A Brooksville Democrat, who was a Republican until March, has qualified for the ballot in the 5th District congressional race.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published May 6, 2004
Calling incumbent U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite a Republican "rubber stamp," Brooksville lawyer Robert G. Whittel on Wednesday announced his bid to unseat her.
Whittel, 31, became the first Democrat among four hopefuls to qualify for a position on the ballot for Florida's 5th Congressional District. He paid the $9,282 filing fee rather than collect the signatures of 4,446 registered voters.
"Ginny Brown-Waite is a rubber stamp for the Republican policies," Whittel said. "This is a 50-50 district. . . . This is a district that needs mainstream values" represented in Washington.
He specifically criticized the deficits that have mounted under the Republican-led Congress and the recently approved GOP-driven Medicare changes. A Merchant Marine veteran and Naval Reserve officer, Whittel also challenged the notion that Republicans support the military and its veterans.
Whittel himself was a Republican until March - a month after he filed his initial intention to run for office. He attributed his longtime Republican affiliation to the political culture in the military.
"It's overwhelmingly Republican, especially in the officer corps," Whittel said. "I think the training at the (Merchant Marine) Academy, being exclusively around Republicans, there gets to be this perception out there - incorrect but strong - that Republicans support the military."
Working in the same law firm as former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., changed his perspective.
"My politics are Democrat," Whittel said Wednesday.
He questioned some of the intelligence that led to the Iraq war and said he would demand answers. Despite disagreements on military policies, the bottom line cannot be far from mind, though, he said.
"Never can we forget that there are people, Republican and Democrat, mainly young people, who are killed," Whittel said. "They did not get to make a decision as to whether or not they believed the war was just. But in the end, they had a duty. . . . There can be no room for any disagreement on one issue, that we do support the troops."
Whittel already has a campaign staff working in Brooksville, and brochures filled with short position statements and photos of him talking to constituents. He could face Brian Moore, John Russell and Richard Penberthy in the Aug. 31 primary.
Moore and Russell submitted petitions and are awaiting confirmation on whether they qualified. Penberthy would have to pay to have his name on the ballot.
A New York native, Whittel moved to Brooksville in 1995. He did not spend much time here, though, and never cast a vote despite registering in Hernando County.
He explained that he was working on a ship in the Middle East for about two years and soon after returning went to the University of Florida law school. After earning his law degree, he worked in Atlanta and Miami before returning to Brooksville.
The 5th District includes part or all of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.