Sandy Adams was a unifying Republican candidate in 2010. She had the support of the Tea Party movement and Florida’s party establishment.1 The populist grassroots movement praised her status as a Washington outsider and supported her intention to act on the growing government debt. An experienced state legislator, Adams easily avoided many of the traps and pitfalls of less experienced Republican Members who were new to government. A promising start ended when reapportionment pitted her against a 10-term Republican incumbent.
Sandra (Sandy) Kay Daniels was born in Wyandotte, Michigan, on December 14, 1956. Her father Noah Daniels, a career Navy sailor, rose to chief petty officer during World War II. Her mother, Shirley M. Daniels, stayed at home and raised the children. The family frequently moved as her father received new assignments, but in 1964, upon his retirement, the family settled in Florida.2
Adams attended high school in Florida, deciding to drop out at 17 and join the air force, following her brother’s path into the military. Adams served from 1974–1975. In the service she met and married her first husband with whom she has a daughter, Sonya Michelle.3 Then, her life took a dramatic turn. “I realized really soon that my husband had a penchant for drinking,” she would later recall, “and when he drank he turned very mean, very violent.”4 She left her husband, took their daughter, and eventually got a divorce. Adams earned a high-school equivalency degree in 1983 while working and putting her daughter through school. Adams went on to get a B.A. from Columbia College’s satellite campus in Orlando, Florida in 2000, majoring in criminal justice administration.5 Adams began working in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Florida in 1985. She met and married a co-worker, Deputy Sheriff Frank Seton, but he was killed in a helicopter accident during a high-speed chase in 1989. Adams married Circuit Judge John H. Adams in 2001 and they have two children, John Jr. and Kathryn.6
In the sheriff’s office, Adams rose from investigator to deputy sheriff. After her husband's death she became active in victims’ rights organizations. She ended her 17-year law-enforcement career when she won a seat as a Republican in the Florida house of representatives.7 She ran as a “no-nonsense conservative,” highlighting her career in law enforcement by portraying herself as “tough on criminals, strong on homeland security issues.” As a state legislator, Adams concentrated on criminal justice legislation. She also sponsored bills dealing with the hiring of illegal immigrants, and one of her successful bills required a referendum before Florida could participate in the new national healthcare program passed in 2010.8
For her first national political race, Adams chose the central Florida district represented by Suzanne Kosmas. Kosmas was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 when the Republican incumbent was caught in a corruption scandal. But Kosmas was widely seen as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents for 2010. Adams entered a crowded Republican primary to win the right to challenge Kosmas in the fall. Her strongest competition was from businesswoman Karen Diebel and businessman Craig Miller. Adams staked out a strong position to shrink the federal government while also supporting funding increases for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which employed a significant portion of the district’s voters. She made headlines when she questioned the constitutionality of the Departments of Education, Energy, and Interior. “They spent a lot of money over the last few years,” she said during the campaign. “Some of that money could have been devoted to the space industry. We need to re-prioritize.” Adams narrowly won the primary with 30 percent of the vote largely due to the endorsement of the Tea Party movement.9
Kosmas targeted Adams’ positions as extreme, such as repealing the 17th Amendment (the direct election of senators) or replacing the income tax with a 23-percent sales tax. Adams attacked Kosmas for supporting Democratic healthcare reforms and reminded voters of her law-enforcement career by taking a strong stand on illegal immigration. “I don’t believe in amnesty,” she said. The district elected Adams with 60 percent of the vote.10
Adams entered the 112th Congress (2011–2013) as a Member of the new House majority. The Republican leadership was generous with its committee assignments for the Republican freshmen Members. Adams got the chance to employ her law-enforcement background and to focus on illegal immigration by winning a seat on the Judiciary Committee. Her other appointment, on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, directly benefitted her district. She fought to re-launch NASA manned space flights, including a Mars mission. Adams also took aim at NASA’s climate change research as a distraction that “undercuts one of NASA’s primary and most important objectives”—manned spaceflight.11
Adams played a prominent role during the second session when she introduced a bill to renew the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) for another five years (H.R. 4970).12 Her law-enforcement experience and the trials of her first marriage provided a compelling face for the Republican bill. Though the bill passed the House, it languished in the Senate as the two bodies argued over the coverage and various versions for the reauthorization. In the end, VAWA was not reauthorized until the first session of the 113th Congress (2013–2015).
The 2010 U.S. Census produced a reapportionment that pitted a record number of incumbents against each other. Redistricting left Adams with almost half the district new to her. John Mica, a 10-term Republican who had been Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chose to run in Adams’s district where more than 50 percent of the district would be new to him. Adams lost to Mica by a margin of 61 to 39 percent.13
1Joshua Miller,“Republicans Expect Ugly Fla. Primary,” Roll Call, 8 May 2012.
2Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=A000366 (accessed 9 October 2012); Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011): 426; Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, D.C.: CQ-Roll Call, 2011): 256; Amanda Robb, “Reinvention: Healing from Abuse and Heading to Congress,” More Magazine, 28 February 2012, http://www.more.com/reinvention-healing-abuse-heading-congress (accessed 12 April 2013); “U.S. City Directories, 1821–1989,” ancesty.com, http://search.ancestrylibrary.com (accessed 12 April 2013); “Success: Noah Daniels Knows the Key to Greyhounds,” The Tuscaloosa News, 8 February 1981: 21.
3“Texas Birth Index, 1903–1997,” ancestry.com, http://search.ancestrylibrary.com (accessed 12 April 2012).
4Adams Discusses VAWA and ‘War on Women’ on CNN's ‘The Situation Room,’” Sandy Adams press release, May 15, 2012, http://sandyadams.house.gov/news/ (accessed 10 October 2012).
5Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress; Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 426; Politics in America, 2012: 256.
6Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 426; Politics in America, 2012: 256; Representative Sandra “Sandy” Adams website, Florida House of Representatives, http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/details (accessed 6 February 2013); Robb, “Reinvention.”
7Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress; Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 426; Politics in America, 2012: 256.
8Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress; “Biography,” U.S. Representative Sandy Adams website, http://sandyadams.house.gov/biography/ (accessed 8 October 2012); Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 426; Politics in America, 2012: 256.
9Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 426; Politics in America, 2012: 256.
11Politics in America, 2012: 256.
12“Adams, House Republicans, Announce VAWA Reauthorization,” 25 April 2012 and “Reps. Adams, McMorris Rodgers and Noemi Stand Up for VAWA,” 27 April 2012, Sandy Adams press releases, http://sandyadams.house.gov/news/ (accessed 10 October 2012).
13Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress; Joshua Miller,“Republicans Expect Ugly Fla. Primary,” Roll Call, 8 May 2012; Robert Draper, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012).