TWO POLICY FOILS: A newcomer to politics accuses the incumbent of being too far to the right.
By RAGHURAM VADAREVU
Published October 26, 2004
Two years ago, then-state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite did what some considered unthinkable - she narrowly defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman to capture Florida's 5th Congressional District seat.
Now Brown-Waite is seeking re-election. Her challenger is Democrat Robert Whittel. That race, some political observers have said, will not be as competitive as the Crystal River Republican's battle with Thurman was.
Whittel, a Hernando County lawyer, beat out three other candidates in the Democratic primary. He changed his registration from Republican to Democrat in March.
Whittel has charged that Brown-Waite's legislative record is "far right."
"She has a voting record which is almost in unison with the right-wing Tom DeLay section of the (Republican Party), which I believe doesn't meet with our district," he said, making reference to the House majority leader.
Brown-Waite has said she regularly supports her party leadership - but Democrats do, too. She said her votes conform to her constituency's desires. For example, Brown-Waite said, she opposed President Bush's stance on limiting stem cell research and supported drug re-importation bills.
"For every single vote, could I just be obstinate? Yeah," she said recently. "But you know what? My votes reflect my constituency."
Brown-Waite and Whittel, who has been in the Naval Reserve since 1995, have plenty of differences on the issues.
On health care, Brown-Waite said eliminating frivolous lawsuits would help reduce health costs and make coverage more affordable. She has noted that she was able to expand veterans clinics in most counties in her district, which includes Citrus and Hernando counties and a portion of Pasco County.
Whittel has said health care is a right and Congress should make insurance universally available. He also said Congress should repeal the Bush administration's cuts to VA medical benefits.
On Medicare, Brown-Waite supports the new prescription drug coverage and called it a "good first step." Whittel said Republicans have abandoned seniors by forcing an "insufficient and ineffective" prescription drug bill through Congress.
On Social Security, both candidates oppose raising the retirement age. But they differ on how to ensure the program's solvency.
Brown-Waite wants to encourage younger people to save for their retirement and be less reliant on Social Security later in life. Whittel said Congress should reduce the deficit and pursue "common sense budgetary policy" to help keep the program solvent.
On the Iraq War, Brown-Waite said she supports the war and believes the United States is safer today than when the war began. Whittel said the U.S. is less safe today. He said the war has alienated allies and created new enemies because it was initiated without a direct threat.
The 5th Congressional District includes all of Citrus, Hernando, Levy and Sumter counties, and portions of Lake, Marion, Pasco and Polk counties. U.S. House members serve two-year terms and earn $158,100 a year.
VIRGINIA "GINNY" BROWN-WAITE , 61, of Brooksville was elected to the U.S House of Representatives in 2002 and has served on committees for veterans affairs, financial services and the budget. Before serving in Congress, she was elected to the Florida Senate in 1992 and was president pro tempore her last two years there. Brown-Waite also has worked as a consultant and taught courses at Springfield College in Tampa. Before entering the Senate, Brown-Waite was a Hernando County commissioner. She worked as a legislative assistant in New York state. Brown-Waite has a master's degree in public administration from Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y. Once divorced, Brown-Waite is married and has three adult children . ASSETS: home, rental properties, automobiles, bank accounts, bonds, deferred insurance plan, retirement accounts. LIABILITIES: mortgages. SOURCES OF INCOME: congressional salary, pension from New York state, rent, investment income.
ROBERT G. WHITTEL , 31, of Brooksville was born in Middletown, N.Y., and moved to Florida in 1995. He has not run for public office before and never has voted. Until he filed papers to run for Congress, he was a Republican. A lawyer, Whittel worked about a year for the Atlanta firm of King & Spalding, served briefly with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, and entered private practice again in 2003. He has a bachelor's degree from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and is a member of the Navy Reserve. He has a master's degree in business administration and a law degree from the University of Florida and a master's in international law from the University of Cambridge. Whittel is married and has one child. ASSETS: property, investments. LIABILITIES: mortgag e . SOURCES OF INCOME: salary, fees, spouse's salary. WEB SITE:www.whittel.com