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Times recommends: For U.S. House: Webster, Bilirakis, Castor, Ross, Buchanan

Redrawn U.S. House districts, one retirement and one highly competitive race indicate change is coming to Tampa Bay’s congressional delegation. The question is how much. The challenges facing Congress remain the same, from breaking the deadlock on immigration and health care to securing the long-term future of Social Security and Medicare to setting appropriate spending priorities.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Redrawn U.S. House districts, one retirement and one highly competitive race indicate change is coming to Tampa Bay’s congressional delegation. The question is how much. The challenges facing Congress remain the same, from breaking the deadlock on immigration and health care to securing the long-term future of Social Security and Medicare to setting appropriate spending priorities.

Dan Webster

District 11

There is a clear choice to succeed retiring Rep. Richard Nugent in this reconfigured congressional district that includes Hernando and Citrus counties. U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont is a conservative Republican who has the experience, integrity and even temperament that makes him well-prepared to represent this district.

Webster, 67, was first elected to Congress in 2010 in an Orlando-area district that covered much of Disney. Now that district has been carved into several and a portion is in the new District 11, which covers all of Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties and about half of Lake and Marion counties. Webster has moved into the district, and he is a former Florida House speaker who served nearly 30 years in the Legislature before being elected to Congress.

The Republican is a social and fiscal conservative who pushed for less top-down control of the House in twice running for U.S. House speaker. He was a prime co-sponsor of significant mental health reforms passed by the House this summer, and he is an expert in transportation issues. While he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he has proposed an alternative that includes covering pre-existing conditions and promoting community health centers.

Dave Koller, 45, runs an Ocala business that provides services to developmentally disabled adults. The Democrat ran unsuccessfully against Nugent in 2014 and has supported bipartisan immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act. But he cannot match Webster's experience or knowledge of the issues.

Webster is an effective member of Congress who pays close attention to policy details and has set a high standard for ethical behavior. For U.S. House District 11, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Dan Webster.

Gus Bilirakis

District 12

Gus Bilirakis has served in the U.S. House for a decade and quietly focuses on issues such as mental health and veterans' concerns. He sticks to the conservative Republican Party line on high-profile issues that contributes to Washington gridlock, but there is no strong alternative in this district that covers north Pinellas County, all of Pasco County and a sliver of northwest Hillsborough County.

Bilirakis, 53, is a former state legislator who essentially inherited this district from his father, who represented it for decades. The Palm Harbor Republican has concentrated on legislation to open the market for new drugs and treatments for those affected with rare diseases, which has passed the House. His legislation to fight opioid drug abuse among veterans and create more options for veterans seeking mental health treatment are now law. He supports the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast, and he has worked across party lines on issues such as flood insurance.

But Bilirakis is less constructive in other key areas. He supports repeal of the Affordable Care Act and maintaining the economic embargo against Cuba. He opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, bans on assault weapons and large magazines and closing the gun show loophole. None of those positions are in the best interests of Floridians.

Robert Tager, 50, is a lawyer who decided in May to run against Bilirakis. The Democrat supports the Affordable Care Act, comprehensive immigration reform and lifting the Cuba embargo. But the first-time candidate has raised little money, has no real campaign organization and can't compete with Bilirakis' experience.

Bilirakis knows the district, and he works hard on veterans issues and health care concerns that his constituents care about. For U.S. House District 12, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Gus Bilirakis.

Kathy Castor

District 14

Kathy Castor has served her Tampa-area constituents well for a decade in the U.S. House and is an effective advocate for a wide range of important issues, from health care reform to the environment to opening the door to Cuba.

Castor, 50, has pursued a broad agenda in working to expand health care, provide mortgage relief and create jobs. The Democrat has championed key investments to Tampa's port and airport. Her support for the University of South Florida, the region's medical industry and small businesses reflects her understanding of the diversity of the urban district. She has helped keep MacDill Air Force Base as a modern facility, and she has worked to expand veterans' access to health care. She also was an early and outspoken voice in improving U.S. relations with Cuba.

Christine Quinn, 56, is a business owner and a first-time candidate who opposes the Affordable Care Act, sensible gun restrictions and reforming immigration. The Republican's agenda is out of touch with the Tampa-area district.

Castor is ethical, hard-working and accessible. She is skilled at promoting the region's interests in Washington. She also has used her office to push Florida leaders to invest in modern transit, clean energy and other projects to make the state more competitive.

For U.S. House District 14, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kathy Castor.

Dennis Ross

District 15

Rep. Dennis Ross has contributed to gridlock in Washington, often inflaming the partisan divide instead of seeking commonsense solutions that serve his moderate district. But he has been effective on some local issues, better understands the constituents he would serve and would be more effective than his opponent.

Ross, 56, is an attorney and Lakeland native who was elected to Congress in 2010 after serving in the Florida House. He stands with the far right on hot-button issues, using immigration, the Affordable Care Act and other issues to score points with anti-Obama voters at the expense of his larger constituency. Still, Ross has been helpful on some local issues, from pushing relief to costly price increases for flood insurance to fighting the spread of Zika. He also has helped to keep the state-federal Everglades restoration project on track.

Jim Lange, 55, a business consultant who lives in Lutz, offers a more progressive agenda. But the first-time candidate appears to know little about the three-county district, which includes Lake, Polk and Hillsborough counties, and covers the fast-growing areas of Plant City, Brandon and Temple Terrace. The Democrat rightly criticizes Ross for championing what he opposes rather than measures he supports. Still, Ross has a better feel for the legislative process, the diversity of this district and the growing pains in Hillsborough lawmakers have to confront.

For U.S. House District 15, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Dennis Ross.

Vern Buchanan

District 16

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is a mainstream conservative first elected in 2006. The Sarasota businessman largely toes the Republican Party line, though he has been sensitive to coastal issues that could well serve new constituents in this redrawn district, which reaches the southern Hillsborough County suburbs.

Buchanan, 65, put the nation's interests ahead of party politics in 2015, voting with Democrats to support a clean funding bill for homeland security; he also later voted to break through a budget impasse. He was an early supporter of President Barack Obama's full Zika funding bill, recognizing the need for timely action against a looming public health threat. He has supported the ban on oil drilling near the state's Gulf Coast and fought efforts to weaken federal protections for manatees. Buchanan is also a strong supporter of free trade, which is important to the continued growth of regional ports and airports, particularly Port Tampa Bay.

Jan Schneider, 69, is a Sarasota attorney who has been active in environmental causes. The Democrat has a progressive agenda for health care and jobs, and like Buchanan is sharp on veterans' issues.

Buchanan, though, would be more effective. He will need to get up to speed with the concerns of Hillsborough voters in this redrawn district, which includes Riverview and Apollo Beach in Hillsborough, all of Manatee County and northern Sarasota County. But Buchanan has shown a regional perspective in the past.

For U.S. House District 16, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Vern Buchanan.

Times recommends: For U.S. House: Webster, Bilirakis, Castor, Ross, Buchanan 10/07/16 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2016 5:08pm]
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