FLORIDA KEYS -- Sitting at Camille's Restaurant on Simonton Street this past Sunday, U.S. Congressman Joe Garcia was like a tourist in his own district. But, he says, that's something he wants to change.
Garcia took his spot on the 113th Congress last week and cast his first vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House. As expected, the Republican-controlled body gave John Boehner the nod. Garcia said many of his fellow House members brought their families to the festive oath-of-office event.
"There were kids everywhere," he said.
In Washington, Garcia also began setting up office space where he decided to fly the flag of the Conch Republic, along with the U.S. and Florida flags. During Garcia's election campaign for South Florida's District 26, he promised to not forget about the Florida Keys. He said he really enjoys the reaction he gets from other representatives when they hear Monroe County is part of his district, which also includes western Miami-Dade County.
"Everyone knows where the Keys are," he said.
In the coming weeks, a full-time staffer will be placed in Key West with satellite offices in the Middle and Upper Keys, Garcia said.
In Key West, Garcia began his first public relations tour since taking office by holding a Jan. 6 swearing-in ceremony on Duval Street at the San Carlos Institute. Later, he held a similar ceremony in Miami.
During the Key West ceremony, Garcia spoke about his blue-collar upbringing. His father, who worked at a car wash, and his waitress and beautician mother were both exiles from Cuba. Garcia said he wants to work to reunite the citizens of the two countries.
With the congressman still trying to settle into his new role, Garcia said he isn't planning on introducing any bills during his first term.
"I just want to be a vehicle," Garcia said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said the focus of Congress over the next few months would be on debt and spending, and not gun control legislation, at least until Congress has proper time to review any recommendations by Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading a task force on gun control legislation.
Garcia, though, made his thoughts clear Sunday.
"We should have a gun registry," Garcia said at Camille's. "When police officers approach a home, they should know if there might be a gun inside."
He said he favors closing loopholes that allow consumers to purchase and take home guns from trade shows without a waiting period.
Recent suggestions that teachers be allowed to carry guns in the classroom is out of the question, Garcia said.
"We already pay [teachers] poorly," he said.
For now, Garcia said he expects his biggest role will be to help individual constituents who have problems with dealing with federal or international agencies.
As for local issues, Garcia said he has met with county leaders who have updated him on concerns ranging from the environment to insurance rates.