Rooney says the environment is his political legacy. Will the next congressperson?

From a church in Bonta Springs talking health care to the Lee County Emergency Operations Center weighing in on nuclear threat, to debris in Collier County post-Hurricane Irma, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Florida, has seen nearly every corner of Southwest Florida. But now, he said it is time to walk away.

“I’ve done the things I’ve said I would do and I do believe in term limits,” Rooney, 65, said. “And I think it’s time for me to move on and for someone else to pick up the ball and move forward.”

The congressman is a champion of the Everglades and an opponent of offshore drilling. Rooney said congress is not the place to make change anymore. He told WINK News that being a donor is more impactful now.

Rooney is one of the only republican congressmen that said he is open to impeaching President Donald Trump. Yet, he knows that does not make him popular with many constituents in his district. “My message to them is that it has never worked out in history to messianically follow someone and I don’t,” Rooney said. “History has not served us well with blind loyalty.”

The Republican for the 19th district of Florida calls the environment his political legacy. But he said, when he looks back on his life, family comes first before a political title in Washington. “I have three children and our business and we’re doing all kinds of great things,” Rooney said. “And that at the end of the day, that’s a whole lot more important to me than anything.”

Who will replace Rooney?

Who will replace U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney? We heard names, including a mayor, a commissioner and a state senator. Congressman Rooney told us Saturday that he will not seek a third term in office. Voters first elected him in 2016 and again in 2018. But, Rooney said he is facing some adversity in our area.

Randy Henderson, the mayor of Fort Myers, said he considered running 4 years ago as a congressman, but the timing was not right. Now, he is seriously considering it. So is Cecil Pendergrass, a Lee County commissioner, who has served since 2012. “We’re looking at that, all our different options,” Pendergrass said. “I’m confident if I choose to do that, I’ll be a strong presence in D.C.C. representing Lee County.”

Cape Coral Representative Dane Eagle is also considering a run for the House seat. He said in part, “my wife and I are strongly considering it.”

The only not fully committed at this point is Fort Myers Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto. She appreciates the outpouring of encouragement and support. But her focus remains on the upcoming special session.

Dr. Sandra Pavelka, a political science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, said there is always a possibility of a democrat filling the seat. “At this point,” she said, “there is a Democrat running for the seat so anything can really happen.”

Rooney knows he is giving up influence and power along with his seat. But he hopes whoever represents the district in Washington will continue to fight for the environment in Southwest Florida. “We have significant challenges with the legacy of the sugary industry polluting,” he said. “I hope someone that wins this will be focused on those issues.”

Reporter:Sydney Persing
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