Politics & Government

Washington dysfunction only point of agreements between District 16 congressional candidates

All three candidates for the 16th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House agree the atmosphere in Washington needs to change, but they have differing opinions on what that change should be and how it should be implemented.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, who was first elected in 2006, said he has been reaching across the aisle and searching for bipartisan agreements.

"In business, it's about the organization and the people being successful, so I'm trying to bring that attitude to Washington," Buchanan said. "It shouldn't be about 'Democrat' or 'Republican,' or 'liberal' and 'conservative.' Let's find areas of agreement and let's get something done."

Democratic nominee Henry Lawrence, a former NFL football star, said a vote for him would be a vote for change in Washington, and that he would represent the interests of the people, rather than special interests.

"I talked to some people who told me, 'We need a new infusion here,'" Lawrence said, noting he had visited Washington while considering whether to run. "It's time that we stand up and start changing things."

Write-in candidate Joe Newman said he is running because he's unhappy with the direction the country is going.

"The government should have business as its servant, not businesses having government as their servant," Newman said.

Although they can agree that Washington is dysfunctional, the candidates fall on differing sides on most other issues.

The 16th Congressional District encompasses Sarasota County and most of Manatee.

Vern Buchanan

Buchanan, 63, says his main focus -- both when he first ran for Congress and today -- is leaving the country better for following generations, and that he believes the first step to doing that is cutting down the national debt.

"Over 50 years, we've only balanced the budget five times," Buchanan said. "Fast forward, and I'm more alarmed today than ever as it relates to that. We've gone from $8 trillion to almost $18 trillion in debt, which the next generation is going to have to pay off."

Buchanan grew up in Detroit, was the first member of his family to attend college and started a printing company there in 1976. After growing the company from two to 750 stores, he sold it and moved to Florida in 1990.

In Sarasota, he got into the automotive retail business and bought Sarasota Ford in 1995, which prompted him to move to Longboat Key, where he currently lives.

Buchanan describes his life as the stereotypical American dream, where hard work led him to success. Lately, he said he's seen polls that show many young people no longer believe in that ideal, and he wants to fight to bring that belief back.

He wants to bring down the national debt by passing a constitutional balanced-budget amendment, and by fostering an environment throughout the U.S. that encourages start-ups and small businesses. Buchanan serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax and trade policy.

"I don't have any confidence in Democrats or Republicans in dealing with this, that's why I want a constitutional balanced-budget amendment that simply says you don't spend more than you take in," Buchanan said.

Buchanan said he also tried to use his experience as a business owner and job-creator when crafting the Buchanan Jobs Plan, a bill in Congress that he said would help foster a more-encouraging atmosphere for new businesses by reducing regulations and cutting down on frivolous lawsuits, thus helping to create jobs.

Buchanan said one of the biggest challenges to overcome is the dysfunction in Washington, but the way to change that is by working together, not by voting new people in.

Kathleen King, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Manatee County, said Buchanan has been instrumental in important issues to Manatee County, such as beach renourishment, citrus greening and the Ware's2 Creek project.

"He listens to both sides of the aisle, and then he makes a decision on what he thinks is best without looking at party affiliation," King said. "He's a steady, calm, methodical and reflective person, and that shows in his voting record."

Buchanan has raised more than $1.5 million, $605,428 of which are committee contributions, and spent nearly $900,000.

Henry Lawrence

Lawrence, 63, said when Patty Benson, chairwoman of the Manatee County Democratic Party, first asked him to consider running, he thought it was crazy.

"At first I said, 'You're out of your mind.' But I looked into it more, and the national party asked me to come to D.C. and I did, and it was during the insanity that was going on during the shutdown -- I was there when they ended it -- and it made me start thinking, 'You know, this is not how our country should be ran,'" Lawrence said.

Lawrence, who lives in Palmetto, said he took the government shutdown personally, and it made him want to fight for individual rights over special interests.

Lawrence was raised as a farm worker and attended Palmetto Lincoln High School and Manatee High School. He played football through college and was drafted in the first round by the Oakland Raiders. He played in three Super Bowls.

Lawrence now serves on the board of Manatee Children's Services, is involved in local entertainment and is a public speaker.

He said he wants to see more policies that benefit the poor and middle class, such as extending unemployment benefits, more funding for public education, cutting subsidies and raising the minimum wage.

"You've got companies making hundreds of billions of dollars, and they want to step on the little guy and not pay people $10 per hour, or $12 per hour," Lawrence said.

Additionally, he said Congress needs to work on a better path to citizenship for immigrants, fight for more equality among the sexes, work more alongside the president and invest more in education.

Lawrence said Congress needs new faces. If elected, he said he will make sure everyone has a chance to be heard.

"It's time to make a change, and I'm the change," he said.

Benson, who asked Lawrence to run, said she thought Lawrence would be a good candidate because he is well-loved in the district.

"I really feel that he's a face of the people," she said. "He's a kind and friendly person, and he's passionate about the issues."

Lawrence has raised $41,829 for his campaign and spent $40,402.

Joe Newman

Newman, a write-in candidate, said that, at 101 years old, he has seen the country in good years, but lately he can't sit by and watch the direction it's going.

"I think we're entitled to something better," Newman said.

Newman was born in Chicago but moved to South Bend, Ind., when he was still young. He worked as an accountant throughout his life and moved to Florida full-time in 1990. He currently resides in the Palmetto area.

Newman said he believes the government needs to take a more active role in creating jobs and in keeping business out of politics.

"We need to change how businesses influence politics," Newman said, saying the campaign-finance system is one example of something that needs to change.

Generally, Newman said he falls more on the liberal side of issues. One in particular that he's passionate about is climate change, which he said government officials need to recognize as a reality.

"To deny climate change is insanity, and to not do anything is incompetence," he said.

"I'm doing this for the following generations," Newman said. "We need to make ourselves a great society."

Newman said he has not taken any contributions for his campaign and has spent about $1,000.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald