charlie Stuart.
June 5, 2006: Responds to Congressional Quarterly’s questions about his ties to the GOP’s “culture of corruption”: “I’ve accepted no money from Indian casino tribes, I’ve engaged in no action on behalf of Indian casino tribes, and 100 percent of the money I received from anyone who was later convicted of a felony was donated to charity. I’ve never even met [Jack] Abramoff.”
June 8, 2006: In the House Judiciary Committee, Keller votes against a net neutrality bill called the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, which would ensure that little blogs have the same access to Internet bandwidth as Google and Yahoo.
June 12, 2006: Votes to affirm that Iraq is part of the Global War on Terror, and against any exit date for the current war.
June 13, 2006: Votes yes on providing $70 million for Section 8 housing vouchers.
June 29, 2006: Keller, in response to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s complaint about how homeland security money was doled out (it went to embattled Republicans’ districts across the country, while funding for big cities like New York and Washington, D.C., was cut), as quoted in The Hill newspaper: “On Sept. 16, 2005, Mayor Bloomberg was the first one to issue a press release opposing John Roberts for chief justice of the Supreme Court. What the hell does a New York City mayor have to do with nominations for the U.S. Supreme Court?”
July 12, 2006: Announces his opposition to a Bush administration plan to sell off national forest acreage, including 1,000 acres of the Ocala National Forest, on the House floor: “You can lead a bureaucrat to water, but you can’t make him think. Well, we’re going to do the thinking for you and reject this insane proposal.”
July 24, 2006: Talks about why tax cuts are great in a House speech: “And our revenues are coming in so high, we’ll be able to meet our goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2008, a year ahead of schedule. This time, let’s take the Clintons at their word. If it ‘is the economy, stupid,’ then let’s be smart and re-elect those congressmen who gave us this strong economy by lowering the taxes in the first place.”
Sept. 14, 2006: Keller, a big advocate of constructing a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, doesn’t vote on the “Secure Fence Act of 2006.”
Sept. 18, 2006: According to the Miami Herald, Keller joins three fellow Florida Republican congressman and nine other GOP reps to form a special fund- raising committee, Physicians to Retain Our Majority. One of the other Florida Republicans on the PROM committee? Now former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley.
Oct. 13, 2006: During a debate with opponent Charlie Stuart that later aired on Channel 2 WESH-TV, Keller demurs on the question of whether or not, if elected, he would seek a fifth term in 2008. “When I make that decision, I’ll let you know.” During his initial 2000 campaign, Keller purported to be an advocate of term limits and promised that he would serve no more than eight years if elected. In fact, many locals credit his term-limits pledge with giving him the edge in his Republican primary that year.
Oct. 13, 2006: During the same debate, when asked if House Speaker Dennis Hastert handled the Foley scandal properly, Keller said he supported the leadership’s position: “All I can say is that on the same day Dennis Hastert learned of this, he asked Foley to resign.”