By Congressional Quarterly
A member of Florida's state Legislature since 1990, Wexler has spent much of his political career focusing on crime and safety issues, with particular emphasis on tougher sentences for rapists and child molesters.
During his tenure in state government, Wexler, a lawyer from West Palm Beach, also received high marks from the state's schoolteachers for his work to remove guns and drugs from public schools.
These legislative experiences led Wexler to a seat on the House Judiciary Committee, where he is expected to continue to focus on criminal justice initiatives, especially in the area of juvenile offenders.
Wexler, whose district includes large numbers of retirees from the Northeast, many of them Jewish, also snagged a seat on the International Relations Committee, where he is expected to become a strong and vocal advocate for Israel and peace in the Middle East.
On the issue of higher education, Wexler has said he plans to support policies to expand access to student loans. Wexler also advocates establishing tax credits to reduce the financial burden on students and their families.
With the district's high percentage of retirees clearly in mind, Wexler has pledged to protect major entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from severe budget cuts.
Wexler says he supports balancing the budget, but contends that Congress must do a better job of setting budget priorities while also guaranteeing the long-term solvency of entitlement programs and continued investments in areas such as education and environmental protection.
When four-term Democratic Rep. Harry A. Johnston in late 1995 announced his retirement from the seat, all eyes turned to Wexler as the most likely successor. The 19th, which includes parts of Palm Beach and northern Broward counties, is the most consistently Democratic-voting white-majority district in Florida.
But despite early speculation that he was the favorite, Wexler drew stiff intra-party challenges from two of his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature: state Rep. Ben Graber and state Sen. Peter M. Weinstein.
A fourth Democrat, Peter J. Tsakanikas, also entered the race. But Tsakanikas' candidacy was viewed with suspicion by many Democrats, who quickly pointed out that he had been the Republican nominee against Johnston in 1994.
Wexler received the most votes in the September primary, with Weinstein finishing a distant second. But since Wexler fell short of a 50 percent majority threshold, he was forced into an October runoff with Weinstein.
Granted a second shot at an upset, Weinstein, a lawyer from Coral Springs in Broward County, mounted a spirited challenge in the runoff. Weinstein, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1982, pointed to his experience as the chamber's majority leader and his service on the Judiciary Committee as factors that demonstrated his ability to get things done.
A New York native, Weinstein also played up his family's connections to that state in an attempt to appeal to the district's large contingent of former New Yorkers.
But despite Weinstein's strong showing in his home territory of Broward County, Wexler's strength in populous Palm Beach County (including West Palm Beach and Boca Raton) ensured the nomination comfortably.
In the general election, Wexler had little trouble dispensing with Republican nominee Beverly "Bev" Kennedy, a Pompano Beach financial consultant who had been the GOP nominee in the neighboring 20th District in 1992 and 1994.
Although she had no problem securing the Republican nomination, Kennedy was underfinanced and never found a way to effectively deflect charges from Wexler that she was a carpetbagger and political opportunist. Wexler cruised to victory.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
Georgia - Senate
Max Cleland (D-Ga.)
Born: Aug. 24, 1942, Atlanta, Ga.
Education: Stetson U., B.A. 1964; Emory U., M.A. 1968.
Military Service: Army, 1965-68.
Occupation: Public official.
Political Career: Ga. Senate, 1971-75; Ga. secretary of state, 1983-96.
By Congressional Quarterly
Cleland arrives in the Senate perhaps better known for his compelling personal history than for his political career.
As a young Army captain in the Vietnam War, Cleland lost both legs and one arm reaching for a loose grenade that exploded. He recovered to serve in the Carter administration and in state politics, and after decades in a wheelchair, he also stresses his ability to perform daily tasks such as driving a car.
Cleland emerged the narrow victor over Republican Guy Millner in a hard-fought, high-spending election contest to replace retiring four-term Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn.
When Nunn announced that he would leave the Senate after the 104th Congress, the battle to succeed him was viewed by political observers as a test of whether Democrats could stem the Republican tide anywhere in the South.
Cleland, a popular vote-getter who served as Georgia's secretary of state before resigning to run for the Senate, portrayed himself as a centrist Democrat in the mold of Nunn.
With no primary opposition, Cleland had the luxury of watching as a nasty six-man primary fight unfolded on the Republican side. Two of the leading contenders in the July 9 primary were Millner, a conservative businessman who had been the unsuccessful gubernatorial nominee against Democratic Gov. Zell Miller in 1994, and former state Sen. Johnny Isakson, a more moderate candidate.
Millner and Isakson ended up in an Aug. 6 runoff contest that had to fight for media attention with the Atlanta-based Olympic Games. The runoff became something of a referendum on the abortion issue, as Isakson ran high-profile television ads touting his own support for -- and Millner's opposition to -- abortion rights.
After Millner emerged on top, Cleland's campaign finally kicked into high gear. Almost immediately, the contest between Millner and Cleland turned nasty.
In one episode that received a great deal of publicity toward the end of the campaign, Millner contended that Cleland, as secretary of state, had urged parole for a convicted killer who had a politically powerful father. The parolee later committed another murder.
Cleland's campaign acknowledged that he wrote a letter in behalf of the man, but said Millner had distorted the entire matter along the lines of the Republicans' 1988 "Willie Horton" ad attacking Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis' prison furlough policy.
The Cleland campaign in turn was quick to point to Millner's bout of negative publicity in the fall, when news reports highlighted his membership in a club considered exclusionary toward African-Americans and Jews. Millner subsequently resigned from the club.
Both Cleland and Millner sought the support of moderate Republicans who had backed Isakson. While Millner tried to label Cleland a liberal and tie him closely to the policies of Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Cleland attempted to seize the middle ground and label Millner an ideological extremist.
Millner, who drew on his own considerable personal fortune during the campaign, also criticized Cleland for refusing to participate in multiple debates, sending out numerous news releases asking, "Where's Max?"
Although this is Cleland's first stint as a member of Congress, he boasts a lengthy resume in public service. During the Carter administration, Cleland headed the Veterans' Administration. He claims credit for improving the VA's hospital system and the G.I. bill, and for reducing delays in paying veterans' benefits.
Among the issues that have been priorities for him is making public buildings accessible to disabled people. When he arrived on Capitol Hill for freshman orientation in December 1996, much attention focused on how accessible the Capitol complex -- including the Senate floor -- was for a lawmaker in a wheelchair.
Cleland's committee assignments include Armed Services and Governmental Affairs.
A seat on the Armed Services committee had been a particular request of Cleland's. He wanted to follow in the path of other Georgia senators, such as Nunn and Richard B. Russell, both of whom had chaired the committee. In the Senate, he will push to maintain the quality of Georgia's military bases.
On Governmental Affairs, Cleland hopes to pursue the revision of campaign finance laws. He believes many Americans have lost faith in the political system, as demonstrated by low voter turnout in the 1996 general election. In addition, he has described himself and other victors in big-bucks Senate campaigns as "survivors of war."
Cleland supports the idea of a constitutional amendment that could limit campaign finance expenditures. He supports as an interim approach a campaign finance plan by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin that includes voluntary limits on spending.
Cleland takes a middle-of-the-road position on some education issues. He opposes cuts in student loans and supports tough standards for teachers. He thinks control of education should be in the hands of communities rather than the federal government, and he would support combining the Labor and Education departments.
On economic issues, Cleland supports the balanced-budget amendment and the president's ability to use the line-item veto.
Cleland backed the welfare overhaul and health insurance bills enacted by the 104th Congress. The health insurance law includes provisions to make it easier for workers to keep their insurance if they leave or lose their jobs.
Like many Democrats, Cleland opposed the Republican Congress' efforts to reduce the growth in Medicare spending. He also opposes reductions in Social Security for current recipients and for those soon to retire.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
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