TC Palm: Brian Mast challenger Pam Keith: A liberal with conservative credentials
Democrat Pam Keith is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in 2018. ISADORA RANGEL/TCPALM Wochit
Pam Keith is unapologetic about what she describes as her “liberal thoughts.”
She’s pro abortion rights, pro gay rights and pro decriminalization of marijuana.
“I don’t believe that there’s something inherently more moral about getting hammered on Jack Daniels than there is on smoking a joint,” she said.
But the attorney and Navy veteran said her proven track record navigating the conservative sphere will help her beat Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in next year’s election. Keith became his first challenger when she announced her bid last week and would be the district’s first black representative.
The Democrat said she was exposed to the other side of the aisle while serving as a naval judge advocate and working at two top U.S. law firms. One of those — Morgan, Lewis & Bockius — has represented President Donald Trump’s business interests.
“I succeeded in that environment because I was able to build friendships and relationships and collegial relations with people who disagreed with me on all kinds of issues,” Keith said.
The Treasure Coast-Palm Beach District 18 is the perfect place for Keith to run for Congress, she said. Although it leans slightly Republican, there’s an almost equal number of Democrats and, in particular, independents who can sway an election.
Keith’s short political career has been marked by being the underdog and exceeding expectations at the polls.
She quit her attorney job at Florida Power & Light Co.’s headquarters in Jupiter in 2014 to launch a long-shot bid for the U.S. Senate Democratic nomination. She had to sell her five-bedroom North Palm Beach County home to afford to stay in the race. She moved to Miami but is in the process of moving back to the district, to Palm Beach Gardens.
She raised a dismal $250,000 in the Senate race — almost one-third was her own money — but amazed many when she garnered 15 percent of the primary vote. That was just shy of 2 percentage points behind runner-up and former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who represented District 18 at the time, won the nomination but lost the general election. Grayson and Murphy had raised $4 million and $11 million respectively by the primary.
GOP voters often have better turnout in midterm elections such as 2018, and Keith is running a grassroots campaign. Yet she said voters are unhappy with the GOP and Trump. The president, however, had a strong showing in the district, carrying it by 9 points and even flipping Democratic-leaning St. Lucie County.
“I think a lot of people are dissatisfied with the administration in Washington and the polls are showing that,” Keith said. “They are looking for new leadership and a new direction.”
On the issues
Keith, 48, and the Democratic Party say Mast’s vote for a House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act will help them win his seat. The bill would increase the number of uninsured people by about 23 million by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Keith agreed Obamacare needs reforms, such as increasing subsidies to help people afford insurance. Her other campaign issues are:
• Addressing “what’s going on with the Trump administration,” including his attacks on the media, the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia and his “erratic behavior”
• Protecting voting rights from fraud, international meddling and voter suppression
• Addressing wage stagnation, perhaps giving companies a tax break in hopes they funnel that profit to employees.
Keith was born in Turkey while her father served in the Foreign Service. She lived in Morocco, Syria and Brazil. After her parents’ divorce, she moved to California, where she got bachelor’s and master’s degrees in rhetoric communications from the University of California, Davis. She then attended Boston College Law School and joined the Navy.
She moved to Jupiter to work for FPL as in-house counsel in 2011 after finishing her Navy stint and working for the law firms.
Although running for the U.S. Senate seemed like a stretch for someone with no political experience, she said she wanted to run for an office in line with her foreign affairs background.
Keith likely will have primary challengers in the race for Mast’s seat because Democrats are heavily targeting District 18. If she wins the Democratic nomination, she’ll have an even tougher challenge beating Mast, a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan.
Keith praised Mast’s military service but said his credentials don’t scare her.
“I’m a veteran too, so no I’m not intimidated,” she said.