By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press
LAKE MARY, Fla. (AP) — Community and business leaders in affluent Seminole County talked about the promise of jobs and economic development from the new 61-mile commuter rail through Orlando. They praised the man who pushed hard for the $1.3 billion project and many others: Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida.
"It puts us on the map," Frank Martz, city manager from Altamonte Springs, told some 300 local movers and shakers gathered at a lunch sponsored by the Orlando Business Journal.
A few feet away, Mica quietly rattled off a list of roads, trails and highways he helped ensure during his 20 years in Congress, including the past year and a half as the powerful chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He boasted about using his seniority to help his constituents.
"I'm not embarrassed about anything I've done" the 69-year-old Mica said firmly.
He should be, suggests a rival, first-term Republican Rep. Sandy Adams, a former deputy sheriff and state lawmaker whose tea party-juiced campaign propelled her to Washington in 2010. A proud member of the hard-charging, 87-member GOP freshmen class, Adams argues that the big-time spending of longtime lawmakers like Mica contributed to the nation's skyrocketing debt and this year's estimated $1.2 trillion budget deficit.
In a recent fundraising appeal, she referred to Mica without naming him as "the personification of all that went wrong with our Republican majority."
"I believe he may have went there (Washington) with the best intentions, but over the years, based on some of his actions, he has become part of the problem, no longer part of the solution," Adams, 55, said in a recent interview.
This is the 2012 House version of GOP fratricide, a mean, bare-knuckle fight between two Republican lawmakers who ended up in the same central Florida district because of the census-driven decennial redrawing of state political maps.
Adams said Mica promised he wouldn't run against her in the newly reconfigured 7th Congressional District; he insists there was never a deal. Both carry district maps and readily show the color-coded territory, claiming that large chunks of geography already belonged to them.
This is more than personal; it's political.
It is a clash of visions about the role of the federal government and the work of Congress that will go a long way toward defining the Republican Party. For decades, some of the most conservative Republicans steered federal dollars to their home districts as a boon for local economies. Enter the 2010 tea party class, horrified by the nation's trillions of dollars in debt and demanding an end to the excessive spending in a broken Washington.
"It's one of those contests for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat.
The same internal fight is playing out in southern Louisiana where four-term Rep. Charles Boustany is likely to face first-term Rep. Jeff Landry. The two already are trading charges about conservative purity and budget votes.
In Arizona, a race is taking shape between two GOP freshmen — Ben Quayle and David Schweikert. Illinois settled one bitter GOP primary in March when first-term Rep. Adam Kinzinger knocked off 10-term Rep. Donald Manzullo.
Democrats also have their share of intraparty House contests after redistricting, but the battle between Mica and Adams reveals an ideological divide within the Republican ranks.
A day after business officials praised the commuter rail system, known as Sun Rail, GOP conservatives elsewhere in the new district cast it as wasteful spending, most of which is yet to occur. Workers broke ground on the project in January.
Standing before about 50 people at a Winter Park recreation center, Adams clicked through a slide show of charts and graphs on government debt. She was widely praised for her many listening sessions and heartily applauded when she said she had asked for Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation.