Over the last five years, as Sunshine State News covered Florida politics, among the biggest stories was the emergence of U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla. Yoho has become one of the leaders of the tea party across the nation.
While he is best known nationally for making waves in Washington, standing up to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Yoho pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Florida political history in August 2012 when he ousted U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns in the Republican primary.
Yoho might have stunned most political observers with his win over Stearns, a 24-year veteran of Congress, but he didn't catch Sunshine State News off guard. SSN interviewed him at the Republican Party of Floridas Presidency 5 event in Orlando in September 2011 and it was clear then that the large-animal veterinarian from Gainesville was exactly the type of citizen legislator to appeal to a still-ascending tea party movement.
In the first volume of his remarkable biography of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro noted LBJ won a crowded special election to win a seat in Congress by going to the forks of the creeks, reaching rural voters who had been ignored by other politicians for far too long. Yoho did exactly the same thing, reaching out to voters across his district instead of focusing on Clay County, which had around 40 percent of the primary vote.
No meeting was small enough for Yoho, no event too far away. While Stearns stayed in Washington, preferring to run ads on Jacksonville television to win votes in Clay County, Yoho worked the district. These were voters he knew from his 35 years of meeting farmers and helping their livestock back to health. He knew the voters and the district far better than Stearns. Yohos offbeat ads stood out, reminding voters he was different and wasnt a career politician. He narrowly beat incumbent Stearns that year, but hes had no problems with primary opponents or Democratic rivals since.
Yohos unpolished style has hurt him a few times in Washington, but its helped him at home. So has his pledge to leave Congress voluntarily after four terms. Besides picking fights with Boehner, refusing to vote for him as speaker in 2013 and then running against him earlier this year, Yoho has been an unapologetic conservative, willing to buck the party leadership when it gets in the way of his principles.
By coming out of nowhere to beat Stearns and by refusing to go along to get along in Washington, Yoho has easily been one of the most distinct political personalities in the Sunshine State over the last five years.
(Ted Yoho is the first in a special anniversary series of 20 political personalities who loomed large since early 2010, when Sunshine State News set up shop in Tallahassee.)
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN