Redistricting leaves Myakka, Duette wondering about their new congressman

jajones1@bradenton.comOctober 18, 2012 

MANATEE -- When members of the new Congress take the oath of office in January, a large chunk of East Manatee traditionally represented by a Bradenton or Sarasota resident will have someone very different in that seat.

Vying for the new District 17 seat, created during redistricting after the 2010 Census, are Republican incumbent Tom Rooney, 41, of Tequesta, Democratic challenger Will Bronson, 73, of Lehigh Acres, and Socialist Workers Party write-in candidate Tom Baumann.

None of whom are household names in Manatee.

Perhaps as a result of the size of the district -- it sprawls from Myakka City and Duette to portions of Hillsborough, Charlotte, Lee, DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Glades and Okeechobee counties, they have spent little time campaigning here.

And East Manatee accounts for less than 1 percent of the 17th District's population.

The heavyweights are Charlotte County with 23 percent of the population, followed by Polk with 18 percent and Hillsborough with 16 percent.

Felicia Tappan of Duette said she is disappointed in how her community was moved into a new congressional district.

"I don't like it. How can the congressman be in touch with such a diverse group of people? What were they thinking?" asked Tappan, a blueberry farmer and former Duette fire commissioner. "If they are running for office and we don't know who they are, they are not looking at us as constituents. We will just have to give them a chance."

Regardless of how the districts are drawn, John Miller of Myakka Head said he fears that citizen concerns are too often trumped by partisan politics.

"I am really upset with the party line voting. I am afraid the voices for the area have taken a back seat to the party line, rather than having a real debate on the issues," said Miller, a former aerospace worker at Kennedy Space Center.

Carol Whitmore, an at large Manatee County commissioner, is worried that the portion of East Manatee in District 17 could "find itself on the bottom of the totem pole."

It will be important to make sure the District 16 congressman -- either Democratic challenger Keith Fitzgerald or Republican incumbent Vern Buchanan, both of whom are from Sarasota, and who will represent the bulk of Manatee and Sarasota -- work closely together with the winner of the District 17 race to ensure the best representation for the area, Whitmore said.

Rooney, grandson of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., was first elected to the House in 2008. His agenda includes strong support for agriculture, promoting energy independence, lower gas prices, and helping small business grow and create jobs.

He also is planning to move to Charlotte County, and is house-hunting, an aide said Wednesday. With the redistricting, Rooney no longer lives in District 16.

Rooney is an attorney and Army veteran.

His Democratic challenger, Will Bronson, is a former independent and Republican. He is a retired airline pilot and former U.S. Navy aviator.

Bronson lists his priorities as supporting the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010 to "save Main Street from Wall Street," to get big money out of politics, to resist efforts to privatize Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, and to help prevent undeclared "nation-building" wars.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1

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