After the significant reshaping of South Florida’s congressional districts, the November 2016 elections ushered in a new House Representative for part of Broward County. U.S. Rep Ted Deutch represents the 22nd district, which includes the cities of Lighthouse Point, Deerfield Beach and Pompano Beach. Point! Publishing met Congressman Deutch for breakfast at the Nauti Dawg in Lighthouse Point.
WRITTEN BY DANIELLE CHARBONNEAU | INTERVIEWED BY RICHARD ROSSER
The court’s decision to redraw the districts was untraditionally made mid-decade (as opposed to post-census) after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in July of 2015 that the drawing of the boundaries had been done in a way that violated the state constitution. In that decision, the justices suggested the new district boundaries, which became official in December 2015.
Following the re-districting, Deutch and U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel surprised South Florida voters when they essentially swapped districts, Frankel running for the new all-Palm Beach 21st district, and Deutch running for the Broward-based 22nd district.
After winning the November 2016 election, Deutch became the Representative for the communities of Lighthouse Point, Deerfield Beach and Pompano Beach. In an effort to introduce readers to their new Rep., Point! Publishing invited Deutch to indulge in breakfast at the Nauti Dawg in Lighthouse Point. There, Deutch elaborated on how he became passionate about politics, the issues he’s focused on and what it’s been like to be a Democrat in the 115th, republican-majority congress.
What are the origins of your political passion?
“Well the genesis is the way I grew up,” said Deutch, who grew up as the youngest of five kids with a huge age gap; there’s an eleven year gap between him and his sister, and a 13, 17 and 19 year gap between him and his brothers. Deutch’s father was a WWII veteran who got sick and retired young.
“I had a different kind of upbringing. I spent an enormous amount of time when I was in high school with my dad. He was very emotional, very passionate about our country and making sure that the government do things to actually help the country get better, because that’s what he and his generation did when they all volunteered to go off and fight in WWII,” Deutch said. “We’d talk about both his service and his generation, and then invariably compare that to what was happening in the country at the time. We were always paying attention to what was happening in the world and politics, so I thought, it’s something that I wanted to be a part of.”
“I took that with me,” he continued. “I went off to college and law school and got involved in lots of different organizations and political campaigns and always, always had a political bug. I tried to get my fix from working on other people’s campaigns or volunteering in the community. I’m the kid who was class president every year in high school.”
How did you get involved in politics?
After Deutch graduated from college and started practicing law, he got involved with local campaigns and congressional races including the 2004 Joe Lieberman for President campaign.
“Many people don’t even remember that he ran. And it was not a long campaign,” said Deutch. “But I have immense respect for Senator Lieberman.”
When Lieberman and his wife came to Florida, they stayed with Deutch and his wife at their home.
“We got a phone call from the campaign that the senator was coming to South Florida and he really likes home hospitality, so I spent hours that night at our house just talking to him about public service — the importance of public service and the sacrifices you have to make, but why they are worthwhile,” said Deutch. “I had that in mind when we headed into the 2006 election.”
In that election, Deutch’s state senator, Ron Klein, ran for the Untied States congress, so there was an open state senate seat. Deutch decided to jump into the race.
“It was a race that most people didn’t think I had a chance of winning,” said Deutch. “I was a major, major underdog. No one knew who I was. I was running against a popular incumbent politician, Irving Slosberg. He was a three-term state house member and everyone knew him. He was well liked and had unlimited resources. I had never run for office before, so It was very eye-opening to learn what it takes to run for office.”
“For the first six months I just went to any public meeting I could find and stood in the back and hoped that someone might allow me to spend a few minutes introducing myself,” Deutch said. “Then, over time, we had a real campaign and debates. I had no idea the amount of time that it would take to go out and introduce myself to, in that case, 400,000 people. I knocked on a lot of doors and I went to a lot of meetings. It was an incredible experience to go out and meet this huge cross section of our really diverse community that we have in South Florida. And that really was invigorating. That’s when I knew that this was something I wanted to do.”
In going door-to-door, Deutch grew passionate about the people.
“People have real concerns about the future of their community. They have real concerns about their own families and the opportunities for their families. And they were always so grateful to be able to talk to someone who wanted to represent them,” Deutch said. “I learned very quickly how incredibly diverse the state of Florida is.”
Deutch said he had to learn a lot of lessons in the process.
“For example, I spoke too long,” he said. “I was just so excited if anyone was interested in hearing me speak, I had a lot to say. I just like talking to people, so I would have these long conversations which prevented me from meeting 50 other people. But I got better.”
Deutch conquered as the underdog and was inducted into the state senate in Tallahasee where he learned to work with 40 other state senators. At the time, the senate was a Republican legislature, with a Republican governor.
“That wasn’t easy, but it was good practice for the situation we have now in Washington,” Deutch said.
After serving in the state senate, Deutch pursued his first term as a U.S. House Representative in late 2009 when Rep. Robert Wexler left Congress to lead the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. Since then Deutch has served multiple districts as a U.S. House Rep. (see timeline on page. 31).
What was it like to transition to the U.S. House of Representatives and to now serve in the minority party?
Deutch said moving from the state senate to the U.S. House of Representatives was a big transition. When he was serving on the state senate, there were only 40 representatives to get to know. In the U.S. House, there are 435.
“It’s just impossible to really know everyone,” he said, “But I try.”
Deutch sits on numerous committees and subcommittees, including the House Foreign Affairs Committee (including as the Ranking Democrat on the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee), House Judiciary Committee and House Ethics Committee.
Just as he was at the state level, Deutch is in the minority party; he is one of the 194 Democrats currently serving in the 435-member House of Representatives. Serving under President Donald Trump has already been an adventure for Deutch, but he says his experience at the state level has helped him work well with his colleagues.
“I’ve learned that most issues aren’t partisan and shouldn’t be partisan,” he said. “I’m the senior Democrat on the Middle East sub committee, fighting terrorism, strengthening our relationships with our allies, supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship. There’s nothing partisan about any of those.”
Deutch also started a bi-partisan climate solutions task force with his colleague Carlos Luis Curbelo from Florida’s 26th congressional district.
“That has been amazing because if you live in South Florida, particularly if you live on or near the water, there’s no point in having a debate about the extent to which man caused sea level rise. We know that the sea level is rising. We see it when streets are flooded on beautiful sunny days and we know that we have to do something about it for our communities and our economy,” Deutch said.
“I know there may be some people who still want to fight about whether its real, but the fact is the military is concerned about it, the business leaders all across America are concerned about it. And the people who live on the water, especially the people who live in South Florida, are concerned about it. The President talks a lot about supporting the military, he talks a lot about jobs, and he talks a lot about investing in infrastructure. So, I don’t care whether you call it climate change or not.”
This strategy, of appealing to his colleagues in a way they can understand (by focusing on the things they care about such as defense, infrastructure and jobs), seems to be a strong suit of Deutch’s.
“That’s the kind of thing I learned in Tallahassee — you have to find ways to talk about things that matter in people’s districts,” he said.
Deutch advocates for bi-partisan committees whenever possible and has even proposed a series of ideas to increase civility amongst House members. For example, Deutch has proposed to de-segregate the House of Representative’s Cloak Rooms (the lounge areas where Representatives can have conversations off the house floor), which have traditionally been separated by political party. He has proposed they be assigned based on odd or even district numbers to increase cross-party camaraderie.
“That’s just one of lots of ideas,” said Deutch. “Overall the majority of the people I serve with, they are honorable and they come to Washington wanting to represent their constituents the same way that I do, so you just need to find things to do with them.”