Skip to content

Where have all the centrists gone? Rep. Stephanie Murphy has an idea

Retiring Florida Democrat points to ‘troubling’ trend

“We need doers,” not shouters, says retiring Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy.
“We need doers,” not shouters, says retiring Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Once a rising Democratic Party star, Rep. Stephanie Murphy shocked the political world when she announced her retirement last December. She’s leaving to spend more time with her family. No, really. No scandal, no skeletons spilling out of her closet. Honestly, that’s why. 

“Nobody believes me,” she told CQ Roll Call recently, “because that’s usually what people say when they’re getting fired.”

Some cynics might say she faced just that. After her announcement, her now-open seat in Florida’s 7th District was remapped to lean slightly to the right and is rated Likely Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales — but Murphy knows how to win in GOP-leaning places. She’s just worried there won’t be as many centrist Democrats like her, who can occasionally buck party leadership to reach independent and moderate Republican voters in these battleground districts. 

Speaking on the House steps shortly before October recess, Murphy discussed all that and previewed what the Jan. 6 select committee has in store. 

She also admitted that she doesn’t really care for manatees, which no Florida politician thinking about running for office again would ever do. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You talked about the “personal sacrifice” of being in Congress when you announced your retirement, but did anything else drive you toward the door?

A: I don’t have nearly as long of a commute as some of my colleagues do, but I do have an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old. I have a window of time to be meaningfully a part of their lives before the hard years, and so I’m trying to make that investment now. 

Nobody believes me when I say I’m leaving for family, because that’s usually what people say when they’re getting fired.

But I want to be a part of these kids’ lives. And I didn’t come to Congress in a conventional way, so I don’t have the same fear that I won’t have another opportunity to serve later in my life. I’m only 44. When I left the Pentagon, I never would have imagined that public service would look like this, and so I’m leaving here open minded to what public service might look like again.

Q: What work are you leaving unfinished?

A: Gosh, there’s so much. I’m proud that I was able to lift the 22-year ban on gun violence research, but I think more has to be done on gun safety. 

I am deeply committed to the special ops community, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to help them transition to great power competition. 

But more broadly, what’s troubling me as I leave is that this place is losing its moderates. The work that remains undone is a commitment to bipartisanship. When you do things in a partisan way, the only certainty is uncertainty. The next political swing is going to try to undo that, whether it’s health care or taxes or infrastructure or whatever. That’s what I wish we had more of — getting things done on behalf of the American people in a way that’s durable and sustainable.

Q: In the past you’ve said the Democratic Party doesn’t want centrists like you anymore. Do you still feel that way? And what will happen to the Blue Dog Coalition, with you leaving and Tom O’Halleran in such a tough race?

A: It’s hard to be a centrist because the party wants unity. And if you’re a centrist, sometimes that means you vote with your constituents in your community and not necessarily with your party and the forces that have been built to ensure party unity.

It’s going to be [even] harder to be a centrist when there are less of them, because all of that firepower is going to be trained on a smaller number of people.

Blue Dogs have always ebbed and flowed since our founding. But we’ve always been significant, because we’re the ones who are willing to work across the aisle to get things done. Whether you look at what happened post-2010 or what may or may not happen coming up, I think when you have a closely held Congress, you’re always going to need people who are willing to cross the aisle.

Q: You’re one of nine members on the select committee investigating last year’s Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. What can we expect the final product to look like as you wrap things up after the midterms?

A: It’s going to be a report. But this is going to be a report that looks a little different than previous select committee type of reports, in that we understand we’re in the 21st century. 

The information we have is so important to your everyday American that we have to make it accessible. So we’ll be borrowing from your industry a little bit and using multimedia and things like that.

We will make recommendations, but whether that gets carried by any individual member into legislation is TBD. But as you also know, we’re pretty close to all the oxygen in the air being sucked out for politics instead of policy.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for your party and for the Republican Party?

A: You can come here and be an activist or a legislator. And I would hope that everybody who comes here decides to be a legislator, because there’s too much on the line that the American people need their members of Congress to be working on instead of shouting about.

It applies to both sides of the aisle. We need doers, we need legislators. We need people who are willing to find the broadest space of common ground and move that forward. We don’t need any more talking heads or people who are just here to build their Twitter followings. 

Quick hits

Last book you read? “Good Inside,” which is a parenting book. And a beach read, the “Paradise” trilogy by Elin Hilderbrand.

In politics, can the ends justify the means? No, because it’s iterative. People will remember what means you used to achieve that last end, and it’s going to have an impact on your ability to get things done in the next round.

Least popular opinion? I’m a Floridian who isn’t crazy about manatees. I think they overeat the seagrass and it destroys the ecosystem for fish and other sea life.

If you could change one thing about Congress, what would it be? I’d make all of these seats more like the one I represented, which was evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and independents.

What’s next for you? I don’t know exactly, but probably a bit more carpool. And then finding ways to better balance my professional aspirations with my personal responsibilities.

Recent Stories

These Democrats have called on Biden to quit the race

Gaffe track — Congressional Hits and Misses

Trump’s presidential office hours were the shortest since FDR, Biden’s not far behind him

Biden admits other Democrats could beat Trump, but sends potential rivals a message

Photos of the week ending July 12, 2024

At high-stakes news conference, Biden calls Harris ‘Vice President Trump’