Sunday, February 25, 2018

For U.S. House of Representatives

Congress faces big challenges, including reducing the federal deficit, overhauling the tax code and reforming entitlements. While House districts have been redrawn, most Tampa Bay incumbents lack credible opponents.

Richard Nugent

District 11

After just one term in the House, Richard Nugent has an easy path to re-election. His redrawn district does not include Pasco County, where he could have faced a tough Republican primary. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, chose to run in another district and was upset in the primary. And Democrats failed to field a credible candidate in District 11, which includes all of Hernando and Citrus counties.

Nugent, 61, the former Hernando sheriff, followed the conservative Republican majority in the House. His opposition to the Affordable Care Act and support of the House budget that calls for deep spending cuts and vouchers for future Medicare recipients to shop for health coverage are not in the best interests of his constituents. Nugent did introduce a bill that would allow members of Congress to turn down their federal retirement benefits. He also offered a bill that would require federal elected officials to place their stocks, bonds and other securities in a qualified blind trust. His predecessor speculated in bank stocks while she served on the House Financial Services Committee, so Nugent's ethics bill is a welcome contrast.

The eccentric H. David Werder, 57, is making at least his eighth run for public office. The Democrat's claim to fame is a 439-day stay atop a 30-foot flagpole in Clearwater in the early 1980s. He is not a viable alternative.

For U.S. House District 11, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Richard Nugent.

Gus Bilirakis

District 12

In a partisan atmosphere, Rep. Gus Bilirakis tries to be a voice of reason and compromise. Even as he follows the conservative Republican leadership on big issues, he seeks to work with members of both parties on veterans issues and in other areas.

Bilirakis, 49, is seeking his fourth term in the redrawn District 12, which now includes all of Pasco County, the northernmost portion of Pinellas that includes Tarpon Springs, and part of Hillsborough County. He has been a strong advocate for veterans to improve their job opportunities and ensure better treatment for traumatic brain injuries. He favors repealing the Affordable Care Act but wants to keep some of its popular provisions, and he wants to close tax loopholes as part of tax reform.

Democrat Jonathan Snow, 25, a drugstore photo specialist, is an earnest and knowledgeable first-time candidate, but he lacks the experience needed for the job. John Russell, 56, is making his fourth run for Congress as a candidate with no party affiliation. Russell, an advanced registered nurse, talks knowledgeably about health care but is not a viable alternative.

To his credit, Bilirakis has worked on issues important to his district and focused on constituent service. For U.S. House District 12, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Gus Bilirakis.

C.W. Bill Young

District 13

C.W. Bill Young forcefully speaks out for military veterans, knows the defense budget inside and out and refuses to stick to talking points. The longest-serving Republican in Congress made news last month when he declared it is time for the United States to pull out of Afghanistan. First elected in 1970, Young remains a voice of reason and experience in an era when the U.S. House could use more of both.

Young, 81, too often goes along with the Republican majority, voting for Rep. Paul Ryan's budget that would have cut domestic spending too deeply and pledging to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But he remains chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, and he has steered hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to Tampa Bay and to Florida. He occasionally votes against the House leadership, and he has helped protect the beaches from more offshore oil drilling for decades.

Jessica Ehrlich, 38, is a St. Petersburg native who left as a teenager to attend college and returned two years ago. In between, the Democrat obtained a law degree from Southern Methodist University and worked in Washington as a congressional staffer.

Ehrlich is a promising candidate who supports the Affordable Care Act and a combination of spending cuts and new revenue to reduce the federal deficit. She also has not spent enough time back in Pinellas County to fully appreciate what residents need from Washington.

Young works with members of both political parties, and he recognizes a meaningful deficit reduction plan will require spending cuts and more revenue. The redrawn district generally covers Pinellas County from Palm Harbor south, except for a portion of southern St. Petersburg. For U.S. House District 13, the Tampa Bay Times recommends C.W. Bill Young.

Kathy Castor

District 14

Kathy Castor has been a solid voice for working families, seniors, students and military veterans since first being elected to Congress in 2006, and her future is bright.

Castor, 45, has been a strong supporter of health care reform, public education and balancing the budget with both spending cuts and some additional revenue from a fairer tax system. The Tampa lawyer and former Hillsborough County commissioner pushed hard in the aftermath of the BP drilling disaster to hold the company responsible for damages and to direct any spill-related fines to restoring the Gulf of Mexico. By helping persuade the Obama administration to relax restrictions on travel to Cuba, Castor made it easier and cheaper for Cuban-Americans in the region to visit family and to expand cultural exchanges. The Democrat also has helped bring federal money to critical projects across Tampa Bay, from MacDill Air Force Base and the area ports to the University of South Florida and veterans hospitals.

Republican Evelio "EJ" Otero, 51, a retired Air Force colonel, is attuned to MacDill's importance. But he offers few specifics on that issue or any other, and he is not a credible alternative.

Castor has risen through the leadership ranks because of her hard work and attention to detail. She has a firm grasp of this diverse, urban district, which extends from Tampa and the south shoreline of Hillsborough County to south and central St. Petersburg. For U.S. House District 14, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kathy Castor.

Tom Rooney

District 17

The newly drawn District 17 is a sprawling congressional district that encompasses all or part of 10 counties, including a portion of southeastern Hillsborough. Tom Rooney has represented much of this district for the past four years, and the Republican's experience could keep the priorities important to Hillsborough from getting lost.

Rooney, 41, is not an ideal choice. He backs the House Republican budget that would cut taxes and spending but not raise additional revenue. His call to repeal health care reform suggests he is in denial about the concerns of 4 million Floridians who have no health insurance. But Rooney is more reasonable in calling for an end to some tax loopholes and in being open to creating a path to obtaining legal status — but not citizenship — for some illegal immigrants.

William Bronson, 73, is a retired Navy aviator and airline pilot. The Democrat has a fairer budget plan and a more sensible approach to health care and consumer issues. But Rooney has a broader grasp of this heavily agricultural area. He knows how to provide good constituent service in a diverse district. He also understands the importance of Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, which should well serve the active-duty forces and military retirees who live around the suburban Fish Hawk, Lithia and greater Sun City Center neighborhoods.

For U.S. House District 17, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Tom Rooney.

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