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  1. Opinion

U.S. House of Representatives: The Times Editorial Board recommendations

The winners of these races will help set the agenda in Washington, D.C.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms and paid $174,000 per year.

District 12

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants vets’ wait times cut to two weeks.

Gus Bilirakis was first elected to Congress in 2006. Since then, this Editorial Board has recommended the Palm Harbor Republican in most of his contested races. We don’t agree with him on several key issues — including his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and punitive immigration policies — but he is strong on constituent service regardless of party and he is a champion of issues important to seniors and veterans.

If reelected, he wants to work on passing legislation that would hold insurance companies accountable if they fail to follow the law to provide the same level of coverage for mental and physical health care. He also supports legislation to give veterans exposed to toxic burn pits the care they need. In July, he helped introduce the Strengthening America’s Families Act, which is billed as using research and the science of child development to transform the child welfare system.

His Democratic challenger, Kimberly Walker, 51, is a software engineer contractor with the Department of Treasury. She has a bachelor’s degree from St. Petersburg College and master’s in Information Technology from the Florida Institute of Technology. This is her first time qualifying to run for office.

She supports many traditional Democratic values, including closing the gun show loophole and keeping the Affordable Care Act. She’d like to see better screening of soldiers for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before they are discharged, and a federal tax credit for school teachers. She’s raised about $22,000 in campaign funds compared to nearly $1.1 million for Bilirakis.

We prefer the Gus Bilirakis who works to find bipartisan solutions on flood insurance and Social Security and opposes offshore drilling than the one who sometimes slips into “fake news” mode. Still, he does a solid job of representing his northern Pinellas and Pasco district, which is generally more conservative than other parts of the Tampa Bay area. For U.S. representative District 12, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends Gus Bilirakis.

District 13

Rep. Charlie Crist [ File photo ]

Voters have two very different candidates to choose from in the District 13 race. Incumbent Charlie Crist, 64, is the former Republican governor turned Democrat, the populist with centrist sensibilities, one of Florida’s best known politicians. Anna Paulina Luna, 31, is a first-time candidate who recently moved to Pinellas County, an ardent supporter of gun rights and a strong advocate of term limits. Crist, though, has the experience and moderate views to best represent the district.

Crist grew up in St. Petersburg, attending St. Petersburg High School before going on to Florida State University. He also received a law degree from Cumberland School of Law in Alabama. He became a state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor from 2007 to 2011. His breadth of experience gives him a command of issues from preserving the environment to criminal justice reform to veterans affairs. He’s as comfortable talking about improving education with fellow members of Congress as he is chatting about American history with a 9-year-old kid in the aisles of his local Publix. Perpetually congenial and deliberately accessible, it’s no wonder he co-chairs the House’s Honor and Civility Caucus.

Crist recently scored a bipartisan success when President Donald Trump signed the Veterans Treatment Court bill, which Crist first sponsored in 2017. The courts help give second chances to veterans who commit nonviolent crimes, similar to drug treatment courts. The idea is to get veterans help, instead of sending them to prison. Crist is also a strong advocate for banning offshore drilling near Florida and for tackling sea-level rise.

Crist ran successfully for the seat in 2016, knocking off incumbent David Jolly. He won again in 2018, easily defeating Republican challenger George Buck.

Luna won a crowded Republican primary, which included Buck. She says she will be an advocate for veterans, touting her five years in the U.S. Air Force and a year in the Air National Guard. In her campaign promotions, she is often pictured holding guns or championing the importance of the Second Amendment.

She supports school choice, building a wall on the U.S.–Mexico border, and repealing the Affordable Care Act, and opposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. She also talks about the importance of improving water and ocean quality and opposes offshore drilling near Florida.

Crist has served the residents of Pinellas County well over the last four years. He remains engaged and optimistic and has the skills to continue to break down the partisan divisions that hamper Washington politics. For U.S. representative in District 13, the Times Editorial Board recommends Charlie Crist.

District 14

ANDRES LEIVA | Times US Representative Kathy Castor is seen speaking during an elections watch party held by Rep. Castor at Fodder & Shine in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Rep. Castor's opponent in the race for Florida's 14th congressional district seat was Republican candidate Christine Quinn. [ LEIVA, ANDRES | Tampa Bay Times ]

Democrat Kathy Castor has been a strong voice for Tampa since first winning this congressional seat in 2006. She is influential in Washington and accessible at home, and she deserves another term.

Castor, 54, is an attorney who served on the Hillsborough County Commission from 2002 to 2006. Her experience in local government is a plus in Congress, for Castor understands the real-life impacts of federal decision-making. She has been a strong defender of the Affordable Care Act, the environment, veterans issues and housing and transportation initiatives. Castor also has supported robust, federal relief efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which is especially important to tourist-rich Florida given the heavy impact the disease has had on the travel, entertainment and hospitality industries.

