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New district lines catch hopeful eye

In a District 5 without Alachua County, Jack Gargan sees a chance at the congressional seat he lost to incumbent Karen Thurman in 1998.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2002

The map changed Jack Gargan's mind.

Gargan, a longtime political activist and occasional candidate, didn't intend to seek office this year. But he said new district boundaries favored him so much that he would make one more run at being a member of Congress.

Gargan, 71, of Cedar Key will seek to represent the 5th Congressional District. Though well known as a Reform Party leader, he will carry no party affiliation during this election.

Gargan said he would formally announce his candidacy July 2 in Tallahassee.

This will be Gargan's second attempt to represent the district. He ran under the Reform Party banner in 1998 but lost to incumbent U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon.

Thurman will be back again this time. Also in the race is state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville.

Gargan said he knew the race would be hard and expensive. Under normal circumstances, he never would have dipped his toe in the water again.

But during the recent redistricting process, the state's Republican-led Legislature redrew district boundaries in such a way that Gargan believes he can win. Specifically, lawmakers removed Alachua County, a rich source of Democratic voters, from the 5th District.

"Redistricting is the story," Gargan said Monday. "I don't believe in just running for the sake of running. I have to have a chance to win. Alachua County is just too tough a nut for me to crack. That's (Thurman's) territory. And, of course, Republicans wanted to teach her a lesson and took it away from her."

The federal courts are still reviewing the new district boundaries. Gargan said he would review his options if the lines changed.

The new district, like the old one, includes all of Citrus and Hernando counties. It also includes new territory: east and central Pasco, for example, and portions of Lake and Polk counties.

In 1998, Gargan lost to Thurman in all seven of the district's counties. Thurman took 66 percent of the overall vote and 70 percent of the Alachua County ballots, state records showed.

"I believe the American public is finally recognizing the fact that our representatives don't represent us," Gargan said Monday. In his view, Democrats represent special interest groups and Republicans stand for corporate welfare.

"I'm for the people and everybody knows that," Gargan said. "I have no ax to grind. I'm in this for my children and my grandchildren."

Florida got to know Gargan in 1990, when he founded Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out. THRO advocated ousting incumbents from Congress.

Four years later, running as a Democrat, Gargan tried to win the party's nomination in the governor's race. But he couldn't displace popular incumbent Lawton Chiles.

Gargan became involved in the Reform Party and in 1999 was elected chairman. He became disillusioned and left the party in early 2000.

Gargan said he registered as a Republican so he could vote for Jim King, his running mate in 1994, who was trying in 2000 to win the GOP nomination in the 5th Congressional District. King lost. These days, Gargan is a member of the Independence Party.

Also running for this congressional seat are Don Gessner, a Republican from Black Diamond in central Citrus County, and Brian Moore, no party affiliation, from Spring Hill.

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