MEEK, Kendrick B.

MEEK, Kendrick B.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1966–

Biography

In 2003, Kendrick Meek's election in a Florida district formerly represented by his mother, Carrie Meek, made him the first African–American to succeed his mother in Congress. "I am very respectful of the fact that the reason I am able to assume this high office today is because of the sacrifices and struggles and the battles for equal rights that were fought by the generations that preceded me," Meek stated as he began his House service.1

Kendrick Brett Meek was born in Miami, Florida, on September 6, 1966, the youngest of three children raised by Carrie Pittman Meek. Carrie Meek divorced as a young mother but went on to build a political career in the Florida state legislature and, eventually, as a Member in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kendrick Meek graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminology from Florida A & M University in 1989. After college, Meek worked for the Florida Highway patrol, eventually earning the rank of captain and, for a time, guarding Democratic Lieutenant Governor Buddy McKay. In 1994, Meek won election to the Florida state house of representatives, where he served four years before winning election to the state senate. In both instances, Meek waged contentious campaigns to defeat longtime Democratic incumbents.2 Meek married Leslie Dixon, and they raised two children, Lauren and Kendrick, Jr.3

As a state legislator, Meek was a strong advocate for education reform, pushing for reduced class sizes in the Florida public schools. His political views on education and affirmative action frequently placed him in conflict with Florida Governor Jeb Bush. In response to a gubernatorial proposal to end the state's preference for minorities in contracting and university admissions, Meek led a 25–hour sit–in, which helped spark the largest ever protest–march on the state capitol in Florida history.4 He also led the "Arrive With Five" voting initiative in 2000, designed to bring women and minority voters to the polls. This effort helped register the greatest number of black voters in state history.5

When Carrie Meek, a five–term, 76–year–old veteran of the House announced her retirement in July 2002, her son was the immediate favorite to succeed her.6 The Florida district, which weaved through southeast Broward County and northeast Miami–Dade County, was majority African–American and heavily Democratic. Kendrick Meek entered the Democratic primary as the sole candidate. For much of the campaign season, Meek led a citizen initiative to reduce class sizes in Florida's public schools, which voters eventually passed during a fall 2002 referendum.7 He also pushed a legislative agenda that included economic development, improved social services, and criminal justice initiatives. "I'm here to represent, ‘We the People,'" Meeks said. "Someone has to know what's going on and stand up for the rights of regular folks."8 In the fall general election, Meek received no party opposition and ran in large part based on his mother's nearly iconic reputation in the district.9 His election also made him the second son to succeed a mother directly in Congress.10 He was sworn into the 108th Congress (2003–2005) in January 2003 with his mother looking on. In his 2004, 2006, and 2008 re–election campaigns, he ran unopposed in the general election.11

Throughout his tenure in the House, Representative Meek served on the Armed Services Committee. There, he pushed for better equipping troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He urged the Republican Congress and the George W. Bush administration to establish a deadline to begin withdrawing troops out of Iraq.12 In the 108th and 109th Congresses (2003–2007), he served on the Homeland Security Committee, rising to the position of Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Management, Integration, and Oversight. The subcommittee had jurisdiction over airport and seaport security, customs operations, aid to local and state governments, and immigration inspections, detention, and enforcement policies. Meek's position gave him a hand in revamping the Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Customs Service, and the Coast Guard, reorganizations that affected some of the largest employers of his constituents. In the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Meek retained his seat on the Armed Services Committee and received an appointment to the prestigious Ways and Means Committee. His new assignment gave him the opportunity to oversee Social Security, Medicare, and other programs important to a large portion of his constituency, as well as tax and trade policy.13

Meek's fundraising abilities added to his influence and his party's leadership looked upon him with favor. In the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, he gave more than $325,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.14 He was selected to serve as co–chairman of the Democrat's "30 Something" working group, charged with making connections with young voters. He was also selected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 110th Congress to serve on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. "Kendrick is one of our brightest young members," stated the Speaker. "He's been a leader in the House since the first day he arrived in Washington." In January 2007, Meek was appointed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly, an inter–parliamentary organization of legislators representing NATO Members and associate countries. Meek also served as chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.15

Meek worked to ensure that minority firms have access to contracting opportunities for the billions of federal dollars spent on terrorism and homeland security operations.16 His top domestic priorities included education and health care, particularly the fight against HIV/AIDS, and Haiti.17 Building on his work in the Florida legislature, he sponsored legislation in his first term to provide $200 million of matching grants to states with class–size reduction programs to expand school buildings and hire teachers.18

Meek's district contained the largest Haitian population of any congressional district, with many of the residents having relatives on the island. Throughout his career in the House, Meek consistently advocated for Haitian immigration and trade. He frequently visited Haiti and fought to liberalize the U.S. government's treatment of Haitian refugees. He secured passage of a measure in 2006, granting certain Haitian–made products duty–free access to American markets.19 He criticized President George W. Bush's policies toward Haitian immigrants, believing Haitians to be unfairly singled out for detention and deportation.20 After the devastating earthquake that shook the island on January 12, 2010, Meek worked to raise awareness and coordinate relief efforts.21 He also supported President Barack Obama's decision to grant Temporary Protected Status to all Haitians residing within the United States, a policy that he had supported since his arrival in the House.22

