Freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis looking to write a new chapter in Congress

Freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is a young, Harvard-educated lawyer who wrote a book before running for Congress. 

His similarities to President Obama end there. 

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“When I was running in the Republican primary there was a hostile blog post that pointed out all those similarities,” he told The Hill. “They said, ‘Watch out for this guy. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.’ ”

But there is little question about DeSantis’s Republican bona fides. 

The 34-year-old freshman congressman gained acclaim within conservative circles after penning the book Dreams From Our Founding Fathers in late 2011, a play on the title of Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father. 

DeSantis’s work is not autobiographical like the president’s. Instead, it is a sharp critique of Obama’s worldview and a call for a return to the framers’ principles. 

“I don’t want to write a hagiography on myself,” DeSantis said of future writing endeavors. “To me that is just a waste.” 

Written in the wake of the Tea Party wave of 2010, his book argues that Obama’s presidency has attempted to steer the country away from its “traditional focus on individual liberty and towards his collectivist vision.” DeSantis traces Obama’s views back to his liberal and “cramped intellectual upbringing,” citing Obama’s father, the Chicago activist Saul Alinsky and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. 

He contrasts Obama’s views with the Founding Fathers, quoting heavily from The Federalist Papers. 

Five months after releasing the book, DeSantis found himself vying for a seat in Florida’s newly redrawn 6th congressional district last year.

DeSantis said he did not intend to use the book as a springboard to political office but the idea to run was not far from his mind. People began encouraging him to enter the race when the redistricting process drew an open House seat in his area.  

“It is funny because when I started running that wasn’t the plan, people would be like, ‘I read your book, and it’s not a typical politician’s book. [Politicians’ books are] usually about them,’ ” he said.

DeSantis admitted the book has not proven financially lucrative for him. He released it with a small publishing firm, in a process he described as “one rung above” self publishing. It even became a liability on the campaign trail as some speculated that he was using the campaign as a way to sell more books. 

“We kind of stopped promoting the book, because that wasn’t why I was running,” he said.  

But what it lacked in financial reward, it made up for in the conservative backing that it garnered.

The book won him endorsements from the Club for Growth and Ed Meese, the former attorney general under Ronald Reagan, among others. The Young Gun Action Fund, a Super-PAC started by former staffers of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, spent money on DeSantis’s race even though he resided in a safely Republican district. 

He won his seven-person Republican primary by 16 percentage points and went on to win the general election against Democrat Heather Beaven by 14 points. He out-raised Beaven by a four-to-one margin. 

DeSantis’s win marked his entrance into politics. He has never held elected office but is one of 16 veterans in Congress who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. He acted as a legal adviser to a Navy SEAL commander in Iraq in 2007. Following that, he worked as a civil lawyer. 

During his three and a half months in Congress, he has focused on  reform in the House. He won a spot on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as well as the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. 

In January, he announced he would voluntarily refuse his congressional pension and healthcare benefits, arguing taxpayers should not be providing lawmakers with “perks.”

He is the only freshman to join the 11-member Fix Congress Now Caucus that championed the “No Budget, No Pay” act earlier this year. 

And he introduced legislation last month with a Democratic colleague that would reduce Congressional pay by 8.2 percent, equal to the sequester cuts in other parts of the budget. The cut would take effect next Congress .

“[Voters] hated that they thought people up here didn’t abide by the same rules as they do,” he said.

Even with an expanding résumé, DeSantis’s immediate opportunity to seek higher political office, like the Senate, is slim in Florida. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) just won reelection to his seat in 2012. Fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio occupies the state’s other seat, though he is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.  

For now, DeSantis is satisfied with his current post.   

“Guys who come here and try to plan how they are going to, kind of, advance up the ladder — that is not really me,” he said. “That is not saying that I would never do anything or that I could not do something. But when you start doing that, you start making decision based on these hypothetical things in the future.”


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