The next Congress faces a number of challenges, from finding a way forward on immigration and health care to securing the long-term future of Social Security and Medicare to setting smarter spending priorities. Tampa Bay voters will decide three Republican primaries and one Democratic primary for the U.S. House on Aug. 30.
District 11, Republicans
Republicans have clear choices to succeed retiring Rep. Richard Nugent in a reconfigured congressional district that includes Hernando and Citrus counties. U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont has experience and an eye for detail. Justin Grabelle of Ocala is a first-time candidate who was Nugent's chief of staff. Webster's background makes him better prepared to best represent this district.
Webster, 67, is a former Florida House speaker and served nearly 30 years in the Legislature before being elected to Congress in 2010 in an Orlando-area district that included much of Disney. That district has been carved into several by the courts since the last election, and only a portion of it is in the new District 11 that includes all of Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties and about half of Lake and Marion counties. Webster has moved into the new district, and Grabelle says he will move into it if he is elected.
A steady fiscal and social conservative, Webster has been a model for ethical behavior and quiet leadership for decades in Tallahassee and Washington. He gained national attention for twice running for U.S. House speaker, and he has no regrets about making a case for bottom-up management and following House rules. Webster was a prime co-sponsor of significant mental health reform legislation passed last month by the House, and he helped make positive changes for Florida to a five-year highway funding bill last year. Unlike other Republicans who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he has proposed a way forward that includes covering pre-existing conditions and promoting community health centers.
Grabelle, 34, worked for Nugent and his predecessor, Ginny Brown-Waite. He emphasizes issues important to military veterans and remains a supporter of nuclear energy despite all of the issues with the now-closed Crystal River plant. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act but has no suggestions for replacing it.
In the Republican primary for U.S. House District 11, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Dan Webster.
District 13, Republicans
Incumbent Rep. David Jolly planned on running for the U.S. Senate until it became apparent that Sen. Marco Rubio would seek re-election. Now the Belleair Bluffs Republican is seeking re-election in his redrawn House district, which generally covers all of Pinellas County from Clearwater south. Jolly has not been the rigid conservative he appeared when he won a special election to succeed the late C.W. Bill Young in 2014, and he has been willing to stand up to the Republican House leadership.
Jolly, 43, was one of just 79 House Republicans who voted for a bipartisan budget deal last fall rather than risk shutting down the federal government or defaulting on federal debt. He has drawn national attention with his legislation that would ban members of Congress from directly soliciting campaign contributions, and he has introduced legislation that would ban people on the terror watch list from purchasing firearms while providing for due process.
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Like his predecessor, Jolly has focused on strong constituent service, local issues throughout Tampa Bay and veterans issues. He supports maintaining the bans on offshore drilling near Florida and a gradual end to the economic embargo against Cuba. He supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Mark Bircher, 63, is a retired brigadier general who finished third in the 2014 Republican special election primary. He is a lawyer who strictly interprets the U.S. Constitution and promotes an unrealistic downsizing of government.
In the Republican primary for U.S. House District 13, the Tampa Bay Times recommends David Jolly.
District 16, Republicans
Thanks to redistricting, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan faces new constituents and new issues with the addition of fast-growing southern Hillsborough County into District 16, which also includes all of Manatee County and part of Sarasota County. The five-term incumbent is the best choice for Republicans.
Buchanan, 65, is a Sarasota businessman first elected in 2006. A mainstream conservative, he believes in fiscal restraint and embraces the Republican party line, from repeal of the Affordable Care Act and opposing re-engagement with Cuba to fighting new gun restrictions.
But Buchanan has reached across the aisle when the best interests of the nation were at stake, voting with Democrats in 2015 to support a clean funding bill for homeland security, and later helping to break another budget impasse by voting to keep the federal government open through the 2016 elections.
James Satcher, 37, is an evangelical minister in Manatee County who is running on what he calls an "America First" platform. He vows to take a hard line on immigration, abortion rights and trade agreements, and signals he will not cooperate with Democrats. This is the same empty partisanship that has ground Congress to a halt.
Buchanan has been strong on veterans issues, and he opposes any expansion of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. That should appeal to military families in the southern Hillsborough suburbs, and to coastal residents in the district who want to preserve a high quality of life. Buchanan has a reputation for being accessible to constituents, which should be good news to residents who are faced with having a new representative in Congress.
In the Republican primary for U.S. House District 16, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Vern Buchanan.
District 16, Democrats
The two Democrats vying to challenge Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan in November embrace many of the same policies, from investing more in education and infrastructure to protecting the environment and programs for seniors. Sarasota attorney Jan Schneider offers a sharper agenda for promoting health care, jobs and other middle-class issues, and her long advocacy work in the region shows a real commitment to Tampa Bay.
Schneider, 69, and Brent King, a 50-year-old airline pilot who lives in Lakewood Ranch, share a progressive platform that calls for increasing the minimum wage, developing clean energy and creating a legal pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Both also voice strong support for veterans programs and promise to strengthen Social Security and Medicare.
Schneider provides more details, from a carbon-cutting plan to measures that seek to improve the retirement security of older Americans. Her agenda reflects a solid understanding of the district, which includes all of Manatee County, parts of Sarasota County and the Hillsborough communities of Apollo Beach, Ruskin and Sun City Center.
The two speak with equal force of the need to bring a bipartisan spirit to Washington. Schneider's plans, though, should especially resonate in the district, given its large number of immigrants and retirees. And over her 20 years in the district, the Yale-educated attorney has been deeply active in environmental causes. She has a good feel for how the district has grown, an understanding of its diverse needs and the energy to be effective in Washington.
In the Democratic primary for U.S. House District 16, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jan Schneider.