Thurman for U.S. Congress
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2000
U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, may be hard pressed to beat the successes she enjoyed during her fourth term representing 5th Congressional District, which stretches from Gainesville to Holiday and includes all of Hernando and Citrus counties.
The House approved Thurman's legislation authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency to spend $75-million in each of the next five years to help create alternative water supply sources, such as desalination. It is an important issue to a Tampa Bay region seeking to wean itself from near exclusive reliance on groundwater supplies.
Likewise, additional Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinics opened along Florida's North Suncoast because of an earlier Thurman bill to reallocate some federal dollars, securing an extra $325-million for veterans' care for the Southeast. She also pushed for the Florida National Cemetery to expand through the use of above ground vaults, effectively creating more burial space for the state's veterans. Both are important to her constituents -- the 5th District has more veterans than any other congressional district in the country.
Thurman is criticized frequently as too liberal or too loyal to the President Clinton. Both are simplistic labels that fail to take Thurman's independence into account. For instance, she voted with the Republican majority for the welfare reform package passed into law during her tenure.
Thurman is challenged by attorney Pete Enwall of Gainesville, who characterizes himself as a Ronald Reagan Republican but offers more moderate views on abortion and protecting Social Security than the right wing of the GOP. Enwall believes consensus is vital to be successful but failed in an attempt to persuade his vanquished primary opponent, ultra-conservative Jim King, to boost his own candidacy against Thurman.
Enwall is critical of Thurman's career in public service, noting she's been in office 18 years between Congress and the state Legislature and sports the traditional advantage of incumbency -- campaign contributions from special interests. But Enwall, a former prosecutor, is no political neophyte. He ran unsuccessfully for Gainesville City Council in 1996 and is former chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee.
Enwall is a more appealing opponent than Thurman has faced in several years but he is not more appealing than the incumbent. The Times recommends voters re-elect Thurman to a fifth term.
Republican Michael Bilirakis is an 18-year incumbent who once parroted the Republicans' radical and ill-fated Contract with America but has softened a few edges since then. He recently improved an abysmal environmental record by pushing to expose weaknesses in the Stauffer-site cleanup plan and solidified his health-reformer status by joining Democrats in support of a strong patients' bill of rights. He knows the needs of his district, which covers parts of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and he can boast a growing list of accomplishments in its favor, including the extra federal money recently poured into improving U.S. 19.
Though we do not always agree with his positions, Bilirakis has shown that he can use his seniority and clout constructively, an advantage his opponent, Reform Party candidate Jon Duffey, would not share. A former news producer who now publishes an electronic newsletter, Duffey offers some good ideas on campaign finance, energy and veteran's affairs. But as a political newcomer with a thin record of accomplishment and experience, he fails to offer a compelling alternative to the more seasoned Bilirakis.
Two challengers are taking on U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young for the U.S. House District 10 seat he has held for 30 years. Give Josette Green, the Natural Law candidate, and Randy Heine, no party affiliation, credit for their optimism and energy. But they are trying to unseat a popular representative who, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is in an important leadership position. Young continues to use his position in ways that bring constructive benefits to his district and all of Tampa Bay. Neither Green nor Heine has the political experience or mastery of the issues to offer voters a credible alternative to Young. The Times recommends C.W. Bill Young.
Jim Davis is a moderate Democrat who has represented Tampa in Congress since 1996. His responsible support for balancing the budget, improving public schools and expanding trade is an appropriate agenda for the district. Republicans didn't bother offering a challenge. Davis faces first-time candidate, Libertarian Charlie Westlake, in the general election. Westlake's extreme views would undermine public education, Social Security and stable economic growth. The Times recommends Jim Davis.
Democrat Mike Stedem, who owns a Polk County auto dealership, has the life experience and community service to ably represent District 12 in Congress. The seat is being vacated by Republican Charles T. Canady of Lakeland and includes the eastern edges of Pasco and Hillsborough counties and most of Polk.
Stedem, 50, is a stronger proponent for Medicare and civil rights than his opponent. His civic work with schools, business development and community health care give Stedem a grasp of what ordinary people want from government. Republican Adam Putnam, 26, a state representative, who has led legislative assaults on Florida's environment, lacks the life experience to make a well-rounded representative for the district. The Times recommends Mike Stedem.
Opportunity to reply
The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates in the races discussed today should send in their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. (E-mail: email@example.com; Fax: 893-8675). Replies are limited to 250 words.
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