Congress faces familiar issues ranging from the federal deficit to renewable energy to immigration. After the Nov. 2 election, there will be at least two new faces in Tampa Bay's congressional delegation because of retirements.
Richard B. Nugent | District 5
The major candidates seeking the North Suncoast congressional seat held by retiring Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite share similar platforms. Hernando County Sheriff Richard B. Nugent, a Republican, and businessman James Piccillo of Land O'Lakes, a Democrat, are both critical of federal health care reform. They also want to extend the Bush-era tax income cuts for everyone and seek to bolster the economy by providing more help for small businesses.
Nugent, 59, is the best choice for the 5th Congressional District, which includes all of Hernando and Citrus, most of Pasco and parts or all of five other counties. He has a long-term commitment to the community, a proven track record at budgeting and improving efficiency, and an ability to work with other government agencies. Though he is Brown-Waite's hand-picked successor, Nugent offers a welcome departure from the incumbent's pugnacious style and temperament.
Piccillo, 36, moved to central Pasco from the Buffalo area seven years ago and is a small business consultant. He is a former Republican who volunteered for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and switched his registration to the Democratic Party after the 2008 election. His Republican roots are reflected in his positions, but he does not have Nugent's experience or record of achievement in public office.
Piccillo criticizes Nugent for growing the size of government by increasing the Sheriff's Office budget in Hernando County over the past decade. It is an unfair critique and fails to acknowledge that Nugent's department is now responsible for the county jail, public safety dispatching and emergency management — consolidations intended to save public dollars.
In the 5th Congressional District, the Times recommends Richard B. Nugent.
Gus Bilirakis | District 9
The election in the 9th Congressional District has an unfortunate familiarity. After two low-key terms, Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis has settled into the seat held by his father for 24 years. And once again, he is the only responsible choice because he faces an opponent with no track record who is not a viable challenger.
Bilirakis, 47, has worked hard on behalf of military veterans and does not contribute to the most bitter partisanship that infects Washington. He grasps the major issues and attempts to work behind the scenes with Democrats even as he praises the tea party movement. He has worked on improving screening for visas and has made contributions to efforts to improve border security.
But Bilirakis remains too willing to consider additional drilling in the gulf even after the BP oil spill. He loyally follows the Republican leadership and voted against health care reform, the stimulus package and financial regulatory reform. He wants to repeal the health care law and extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts.
Unfortunately, there is not a reasonable alternative in District 9, which includes portions of North Pinellas, northern Hillsborough and western Pasco counties. Democrat Anita de Palma, 73, is not up to the job and unfamiliar with the issues. A former nightclub performer and Hispanic activist, the Clearwater resident ran for this seat in 2008 but lost in the Democratic primary. De Palma's answers to questions are superficial at best. For example, responding to a question about the financial regulations needed to prevent another financial meltdown, de Palma said, "Red ink is not good, black ink is. Balance the budget." She was unable to list her priorities for government spending.
In the 9th Congressional District, the Times recommends Gus Bilirakis.
C.W. Bill Young | District 10
It could have been a storybook ending. Rep. C.W. Bill Young would have been the ideal choice last year to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat, a nice exclamation point to 40 years in Washington. But Gov. Charlie Crist appointed a close friend instead, and now Young is seeking re-election to his House seat and determined to retire on his own terms.
Young, 79, is in the twilight of a distinguished career that runs through eight presidents and seven House speakers. He is the longest serving House Republican and remains the ranking Republican on the defense subcommittee of Appropriations. He has steered hundreds of millions of dollars to the Tampa Bay area and to Florida, from the Bay Pines VA Medical Center and the USF Marine Science Complex in Pinellas to the Tampa Bay Water reservoir in Hillsborough. He has protected Florida's beaches from offshore drilling for decades, and that advocacy will continue to be important in the wake of the BP spill. He has worked tirelessly on behalf of military veterans, and the National Marrow Donor Program he started more than 20 years ago has saved countless lives.
While not particularly partisan, the Indian Shores Republican unfortunately stuck to the party line and voted against health care reform, increased financial regulation and the federal stimulus package. But if Republicans regain control of the House, he could be a moderating influence with an invaluable perspective in cutting defense spending and overhauling Social Security.
State Sen. Charlie Justice, 42, is a credible candidate who has been a competent legislator. The St. Petersburg Democrat served six years in the state House before being elected to the state Senate in 2006, and he has worked quietly on issues involving veterans, the elderly and consumers. But Justice has not made a compelling case for replacing Young.
In the 10th Congressional District, the Times recommends C.W. Bill Young.
Kathy Castor | District 11
Kathy Castor has been a strong voice for a progressive, forward-seeking agenda since first being elected to Congress in 2006. She has been a leading advocate for veterans, health care, consumer protection and the environment. Castor has a far better grasp of this Tampa Bay area district, which includes Tampa, southern St. Petersburg and northern Manatee County, than her Republican challenger, Mike Prendergast.
Castor, 44, is a lawyer and former Hillsborough County commissioner who has raised this area's profile in Washington. Her support for the stimulus bill and health care reform helped keep the recession from further damaging this region's economy. Castor worked to bring more resources to the area for veterans severely injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. She insisted that BP be held responsible for the nation's worst-ever oil spill. And Castor has helped local families work to keep their homes through her regular foreclosure-avoidance workshops throughout the bay area.
Prendergast, 54, is a retired Army colonel running an anti-Washington campaign. For someone who paints himself as an outsider, Prendergast is long on party establishment sound bites and short on specifics. His tax proposals don't add up, and his health-care proposals amount to forcing more people into hospital emergency rooms. Prendergast seems disconnected from the reality that thousands of bay area families face, and his sharp elbows would be unlikely to improve the partisan climate in Washington.
Castor is visible in the bay area, and her ethics represent the district well in Washington. She also is superb at helping her constituents navigate problems with the federal bureaucracy. She is rising quickly through the Democratic ranks, and her future is bright.
In the 11th Congressional District, the Times recommends Kathy Castor.
Lori Edwards | District 12
All three candidates in this race have held elected office in Polk County, the heart of this congressional district, and have deep constituencies. Democrat Lori Edwards brings the most rounded perspective and a proven ability to work across party lines.
Edwards, 53, represented Polk in the Florida House from 1992 to 2000 and now serves as the county's elections supervisor. She appreciates that the district has a rich history in agriculture that needs protection. But Edwards also understands the district is growing and that Central Florida needs to diversify its economy. She sees the big picture and has thoughtful views on controlling health care costs and ensuring the viability of Social Security.
Dennis A. Ross, a 50-year-old attorney, served in the Florida House from 2000 to 2008. His agenda is solidly Republican, though Ross does step out from GOP's Washington rhetoric by embracing clean-energy technologies, which he sees as major job creators. Ross, however, has few ideas beyond cutting government and relying more on the private markets.
Polk County Commissioner and former School Board member Randy Wilkinson, 57, is running as a tea party candidate. Wilkinson has campaigned as a budget hawk and populist, calling for cuts in social welfare programs and new trade barriers to imports. He is more focused on what's wrong than how to make the system right.
Edwards has the broadest appeal in a district that stretches into Osceola and eastern Hillsborough counties. In the 12th Congressional District, the Times recommends Lori Edwards.