GAINESVILLE, Fla. —Jeremiah Tattersall has never gotten so many calls from “moderate Republicans” who want an end to the burgeoning fiscal debates in Washington, D.C.
The field staff for the North Central Florida Central Labour Council, Tattersall is a point man of sorts for liberal opposition to Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a member of a growing conservative group in Congress that has taken center stage in the battles over government funding and raising the nation’s debt ceiling.
But these days, Tattersall is getting calls from research professors who have had their research thrown off course during the shutdown. From an Evangelical pastor who is concerned about the lack of funding to the Women, Infants, and Children program and Head Start.
He’s even gotten calls from clergy members asking him to set up a situation in which they’d be arrested in Yoho’s office here.
“It’s crazy. People will come to the rallies and protests and they’ll say, ‘I’m a moderate Republican, and now I’m at a MoveOn.org rally,'” Tattersall said in an interview at a coffee shop near University of Florida’s campus in Gainesville.
This is the kind of political environment that has developed in Florida’s third congressional district and the kind of extreme and attention-grabbing measures the opposition feels it has to do to have any effect. The polarised atmosphere of the district mirrors others across the country, in what Tattersall and many political scientists have attributed to gerrymandering.
Yoho won his district with about 65% of the vote last year. His big upset came in the Republican primary, when he ousted 24-year incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns.
Outside of the liberal Gainesville and Alachua County — which Tattersall argues is still partly in the district too, in effect, neutralize tens of thousands of Democratic votes — 12 of the district’s 13 counties are rural, suburban, and/or lean conservative.
In short, “we’re screwed,” Tattersall said. “We’re stuck with a representative who doesn’t have to listen to us.”
In the 2012 election, just 38 of 435 House races had a winner who received 52% or less of the vote. Many of the most conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives represent districts that have been the driving force behind the type of smash-mouth Tea Party politics that has engulfed these debates.
On the other side, 44 of the 200 Democrats in the House represent districts that voted for Obama by more than 50 percentage points last year.
Those facts have reached all the way up to President Barack Obama, who blamed gerrymandering last week as a source of the political gridlock right now in Washington.
“A big chunk of the Republican Party right now are in gerrymandered districts where there’s no competition, and those folks are much more worried about a Tea Party challenger than they are about a general election where they’ve got to compete against a Democrat or go after independent votes. And in that environment, it’s a lot harder for them to compromise,” Obama said in a press conference last week.
That also makes for a different kind of opposition from people like Tattersall. In Florida’s Third District, it’s about controlling the narrative and hoping against hope that another, more moderate Republican will appear who can stand a chance in a primary.
One of those who frequently participates in Tattersall’s rallies and other projects is Father Les Singleton of the Episcopal Church of the Mediator, a self-avowed registered Republican who only briefly changed party registration because he opposed the Iraq War.
“I’m speaking as a Republican and as a Christian. And Ted Yoho is just too beholden to the Tea Party,” Singleton said in an interview. “I’ve been a Republican my entire life. But he’s playing dice with people’s lives.”
There are not a lot of people like Les Singleton, though, who show up to vote in a primary. And so Tattersall finds that there’s not a lot he can do about a congressman who has a 32% cushion.
“People will come to me as a community activist and say, ‘What can we do? I’m fired up! I’m ready to go!'” Tattersall said.
“And I’m just like, I got nothing. … He’s an ideologue. And what do you do if you’re an ideologue? You do whatever it takes, even if you’re in the minority. You do whatever it takes to win. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do.”
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