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Ninth U.S. Congressional District

Republican Mike Bilirakis has held this seat since 1983. But unlike the last time he faced re-election, voters will have an alternative on Tuesday.

By ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


After 18 years in Congress, U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, has developed a near stranglehold on the job.

Perhaps there is no better testament to Bilirakis' air of invincibility than the failure of Democrats to offer even token opposition in U.S. House District 9. But unlike 1998, voters this year will at least have a choice in the form of Reform Party candidate Jon Duffey and write-in candidate Marie Ospina.

"This was a necessary challenge," says Duffey, of Odessa. "Every vote I get represents people who are not happy with what he (Bilirakis) is doing."

Duffey, a former television news producer, has focused on campaign finance reform, specifically the elimination of donations from political action committees.

"Until that is remedied," Duffey says, "we can't find solutions to other problems because they are being influenced by special interest dollars."

Other priorities for Duffey include refocusing health care toward early detection and prevention, reducing defense spending, implementing a flat tax and fighting for veterans benefits.

Bilirakis says his priorities for a 10th term will depend on leadership positions on congressional committees. As next in line to head the Veterans Committee, Bilirakis said he may be in a unique position to champion veterans' issues.

Other priorities include stronger support of the military and giving local school boards more latitude in deciding how education money is spent. Bilirakis also vows to fight for prescription drug benefits for seniors.

On campaign finance, Bilirakis supports full and prompt disclosure of contributions but opposes elimination of PACs.

"PACs are nothing more than democracy in action," Bilirakis says.

The important thing, he says, is for voters to decide whether contributions have influenced a legislator's vote. For example, he helped forge an agreement from the EPA to back off a controversial cleanup plan at the Stauffer Superfund site despite his having received a contribution from one of Stauffer's parent companies. Stauffer and its parent companies had strongly endorsed the plan.

THE JOB

U.S. House District 9 includes parts of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. U.S. representatives serve two-year terms and are paid $141,300 annually. A map of U.S. House districts appears with another story.

REPUBLICAN

MICHAEL BILIRAKIS, 70, is a lawyer, former restaurant owner and petroleum engineer who lives in Tarpon Springs. He was first elected to Congress in 1982, is a member of the House Commerce and Veterans Affairs committees and chairs the Health and Environment Subcommittee. He is married and has two children. ASSETS: commercial and residential real estate, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts. LIABILITIES: mortgage, personal loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: congressional salary.

REFORM

JON DUFFEY, 52, of Odessa, was an associate producer for a local television news station when he suffered a heart attack five years ago and was advised by his doctor to leave the business. He writes an electronic newsletter called The Zapper, which concerns people with heart troubles who have implanted defibrillators. Born and raised in Indiana, he graduated from Indiana University in 1973 with a bachelor of arts degree with a dual major in radio/television and speech and theater. He volunteered for the draft as a conscientious objector in 1967 and served as an Army medic. He is married. ASSETS: residential real estate, stocks. LIABILITIES: mortgage, personal loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: Social Security disability, fees collected for Web publication. WEB SITE: http://www.duff.net/ campaign.

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