U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, is campaigning for a seventh term in Congress and on June 9 he's holding his first-ever Women's Summit, pitched as "an opportunity for women to learn about relevant topics that have a direct impact on their lives."
So what are the critical issues facing women that Bilirakis will highlight in breakout sessions? Gardening, weight loss and "a woman's guide to financial planning," according to the event flier.
The summit, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at East Lake High School, will also host "local and national experts" on mental health resources, faith, identity theft, government involvement and successfully transitioning from high school to college.
Bilirakis said in a statement to the Times that topics for the breakout sessions came from people who attended a women's stakeholder session he hosted in Lutz in 2014.
"I try very hard to allow ideas and agendas to be driven by the people I serve," Bilirakis said. "I've always said the best ideas come from the people."
But some of Bilirakis' opponents in the race, which has drawn parallels to other Republican strongholds being challenged by Democrats nationwide in the November midterm elections, are taking him to task for the lineup. The 12th District covers all of Pasco and northern parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Chris Hunter, the leading Democrat who quit his job as a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa to run, called the summit "a shameless election year stunt" given Bilirakis' record on women's issues.
In 2013, Bilirakis voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which funds programs for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. In 2009, he voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows more time for women to file pay discrimination lawsuits.
"He uses his Congressional power to vote against women and then hosts a summit that patronizes women," Hunter wrote on Twitter.
Robert Tager, a criminal defense attorney running as a Democrat, wrote on Facebook that it's pathetic Bilirakis "now wants to act like he recognizes women as humans."
But Bilirakis said he has "fought tirelessly to advance causes that benefit women" in his 12 years in Congress and eight years in the Florida House of Representatives.
He mentioned his support for funding of the PACE Center for Girls, measures to empower women to sue websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking and support of reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Spokeswoman Summer Robertson said Bilirakis supported the original Violence Against Women Act but voted against its reauthorization in 2013 because "the final version of the bill diverted a large amount of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs without any substantial proof or coherent argument that such a transfer would lead to more convictions or greater protections for women."
The June 9 event's keynote speaker will be University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft, who will share "the secrets of her success" in leading one of the nation's fastest-growing universities.
Bilirakis has raised $978,458 as of March 31, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Hunter has brought in $242,633, far outpacing the other Democrats in the field: Stephen Perenich, a tax consultant who has raised $28,083; Tager with $22,725; Mathew Thomas, a software engineer with $9,283; and Kimberly Walker, a defense contractor with no campaign finances raised, according to the FEC.
Angelika Purkis announced her candidacy with no party affiliation and also has not raised any funds.