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Kathy Castor faces a familiar foe in Tampa congressional race

Republican Christine Y. Quinn faces the incumbent Democrat for the second time.
Democratic U.S Rep. Kathy Castor (left) is facing Republican Christine Y. Quinn (right) for the second time.
Democratic U.S Rep. Kathy Castor (left) is facing Republican Christine Y. Quinn (right) for the second time. [ Times; Christine Y. Quinn ]
Published Oct. 22, 2020|Updated Oct. 23, 2020

TAMPA — Kathy Castor is seeking her eighth congressional term during turbulent times. But the heir to a Tampa Democratic political dynasty says the stakes are high in this race, one in which she is widely expected to trounce Republican Christine Quinn.

Quinn said she is running again to restore traditional values in the classroom, to confront China and to rid the district of a “Pelosi puppet”, suggesting Castor is in lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And Quinn decries a lack of attention from the media to the substance of her longshot candidacy.

Castor refrained from criticizing Quinn or mentioning her at all unless directly asked.

First elected in 2006, when the congressional seat opened after former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis’s retirement, Castor has pursued a moderate course while building key alliances, most importantly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Castor, 54, points to her ability to secure federal help in the bounce back from the Great Recession for the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and for Encore, the mixed-use affordable housing development on the northwest edge of downtown. She plans to fight for more coronavirus stimulus relief and work to improve transportation options for the district, saying the federal government has ample resources to back up local efforts.

The two candidates don’t agree on much.

Castor says the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett imperils the future of the Affordable Heatlh Care Act’s insurance exchanges. Justices hear oral arguments on Nov. 10 on the law’s legality.

“Florida has more at stake than just about anyone else,” Castor said, noting the large number of mostly working-class Floridians that depend on the government-subsidized insurance coverage.

Barrett’s confirmation hearings should wait until after the Nov. 3 election, Castor said.

“People are voting,” Castor said, adding that the “rank hypocrisy” of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders in pushing ahead with Barrett’s ascension to the nation’s high court after blocking former President Barack Obama’s pick in 2016 “is a tough pill to swallow.”

Quinn, 60, who lost badly to Castor that year, calls Barrett her “hero” and says her nomination should advance.

“If it was the Democrats, they’d be doing the same thing,” said Quinn of the Republican push to confirm Coney Barrett.

As for Obamacare, that legislation wasn’t ever about health coverage, but was a “ploy to control" Americans, Quinn said.

Emergency room treatment is there for the uninsured if Obamacare goes away and there are plenty of charitable programs to help pay the bills of those without employer-provided coverage, Quinn said.

If elected to Congress, Quinn said she’d want a seat on the House Education Committee to pursue her aim of getting children back to basic education principles, which includes restoring vocational education, sports, music and art to the schools and eliminating modern sex education, which she says has “gone way overboard", citing transgender information as one example.

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Quinn believes children are being exposed too early to transgender issues.

She said exposing children too early to transgender issues risks “sexualizing” children.

“We need to get that out of our schools,” Quinn said, advocating a return to single-sex sex education covering the basics like menstruation and pregnancy.

Castor’s campaign emailed a response about Quinn’s transgender comments later Thursday.

“No student should suffer bullying, violence, or insults, and it’s the government’s responsibility not to invite discrimination. In fact, schools, colleges and universities should be places where all students are safe and valued," read a statement from Castor.

Quinn also suspects the international financier and philanthropist George Soros’s money might be behind many of the people who have taken to the streets across the nation to protest the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

There are other issues on which Castor and Quinn don’t see eye to eye.

Castor was named by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to head up the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis and has taken a lead in working on what she has called an existential threat in Congress.

Her committee issued a report in June that Castor says is a road map to reducing carbon pollution, creating green jobs and bringing environmental justice to the issue.

Quinn said she doesn’t believe climate change is man made and points to Pelosi’s decision to make Castor the chairwoman of the panel as evidence that Castor has little independence from the powerful speaker.

Castor demurs.

"Speaker Pelosi has a lot of confidence in me leading the efforts in Congress on climate change, " Castor said. As for her supposed obedience to Pelosi, Castor says any relationship that is beneficial to her district is one she values.

The candidates also differ greatly on how the United States should deal with China.

Quinn said China “is a huge threat to us," and enthusiastically supports President Donald Trump’s tariffs against the world’s second-largest economy, adding, “China is not our friend.”

“China has taken our lunch money like a schoolyard bully,” Quinn said, advocating a continued tough line with the rising Asian power.

Castor says the U.S. must be realistic in dealing with China, seeking areas to cooperate where possible and confronting the Chinese on human rights abuses when necessary.

But Trump has botched a complex diplomatic mission, Castor said.

“It’s been too shallow from the Trump administration. A lot of rhetoric, but not much of a record to back that up,” Castor said.

Castor is married with two adult daughters. Quinn has four grown children and seven grandchildren. Before Congress, Castor served on the Hillsborough County Commission and worked as an attorney. Quinn started a family seasoning wholesale business from scratch, saying she is proud of never having received welfare while struggling early on to provide for her children as she grew her business.

Tuesday’s election will be the second time the two candidates have faced off. Castor beat Quinn soundly four years ago, with the challenger getting 38 percent of the vote.

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