by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Transportation supporters are somewhat relieved Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) won a member-versus-member primary that his opponent tried to turn into a referendum of road and transit funding.
But Mica is going to be term-limited out of his post as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman in the next Congress, meaning any victory in his win over freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.) is likely to be purely symbolic for the transportation industry.
“From a policy perspective, I really don’t think it matters because Mica isn’t going to be T&I Chairman [in the next Congress],” Joshua Schank, president of the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation, said in an interview with The Hill.
“I understand it was looked at as sort of a referendum on whether conservatives would support someone who played a role in passing these bills, [but] if someone who is chair of a committee passes a bill out of that committee, and that becomes a bad thing to do, that’s a bad thing for our democracy,” Schank said.
Mica is likely to be replaced at the helm of the transportation panel next year by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) because of term-limits for committee chairman enacted by Republicans when they took control of the House in 2010. But thanks to his defeat of Adams, who was supported by the Tea Party Express, Mica is also a safe bet to return to Congress in 2013 for an 11th term in office.
Mica was declared the winner of Tuesday’s election by a margin of 61 to 39 percent.
During the campaign that preceded Tuesday’s vote, Adams painted Mica as a big-spending incumbent. Her primary weapon to make that attack was Mica’s role in the recent passage of a $105-billion transportation bill against the long-time central Florida lawmaker.
Adams labeled Mica a “cheerleader” for President Obama and ran an ad using footage of Obama thanking him at a the White House signing ceremony for the highway bill.
But Schank said the attacks likely did not stick because Mica made clear he disagreed with the president on transportation policy.
“It’s tough to read it that way because he distanced himself from Obama at the press conference,” Schank said of the idea that the campaign was a referendum on transportation.
Transportation for America spokesman David Goldberg agreed the transportation bills did not end up playing as big of a role in the race between Mica and Adams as some observers predicted.
“It’s hard to say from this distance why the race went as it did, but the apparent failure of attacks on federal investment in transportation to tip the scales comports with what we have heard in focus group conversations across the political spectrum,” Goldberg said.
“Whatever else they may disagree on about the role of the national government, people tend to embrace the idea that a core duty of the federal government is to ensure a robust infrastructure,” he continued.
In a statement after the race was called in his favor, Mica did not specifically mention transportation. But he said the election “demonstrated that the voters appreciate effective, experienced and proven conservative leadership.”
“This race has been called the fight for the soul of the Republican Party,” Mica said. “I’m happy to report the heart and soul of the party endures.”
Adams, who attacked the transportation bill as a “budget-buster” during the campaign, also stayed away from referencing the measure in her statement after Tuesday’s results were final.
“This has been a hard fought race,” Adams said. “We fought for the right principles. We fought with honesty, integrity and honor.
“I congratulate Mr. Mica on his win, and I wish him luck in November,” she continued. “There is a lot at stake in the upcoming elections. The Romney/Ryan ticket represents the hope of America to reclaim our government from the radical left and restore our constitutional republic. I believe in the goodness and strength of the American people.”
Adams, who will serve out the remainder of her term until January, said in an interview with a central Florida television station, News 13, that she was not sure where her political career would go next.
“I’m a firm believer that when one door closes another one opens and I follow the path I’m led,” Adams said. “So we’ll see.”