Castor’s centrist, practical agenda and inclusive nature make a her a good fit for this diverse, growing district. She has helped strengthen key regional institutions, from the University of South Florida to MacDill Air Force Base, and worked across the political aisle on a number of critical matters, from stronger ethics reforms to building broad consensus within Florida’s congressional delegation for a permanent ban on drilling off the coast of Florida. As chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, she is working to move the U.S. toward cleaner energy, confronting the public health and environmental dangers of climate change. Castor is also a free trade supporter, who is right when she says that the president’s tariffs have hurt American consumers and industry.

Her opponent, Republican Christine Y. Quinn, owns My Family’s Seasonings and ran unsuccessfully against Castor in 2016. Quinn, 60, touts a generic platform, vowing to support job-creation efforts, educational options and the military. Castor already does these things, and her office has an enviable record of constituent service.

Castor is a leader in her party who can and does work across the aisle. She is visible in the district, regularly meeting with residents and political and business leaders to see how the federal government can help improve the community. Her work ethic and integrity are models for public service. The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends Kathy Castor.

District 15

Scott Franklin, 2020 Republican candidate for U.S. Representative, District 15 [ Courtesy Scott Franklin campaign ]

Scott Franklin knocked off the Republican incumbent in the primary, in part because Rep. Ross Spano faced allegations that he made illegal loans to his 2018 campaign. Though Republicans may have seen Franklin as the party’s strongest choice in the general election, he is a rounded candidate who seems the best fit for this three-county district.

Franklin, 56, is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and managing partner of a Lakeland insurance firm. A Naval Aviator, he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2012 after serving 26 years, including 14 years on active duty. Franklin was also elected to the Lakeland City Commission in 2017. His military service, business background and experience in elected office give him a broad perspective of national issues and local concerns, and he is deeply familiar with the district, which includes the eastern Hillsborough County communities of Brandon and Plant City, along with Lakeland and southern Lake County.

Franklin has a conservative agenda, but he also acknowledges that government can and should play a helpful role. He supports targeted federal assistance to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, expanded workforce training and greater attention to agriculture and national security issues. He wants to reexamine Social Security but promises not to reduce payments for existing beneficiaries. Franklin is a party stalwart on hot-button issues; he opposes new gun restrictions and any path to legal residency or citizenship to immigrants in the country illegally. But he is “adamantly opposed” to offshore drilling near Florida. Franklin also said he wants to work with Democrats in a bipartisan fashion to get Congress moving again.

Democrat Alan Cohn, 58, is a former television journalist and anchor. He supports continued federal relief to offset the coronavirus pandemic, a greater push toward cleaner energy and economic policies that work better for middle-class Americans. Cohn is passionate about public service, and he vows to use his experience as a watchdog to bring a more exacting eye to Washington. His strong communication skills almost guarantee that even as a freshman member Cohn would be a force in Congress.

Franklin, though, seems deeper versed across a range of political, security and economic issues. He has an open, if disciplined, manner and a thoughtful streak that could be good for Florida’s congressional delegation and the political process. The Tampa Times Editorial Board recommends Scott Franklin.

District 16

Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good of Sarasota believes she can unseat six-term GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan in 2020. [Photo courtesy of Margaret Good]

Democrat Margaret Good’s focus on health care and the environment is the perfect agenda for a district whose challenges are laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic and a warming climate. The state legislator is a pragmatic, energetic voice who could re-engage constituents in this three-county district, which stretches from southern Hillsborough County to Sarasota County.

Good, 44, is a Sarasota attorney who was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2018. As a state legislator, she worked to improve water quality and bring transparency to drug pricing — issues she would build on in Congress. Good wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act by lowering out-of-pocket costs, adding a public option consumers can buy into and encouraging Florida to expand Medicaid. She also would change the law to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, passing those savings onto seniors. These are the right priorities for a district with many elderly, self-employed and uninsured workers.

Good is a serious, creative thinker who brings a nuanced approach to complex problems. Like virtually every Florida candidate, she opposes drilling off Florida, but also believes the state needs to better protect its water sources. She supports clean-energy efforts to drive down planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, but opposes the Green New Deal, preferring more practical changes — such as tax credits for wind and solar technologies — to fight climate change without heavily disrupting the economy.

The incumbent, Republican Vern Buchanan, was first elected in 2006. The Sarasota businessman largely hews to the Republican Party line, though he has at times worked across the aisle on environmental and other issues, opposing, for example, drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Buchanan, 69, has also been strong on animal welfare legislation and helpful on veterans issues. He has voted, though, to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which would jeopardize a critical area safety net. The district needs a more forward-thinking representative with a firm grasp of the region’s changing demographics.

Good is keenly attuned to the public health and economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and she supports continued federal relief. She also promises to be a much more visible representative, which is especially important in Riverview, Apollo Beach and other Hillsborough neighborhoods, given that this seat is considered Sarasota-based. Good’s candid style, and ability to connect, also could improve the public image of Congress. The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends Margaret Good.

Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations
Related: How the Times makes its political recommendations.

Candidate replies

The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. The ones not recommended for U.S. House can send a reply of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Oct. 14 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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