During the economic crisis in late 2008, Meek reluctantly supported the Bush administration's financial rescue package, and he voted to provide emergency loans to American automobile companies. "My constituents didn't cause this economic mess, but if our action is inaction, they will disproportionally bear the brunt of this financial meltdown."23 In the 111th Congress, he remained loyal to President Obama and the Democratic leadership on their legislative initiatives, voting in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

After Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida announced his retirement, Meek quickly announced his intent to run for the open seat in the 2010 election, citing his service as a trooper, state legislator, and in the House. "Our state needs bold leadership at every level, and that's why I've made the decision to run as a candidate for the U.S. Senate this year," Meek stated.24 However, he was defeated with 20.1 percent of the vote in a heated three–way general election race between former–governor Charlie Crist and eventual winner, former–Florida house speaker, Marco Rubio.25

Footnotes

1"U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek Takes Office in Historic Capitol Ceremony," Broward Times, 10 January 2003: 1.

2Almanac of American Politics, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal Group, 2007): 431.

3"Biography of U.S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek," at http://webarchive.loc.gov/lcwa0005/20040824223504/http://www.house.gov/kenmeek/biography.shtml (accessed 20 July 2011).

4Almanac of American Politics, 2008: 431.

5Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 252.

6Andrea Robinson and Tyler Bridges, "Carrie Meek To Retire: She Broke Ground From Tallahassee to D.C.," 7 July 2002, Miami Herald: A1; Tristam Korten, "The Meek Shall Inherit the House," 18 July 2002, Miami New Times, at http://w3.nexis.com/new/auth/signoff.do (accessed 20 July 2011); Lauren Whittington, "Family Planning: Late Retirement Doesn't Always Mean Victory for Offspring," 11 July 2002, Roll Call, at http://w3.nexis.com/new/auth/signoff.do (accessed 13 July 2011).

7"Biography of U. S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek," http://webarchive.loc.gov/lcwa0005/20040925034212/http://www.house.gov/kenmeek/biography.shtml (accessed 20 July 2011); see also, Jason T. Smith, "Meek One Step Closer to Congress," 24 July 2002, Miami Times: 1A.

8Andrea Robinson, "Kendrick Meek Set to Fulfill a Legacy," 2 January 2003, Miami Herald: A1.

9Shortly after being sworn into Congress, Meek was quoted as saying, "People say, ‘How do you feel being in the shadow of Carrie Meek?' I say the shade is mighty comfortable." Betsy Rothstein, "Some New Members Arrive in Unique Manner," 8 January 2003, The Hill: 11.

10More information on familial relationships of African–American Members can be found in the Historical Data section, "Black–American Familial Connections in Congress," http://baic.house.gov/historical–data/familial–connections–in–congress.html.

11"Election Statistics, 1920 to Present," http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

12Politics in America, 2010 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2009): 251.

13Official Congressional Directory, 110th Congress (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2007): 440–441; Official Congressional Directory, 111th Congress (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2009): 450–451.

14Politics in America, 2010: 251.

15"Meek Appointed to NATO Parliamentary Assembly," 1 February 2007, States News Service, at http://w3.nexis.com/new/auth/signoff.do (accessed 12 July 2011); Politics in America, 2008: 251.

16"Spotlight on Meek at CBC Conference," 17 September 2003, Miami Times: 1A.

17See, for example, Congressional Record, 108th Congress, 2nd sess. (3 March 2004): H809–810; Congressional Record, 108th Congress, 2nd sess. (24 February 2004): H531; Politics in America, 2010: 251.

18Politics in America, 2008: 251–252.

19Politics in America, 2010: 251.

20Politics in America, 2008: 251.

21Erika Lovley, "Earthquake hits home for Rep. Kendrick Meek," 15 January 2010, Politco, at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31546.html (accessed 4 January 2011).

22"Kendrick Meek Hails President Obama's Decision to Grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians Living in the U.S." 15 January 2010, States News Service, at http://w3.nexis.com/new/auth/signoff.do (accessed 4 January 2011).

23"Statement of U.S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek Voting in Support of the Financial Rescue Package for a Second Time," at http://kendrickmeek.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=30&parentid=6&sectiontree=6,30&itemid=534 (accessed 4 January 2011; site discontinued).

24"U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meek Formally Announces Run for Florida's Open U.S. Senate Seat," 15 January 2009, Westside Gazette: 1.

25"Election 2010" at http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/senate (accessed 4 January 2011).

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Kendrick B. Meek" in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Adminstration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Armed Services
  • House Committee - Homeland Security
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Homeland Security
  • House Committee - Ways and Means
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