If the U.S. Senate is “the saucer that cools the tea,” and the House is the chamber that roils it, Republican freshman Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona, a former six term Congressman from the Copper State’s 6th district has made a career out of spiking it with lemons.
Wrinkling the brows of colleagues from both sides of the aisle for years, Flake made his bones in the House spotlighting pork barrel spending. Now, it’s his legacy. When both legislative bodies adopted measures imposing a moratorium on earmarks through fiscal year 2013, Flake credited himself for the ban in a June 2012 campaign commercial,”Jeff Flake got rid of earmarks, Many tried, he succeeded,” said the announcer. By his own admission however, in his farewell floor speech to the House, Flake acknowledged that “a vast majority” of the amendments he offered to curb spending resulted in, “far more red marks (no votes) next to members’ names than green marks up on the wall above me.”
Honoring a pledge to serve only three terms, when Republican incumbent Matt Salmon stepped down from his seat, Flake succeeded him in 2000 after toppling his Democratic opponent, David Mendoza by a whopping 11 points. Nearing the end of his third term, Flake side stepped his promise to not run again, calling his self imposed term limit, “a mistake,” and for over a decade, continued steadily carving out his political identity as Arizona’s other maverick.
Firing off weekly missives called, “The Egregious Earmark of the Week,” and ranting on C-SPAN during debates over the substance of massive spending bills earned Flake top marks from government spending watchdog groups like, “Citizens Against Government Waste,” while drawing the ire of local state politicians accustomed to getting their pet projects funded with federal dollars. Outing then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during debate over an already enormous defense appropriations bill for sponsoring a $2.5 million dollar earmark slated to pay for a parade ground in Presidio, California, Flake illuminated the earmark process in his public remarks saying, “If you call a pen a stenographic, multi-functional, polymer, language communication system, you might get funding in this defense bill.”
After three terms in the U.S. Senate, when Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona announced his retirement, Flake seized the opportunity, picked up a key endorsement from Tea Party darling, former Senator Jim DeMint, and squeaked by with a three point victory against Democratic challenger, Dr. Richard Carmona.
Months later, in a whirlwind week capped off with his swearing in ceremony as the Junior Senator from Arizona, Flake turned 50, and rejoiced at the news that his 21 year-old daughter Alexis received a proposal for marriage at the top of the Capitol Dome; “I swear I’ve never had a day like this,” he Tweeted after taking his oath.
Assigned to the committees of Judiciary and Senate Foreign Relations, Flake’s new “Advise and Consent” role in the Senate got off to an inauspicious start during Senator John Kerry’s recent confirmation hearing for Secretary of State. Known for his position advocating normalizing relations with Cuba, Flake made an off-handed comment about sending Spring breakers to Cuba to torture the brothers Castro, resulting in Democratic Senator Bob Menendez getting his nose bent out of joint. “I had no intentions of raising it,” said Menendez to Flake, “but to suggest that spring break is a form of torture to the Castro regime-unfortunately, they are experts at torture.” Menendez is a Cuban American and next in line to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Flake’s boy scout image on government spending also invites greater scrutiny from critics who call him out any time they get a whiff of something he might be tied to that’s funded with taxpayer dollars. “I got quite a reaction from the Inaugural Ball picture I posted a few days ago,” wrote Flake on his Face Book page. Commenters eviscerated Flake for attending. “I should have noted,” he wrote, “that Inaugural Balls are not funded by taxpayers.” Unswayed and incensed, the row continued as one commenter even linked to a story called, “Hail to the Chefs,” detailing the gourmet fare served at the balls, rebuffing Flake’s bizarre claims that he only had, “pretzels and cheezits.”
Overall, Flake’s social media presence, much like his public presence, seems a bit, well, flaky. Don’t forget, he’s the same guy who, with nothing but a magnifying glass and a spear, in 2009, sequestered himself to spend a week alone on a desert island. On his birthday, he Tweeted out a lame fiscal cliff joke with a picture of a “Clif Bar,” prompting one user to Tweet back, “WOW making light that you and your idiot friends are going to raise my taxes by $2,400.” On January 24, he Tweeted, “Cuba flake,” and then quickly deleted it. The day before that he Tweeted, “Ok.” Seems like one of those situations where one of his staffers must have texted him something like, “Senator, happy birthday; re: new fiscal cliff joke: I Tweeted a picture of a Clif Bar for you,” thinking he was answering via text he Tweeted out, “Ok.”
Senator Flake hails from Snowflake Arizona, a town founded by Erastus Snow and Flake’s great-great grandfather, William Jordan Flake; a Mormon pioneer. Flake’s wife’s name is Cheryl; he has five children, and is himself, a pioneer.