The 108th United States Congress : Florida : District 24 (R)
Reelected in 2004 and 2006
"...proud to alienate moderate political thought."
--St. Petersburg Times
Thomas Charles Feeney III was born in Abington, Pennsylvania on 1958-05-21 and grew up in nearby Cheltenham. Although from a liberal background, he chose his politics early in life. He has been noted as having handed out Republican party literature at the age of seven, and is proud of landing the role of Richard Nixon in a school play a few years later. Always active in student politics, he studied political sciences at Penn State and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a law degree before moving to Florida in 1983. Feeney was elected as a state representative from Orlando in 1990 and served until 1994, when he joined Jeb Bush's gubernatorial ticket.
Feeney is not just a conservative. He's one of those who would probably feel proud if they were compared to Newt Gingrich. Even his close ally Jeb Bush, himself by no means a liberal, is widely quoted as having said that Feeney "may be a loose cannon" during the 1994 gubernatorial campaign,
which he lost to incumbent Lawton Chiles (D). Chiles and former governor Claude Kirk (R) weren't as measured in their assessment of Feeney, the former describing him as "spooky" and the latter calling him "a walking mental paraplegic." Bush's choice of Feeney as running mate is thought to have had a lot do with with this defeat. Feeney's uninhibited radical opinions included gems like accusing Chiles of "trying to execute as many unborn as you can get away with" in an abortion debate. Not that he wasn't aware of his reputation and credibility:
"I want you to recognize that Jeb could have had almost any major credible figure in Florida as his running mate, and instead of choosing somebody with a pile of money or who would appeal to liberals and moderates, or a female, he chose me."
He was again elected to the Florida House, this time representing Orlando suburb Oviedo, in a by-election to replace a disgraced (and arrested) representative in 1996 and remained until he was elected to the US Congress in 2002.
Jeb Bush won the election in 1998 against Chiles's hapless successor (Chiles died shortly before the election) with a different running mate. Feeney remained in the House and, surprisingly enough, became its Speaker in November 2000. Soon after his election, he dragged the House into the ugly debate surrounding the 2000 presidential election, and initiated a confrontational vote on appointing a set of electors, a vote that was rendered moot by the US Supreme Court's resolution of the affair, and only added to the farcical severity of the Florida vote debacle. Katherine Harris's actions were tame in comparison. His public comments about Al Gore's concession speech were anything but gracious and were suitably reviled, prompting a public apology and a belated vow to refrain from making bad jokes.
As House speaker, Feeney was accused of being dictatorial and highly partisan, though he did also appoint Democrats to influential positions. He scored a perfect 100 on the Christian Coalition's scorecard and is known as a consumer-unfriendly advocate of big business, including HMOs, and a supporter of low taxes and minimal government. Unions and educational bureaucracy are his nemesis. He's married to chemical engineer Ellen and
the couple has two kids.
In 2002 Feeney was elected to the 108th Congress representing newly created Florida district 24, spread over several counties in east-central Florida. The area is largely republican and he won by a comfortable margin, beating the challenge of Harry Jacobs in a vile mudslinging campaign of negative advertising that was foul even by American standards. The sad thing about it was having a choice between a right wing maniac and a glib professional ambulance chaser, and that there was not much good to be said about either candidate. That might explain why there wasn't a single advert for the candidates' virtues and political views until some lovey-dovey family man schtick appeared mere days before the election.
I think district 24 could have done better than this ultra-conservative firebrand but one could blame the Democrats for not fielding a lesser evil to contest the election. Serve 'em right. Knowing Feeney, we'll probably be hearing of him often now that he's in Congress.
Fortunately, perhaps, we heard a bit less of Feeney than we could have before he was ousted in the 2008 election. I will not miss him.