Radel strives to lend cool factor to GOP

Political rookie Rep. Trey Radel, from Florida’s 19th district, may be a conventional Republican on most issues, but he is far from typical in his cultural tastes. When he is not giving speeches or proposing legislation, he prefers to pass the time at home whipping up beats on his computer. 


Much like his colleague Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Radel is notable as a conservative who is also a huge fan of hip-hop. But Radel goes even farther by producing his own remixes of classic songs, which are distributed around his office as “Beats by Trey.” 

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Radel can recount his discovery of hip-hop in remarkably precise detail, saying it all began when he was a 7th-grader growing up in the suburbs of Cincinnati. Stepping off the school bus one day, he found an unlabeled cassette tape on the ground, damaged, but fixable.

“I pulled out my No. 2 pencil, wound up the tape, went home, and put this cassette tape into the stereo. The first words were ‘You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge,’ ” Radel told The Hill, quoting the opening line of  N.W.A.’s classic “Straight Outta Compton.”

The value of rap and hip-hop, Radel said, did not lie in the fact that he could relate to the lyrics across a large socioeconomic gap, but rather the fact that he couldn’t.

“By hearing this, I heard about other parts of the country outside my little box in Ohio,” he said. “I heard stories that would explain everything from violence, to gang warfare, to the crack epidemic and issues with law enforcement. This gave me a wider view of the world.”

This wide lens informs Radel’s political principles and strategy. He is adamant that Republicans must be better at presenting a message that appeals across generational, ethnic and cultural lines. He believes that Republicans have the political program they need to win young people, Hispanics and other groups, but they need to push their message in the right way.

“President Obama is talking about hope and opportunity, and we’re the nerdy Republicans talking about debt-to-GDP ratio,” he said. “Our policy is solid … but we need to share that with people from all walks of life.”

To Radel, such a message must be aggressively pushed online, where he said Democrats have been given free rein to define Republicans for too long. To this end, Radel is an avid user not only of Twitter but also of Vine, a platform on which users can post seven-second videos. 

He has made social media a key component in his early policy pushes, such as his “Gas and Groceries” initiative, which bundles diverse proposals such as authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and eliminating ethanol subsidies under a single label that could easily be used as a Twitter hashtag.

Radel’s embrace of online media may be a vestige of his pre-congressional career, which gave him experience in nearly all aspects of the media. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, a television anchor and a talk radio host. He also operated his own media-relations firm in southwest Florida.

While eclectic in his music choices and job experience, Radel has a laser-like focus on reducing the deficit and the national debt. 

Disputes over debt and the deficit have provoked some of the fiercest partisan clashes during Obama’s time in the White House, but Radel was quick to express optimism that bipartisan solutions to long-term issues such as entitlement reform are possible. 

He pointed in particular to his own class of freshman congressmen as a potential source of unity. Unlike the past several classes, each of which arrived after a wave election strongly favoring one party, the class of 2012 is more equally divided, which he believes will foster a friendlier working atmosphere. 

He expressed optimism that the United Solutions Caucus, formed by Reps. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) and Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), is a sign both parties have members willing to work out solutions.

Such a hospitable attitude toward Democrats may surprise those who recall Radel’s first few weeks in Washington. Almost immediately after his arrival in the House, Radel drew attention for suggesting impeachment was “on the table” as a potential response had Obama attempted to implement new gun control measures via executive order. 

Now, six months later, Radel characterized the controversy as a classic case of online media taking a quote out of proper context and warping it over time.

“I have never called for the impeachment of the president, I have no intentions of doing so, and I think it would be an absolute waste of time. We need to focus on solutions and getting something done in Washington,” he said. Radel even complimented Obama, saying the president made an important contribution in raising the issue of how to keep guns from criminals and the mentally ill.

Though only 37 and representing a district that he won by 25 percentage points, Radel says he has no desire to be a career politician. He said he only wants to stay until “I can be content with the work I’ve done.”

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