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Bilirakis' seat attracts early challenge from three
By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 27, 2007
Nearly a year before the 2008 general election, candidates are mobilizing to challenge U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis for the congressional seat his family has held for more than two decades.
At least three candidates have announced their intention to run for Bilirakis' District 9 U.S. House position, which was formerly occupied by his father, Michael Bilirakis.
District 9 spans northern Pinellas, western Pasco and suburban Hillsborough counties.
Two Democrats, Michael van Hoek and Bill Mitchell, as well as a member of the Term Limits Party, Richard Emmons, have either filed paperwork or announced their intentions to run for the position. But Bilirakis, a Republican, has no plans to yield his district, said spokesman John Tomaszewski.
"It's his full intention to continue representing District 9 well into and past 2008," Tomaszewski said. He added that Bilirakis had no comment about the other candidates at this time.
Other candidates weren't shy about commenting about him.
"Bilirakis is wrong on the war, wrong on energy, wrong on health care," said Mitchell, a Tampa attorney. "He's closely tied to the Bush-Cheney policies."
Mitchell, a Vietnam veteran and father of three sons, said he initially ran for Bilirakis' seat in 2006, but dropped out of the race at the request of Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman. She worried too many Democratic candidates would split the party's vote, he said.
"I'm not going to pull out" this time, he said.
Mitchell said he supports universal health care and "ending the occupation in Iraq."
Van Hoek, a father of four from Valrico, said his lack of political experience makes him a more desirable candidate.
"I'm not a politician and that's the reason I'm running for Congress," Van Hoek said.
In his opinion, the U.S. House of Representatives has been hijacked by career politicians and lawyers when it should be "the people's House, a place where neighbors send neighbors," he said.
Van Hoek served for many years as a paramedic and now instructs other emergency care workers at American Medical Response in Tampa.
He said he was "appalled that the U.S. health care system was inaccessible" to much of the population and said he favors a national health insurance plan. He also supports a gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq and is a strong advocate of vocational education.
"I'm distressed by the direction this country is going," he said. "I want to bring the House back to the people."
Though listed as a candidate on the state Division of Elections Web site, Emmons did not return a call for comment Monday.