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William March: Sharp divide on health care's next step for Kathy Castor and Dennis Ross

Divisions are sharp among Hillsborough County's U.S. House members on the next step on health care, ranging from Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor's delight at the failure of Senate ACA repeal legislation to Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross's outrage.

Castor, with a solid Democratic district and an interest in health issues, has long been one of the strongest backers of the Affordable Care Act, while Ross, representing a strongly GOP-leaning district, is an equally staunch opponent.

Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, both representing more mixed districts, were more circumspect.

"Families and small business owners can breathe a sigh of relief now that Senate Republicans have failed to find the votes to rip health coverage away from millions of Americans," Castor said in a news release. "I urge my Republican colleagues now to turn to bipartisan solutions," including public hearings.

Ross fumed in a statement, "The Senate has failed the American people and abandoned voters who were promised that they would repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare.

"The House did its job … Senators have now wasted seven months doing nothing. I'm sick of the excuses."

In an interview, Bilirakis said, "We've got to continue to work on this. I'm willing to work with Democrats to get this done."

He recommended "pre-conference discussions" between House members and senators to figure out what kind of a bill both can pass. "We need to communicate. I'd like to see them pass a bill and go to conference."

In response to questions on his stance, Buchanan issued a one-sentence statement, also putting the burden for action on the Senate: "The status quo is unacceptable. The Senate should put forward the best plan to provide affordable and accessible health care for all Americans."

Torrens discusses alcohol addiction

Ryan Torrens, a Tampa lawyer and Democrat running for state attorney general, is publicly discussing his alcohol addiction and recovery, saying it would help him in office dealing with addiction issues including the opioid epidemic.

"As someone who has personally experienced the challenges of addiction, I believe this makes me particularly well-suited to tackle Florida's opioid epidemic," Torrens said in a recent news release.

"Our people are dying and our families are being destroyed," he said, and many "are afraid to seek help due to the stigma of addiction." Ending that stigma, he said, will help others "come out of the shadows and seek the treatment they need."

In an interview, Torrens said he realized about a year ago that he was becoming chemically dependent on alcohol, and ceased drinking nine months ago with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Torrens specializes in defending consumers in mortgage and foreclosure issues. He's the only Democrat filed so far in the attorney general's race.

School board eyes Broward lawsuit

While school boards in surrounding Tampa Bay area counties are debating joining a lawsuit against the state over a controversial education bill, the Hillsborough school board has so far only asked its attorneys to keep them up to date on developments.

But the lawyers have also been asked to "look into options," and the board will get an update from attorneys at its Aug. 1 meeting, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie county school boards have voted to sue the state over House Bill 7069, a massive bill that, among other things, redirects school construction money away from traditional public to charter schools. The Pinellas and Manatee boards are considering joining the suit.

Lewis takes NAACP helm

Yvette Lewis has been elected president of the Hillsborough County NAACP chapter in a special election, defeating former President Bennie Small.

Lewis, 40, a Tampa native, has been serving as political action chairman of the chapter. She describes herself as a community organizer and said she's working toward a teaching certificate from Florida A&M University.

The election was held after the chapter failed to hold its normal election in November, which Small said was because of financial problems but which some members complained to the national NAACP was because of mismanagement of the chapter.

The election represents a generational change.

Small is a veteran of civil rights actions in the South starting in the 1970s, while Lewis, who's younger than local NAACP leaders traditionally have been, promised to reinvigorate the chapter.

The election didn't go without some confusion, however.

Lewis said some of the 200 people who showed up for the vote at the Robert W. Saunders Public Library weren't able to vote and about 30 cast "provisional ballots" because of lapses in their memberships or lack of proper membership records.

Lewis said she won 34-10, but also got more of the provisional votes than Small, and was declared the winner by national NAACP officials who supervised the election.

Small didn't dispute the count, but said he's challenging the election.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

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