Politics & Government

Lakewood Ranch airline pilot challenging Rep. Vern Buchanan for Congressional seat

Brent King
Brent King

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, will have a Democratic challenger for his Congressional seat in 2016, an airline pilot with no prior experience in elected office.

Brent King, 49, of Lakewood Ranch, filed against the incumbent this week and said he believes the area needs a more moderate voice.

"Vern wants to build a wall," King said, referring to a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border some Republicans support to prevent illegal immigration. "I don't think the majority of our district wants that."

Buchanan has voiced support for securing the border, but not necessarily a large wall along the entire border as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has suggested.

Buchanan has held the District 16 seat since 2007 and has easily beaten challengers since his initial election. This year will be slightly different for the incumbent, since Congressional districts were redrawn in Florida last year. District 16 used to cover all of Sarasota and half of Manatee. It now covers all of Manatee and parts of Sarasota and Hillsborough. Buchanan resides on Longboat Key.

"We look forward to running on Vern's record of fighting for veterans, creating jobs, strengthening national security, and breaking through Washington dysfunction," said Sally Dionne, spokeswoman for the congressman.

King is originally from Atlanta, where he was a high school teacher who taught political science, economics and geography and a soccer coach. He later turned to business consulting and then became an airline pilot for a major airline in 2002. He moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2005 and has lived in Florida since 2000, besides a brief move to Tulsa, Okla., for his wife's career.

King said some major issues he wants to focus on are economic inequality, affordable education, increased opportunities for women, climate change and immigration. He added that he would be more vocal than Buchanan has been about bringing economic opportunity to the area.

"We had Jackson Labs planning to relocate here," King said, referring to a biomedical research facility that decided not to move to Sarasota in 2011 after the Legislature did not provide requested state funds. "It was a state scenario, but he (Buchanan) did not have a voice there. It's ultimately Gov. Scott's decision, but he could've tried to do more to bring those jobs to our area."

King admitted beating Buchanan will be a challenge, but said he plans to utilize technology and social media to run a robust campaign without a large donor base.

"We know we won't be able to match him on funding," King said. "But we can beat him on heart."

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby