Richard B. Nugent
District 5, Republicans
Many candidates talk about improving government efficiency. Hernando County Sheriff Richard B. Nugent has done something about it. In the Republican primary for the North Suncoast congressional seat held by retiring Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, the Times recommends Nugent.
During his decade as sheriff, Nugent has reviewed department procedures to reduce response time, cut overtime expenses and improve employee performance. He also has demonstrated a strong ability to work with other government officials by: taking the city of Brooksville's 911 dispatching and county emergency management into his department's portfolio; working to assume control of the privately run Hernando County jail; and using drug forfeiture money and private donations to build and open a community center in south Brooksville.
Nugent, 59, wants to take his moderate approach to governing and his keen problem-solving and consensus-building skills to Washington. The sprawling 5th Congressional District includes all of Hernando and Citrus, most of Pasco and parts of five other counties.
The way Nugent kicked off his candidacy was objectionable — silently conspiring with Brown-Waite to keep other potential candidates out, filing for office at the last minute and then having the incumbent announce her retirement after the filing deadline. He said he wishes things had gone differently. And he would be different than Brown-Waite in style, temperament and willingness to be open-minded.
Jason Sager, 36, is an unemployed audio-video technician from Brooksville aligned with the tea party movement. The problems confronting Congress require a more sophisticated approach than a let-the-states-handle-it philosophy. In the Republican primary for U.S. House District 5, the Times recommends Richard B. Nugent.
District 9, Democrats
Phil Hindahl, an attorney who calls himself a lifelong student of politics, watched Washington from afar with mounting frustration. The 47-year-old Lutz resident saw Congress playing politics, debating inconsequential issues and hindering the sweeping change he thought was mandated by Barack Obama's election. He saw the District 9 incumbent, Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis, as part of the problem. In the Democratic primary, Hindahl is the only viable candidate.
District 9 covers portions of Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. An Indiana native who has lived in Florida since 2003, Hindahl works as an assistant public defender in the 6th Judicial Circuit. He speaks comfortably and with specifics about national issues. He supported health care reform, though he said it did not do enough to cut costs. He opposes future oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. He supports "amnesty with conditions" for illegal immigrants, including requiring them to learn English, maintain employment and pay taxes. Hindahl supports tax laws that would reward companies for keeping jobs in America rather than shipping them overseas.
Anita de Palma, 73, lives in Clearwater and is a former pianist, nightclub performer and Hispanic activist. De Palma doesn't show nearly as much depth on national issues and struggles to answer policy questions. In the Democratic primary for U.S. House District 9, the Times recommends Phil Hindahl.
Thomas C. Castellano
District 11, Republicans
The four Republicans seeking the nomination to challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Kathy Castor hardly differ on major policy issues. That leaves two defining questions for voters: Which Republican knows the district best and is capable of mounting the toughest challenge to a popular incumbent in November?
Thomas C. Castellano, a 60-year-old Tampa native and small business owner, has the same concerns over federal spending, jobs and illegal immigration as his opponents. But he also has walked the talk when it comes to serving his country, managing a payroll and understanding the varied interests of this working-class district, which incudes Tampa, south St. Petersburg and a piece of northern Manatee County.
All of the candidates say the federal government needs to cut deficit spending. They would reduce government regulation to spur investment by the private sector. But Castellano speaks passionately and through firsthand experience about the need to grow small business, reduce the size of federal government and restore a sense of leadership to the country.
Tony Buntyn, a 49-year-old computer security engineer and colonel in the Air Force Reserves, resists confronting the serious issues. Mike Prendergast, 53, who left Tampa as a teenager for a long, commendable military career, confidently delivers sound bites about opposing health care reform and cracking down on illegal immigration. But he moved back to the district only two years ago — and it shows. Eddie Adams Jr., a 56-year-old residential designer, is inch-deep on the issues and looks to be courting the conservative fringe.
Castellano, a Navy veteran, has a record of community service and a down-to-earth approach his challengers cannot match. In the Republican primary for U.S. House District 11, the Times recommends Thomas C. Castellano.
District 11, Democrats
Kathy Castor has served her district well since first winning election to Congress in 2006. She also is the only true Democrat in this primary.
The 43-year-old attorney had a strong record on environmental and consumer protection, ethics and neighborhood issues while on the Hillsborough County Commission. Castor has built on those priorities in the U.S. House, where she has been a strong voice for students, veterans and the middle class. Most recently, Castor supported the stimulus package and health care reform, legislation critically important to the economy and welfare of the Tampa Bay area. She worked to bring more resources to caring for American service members seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, helped crack down on predatory student-aid lenders and was the first member of the state's congressional delegation to propose a permanent ban on offshore oil drilling off Florida in the wake of the BP disaster.
Tim Curtis, a 53-year-old businessman, is running in the wrong primary. He ran a far-right campaign for county commission in 1998, and though he changed parties, he has not changed his conservative stripes. Curtis opposes the health care bill, criticizes the effort to cap global warming greenhouse gas emissions and blasts federal spending on jobs bills. He cannot even say what drove him to the Democratic Party.
Castor's energy and attention to detail have enabled her to quickly climb to coveted committee assignments. She also is good at reaching out to her constituents. In the Democratic primary for U.S. House District 11, the Times recommends Kathy Castor.
Dennis A. Ross
District 12, Republicans
Dennis A. Ross is the picture of what Republican voters look for in this rural, agricultural region — conservative, established and an experienced hand at politics. The Polk County native and former state legislator is a known entity, and the strongest candidate for Republicans in November.
Ross is a 50-year-old Lakeland resident and attorney who served in the Florida House from 2000 to 2008. He and his challenger, John W. Lindsey Jr., share the same agenda — cut taxes and slow the growth of government. But Ross has the experience and the personal ties to be much more effective in Washington.
Ross supports incentives to the private sector for job creation. He sees a market in clean-energy technology that would diversify the economic base of the district. Ross is regarded as bright and capable of articulating an issue, two qualities especially helpful to a freshman member of Congress.
Lindsey, 49, the development manager of a chemical lab, is a self-acknowledged underdog. The Winter Haven resident is running a low-budget campaign. His central pitch is that Congress has overextended its reach and that curtailing its power requires a new brand of leadership — not "the usual suspects," which he defines as lawyers and career politicians.
Ross has a solid grasp of what Republicans want, a feel for how to move legislation through the process and experience dealing with constituents. This district mostly encompasses Polk and eastern Hillsborough near the communities of Ruskin, Brandon and Mango. In the Republican primary for U.S. House District 12, the Times recommends Dennis A. Ross.
District 12, Democrats
Both candidates in this primary have a knack for politics and a solid grip on the right priorities. Lori Edwards' experience better prepares her for the job, and she is more attuned than her opponent to the district.
Edwards, 53, represented east Polk County in the Florida House from 1992 to 2000. Her moderate views fit the conservative county, where she has served as elections supervisor since 2000. Edwards and her opponent, Doug Tudor, broadly agree on the basics. They both would seek to bring federal spending under control, work to curb illegal immigration and push to permanently ban oil drilling off Florida. But Edwards' agenda is much more rounded. She talks more convincingly about protecting Social Security, controlling health care costs and meeting the needs of growth in the area.
Tudor, 47, retired from the Navy in 2008 as a master chief petty officer and now works for a defense contractor. The Hillsborough resident is an earnest, serious candidate. But Edwards has more experience and has lived in Florida far longer.
Edwards is credited for running a fine elections office and bringing the operation into the 21st century. Elections are more transparent in the county. Edwards has lived in Florida more than 40 years, and that sense of history means a lot in this three-county district, which includes part of eastern Hillsborough. In the Democratic primary for U.S. House District 12, the Times recommends Lori Edwards.
Opportunity to respond The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for U.S. House should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to: Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax: (727) 893-8675; or through our website at: www.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 150 words.