Robert Tager Archives - Florida Politics
Chris Hunter, CD 12 Democratic Candidate, with Family (Photo pulled from official campaign website)

Second Democrat files against Gus Bilirakis in CD 12

A former federal prosecutor and FBI agent announced Tuesday he would run against Palm Harbor Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

The congressional race marks the first political foray for Trinity Democrat Chris Hunter, who said he was inspired to enter the race due to concerns over President Donald Trump’s and Bilirakis’ leadership.

Chris Hunter, CD 12 Democratic Candidate, standing on grassy clearing (Photo pulled from official campaign website)
Chris Hunter, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that he will challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

“I am running for Congress against a career politician who has been in office for two decades. Career politicians who sell out to the highest bidder or to political power brokers violate the trust we all place in our government. What’s worse, they turn their backs on our shared values and the true meaning of American service,” Hunter wrote on his campaign website.

Even though Hunter already has his sights set on the incumbent, he’ll need to get through a Democratic Primary against Mathew Thomas, a software engineer who has been in the CD 12 race since June and has levied plenty of his own attacks against Bilirakis.

Bilirakis is currently in his sixth term in congress. Prior to winning his U.S. House seat in 2006, he served four terms in the Florida House. Through the end of the third quarter, Bilirakis had raised more than $500,000 for his re-election and had $281,621 cash on hand. Thomas, through the same date, had raised $6,173 and had $3,645 cash on hand.

Hunter bills himself as the son of a schoolteacher and U.S. Marine who “was raised in a home where service to others was a way of life.” He is double alumnus of Boston College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1995 followed by a law degree in 1998.

After law school, Hunter worked as a prosecutor, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks inspired him to join the FBI, where he focused on counterintelligence, counterterrorism and international fugitive investigations.

Post-bureau, the 44-year-old has worked as a teacher at the Stetson University College of Law and the University of Tampa, and has also worked as a federal prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice on a health care fraud strike force, where he helped shutdown and prosecute Medicare and TRICARE scammers.

“Our American story, the story we all share, is powerful,” he wrote. “Let’s use the power of our stories to renew our shared American values and restore honest American service.”

CD 12 covers all of Pasco County and parts of northern Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The seat carries a heavy advantage for Republicans, who make up nearly 40 percent of the electorate compared to 33 percent who are registered Democrats and 27 percent who don’t belong to one of the major parties.

In 2012, when CD 12 was redrawn from the old CD 9, the district voted 54-46 in favor of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Bilirakis outperformed the top of the ticket with 63 percent of the vote on Election Day that year, followed by an unopposed run in 2014.

Last year, Bilirakis captured nearly 69 percent of the vote against Democrat Robert Tager – a 12 point lead over Trump, who beat Hillary Clinton 57-39 in the district.

CD 12 hopeful Mathew Thomas warns election hacking is a federal issue

Mathew Thomas is more than familiar with cybersecurity. For the past 14 years, he has been a software developer after graduating from the University of Texas Tech with a degree in Mathematics.

Now a Democrat running against Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District, Thomas says Congress needs to pass a federal bill to prevent the potential for future hacking into our election system.

“Every year I attend the Black Hat Security Cyber in Las Vegas, and this year they had a contest among security experts and hackers that attended to actually see how fast they could hack into different electronic voting machines, and it was astonishing,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“It took within just a few minutes for even moderately skilled level hackers and cybersecurity experts to be able to penetrate these voting machines,” Thomas said. “So the security around these machines is a joke. They’re nonexistent. There are no standards.”

What’s currently in place are guidelines for local municipalities and states to select a vendor. But with many of those agencies devoid of experts in the field, it can be expensive, Thomas warns. But the electoral process is so important to the working of our democracy that it should be managed at the federal level.

The Palm Harbor-based software developer was a big Bernie Sanders fan in 2016 and wholeheartedly is behind Sanders’ push for a “Medicare for All” single-payer health care system. Thomas is dismissive of concerns that such a plan is “socialized medicine” that won’t get Republican Party support.

“Poll after poll after poll out there shows that the American public — they’re ready for this,” he said, relating a recent conversation with his Donald Trump-supporting neighbor who disdained Obamacare.

“I told my friend, why don’t we just improve and expand Medicare and open it up to those folks who need it. And you know what he said? He loved the idea,” Thomas recalled.

Thomas said he also had a chance to interact with Gus Bilirakis at one of the Republican incumbent’s town hall meetings earlier this year.

“Even Gus admits openly that Medicare is by far one of the most successful government programs ever,” he said.

But Bilirakis has been a solid supporter of every GOP attempt to repeal the ACA this year, and over the past several years.

The most important issue facing the American public in income inequality and the transfer of wealth from working class people to the “one percent,” Thomas said, noting that for most Americans, it’s just one missed paycheck or health care emergency from going bankrupt or homeless.

Citing statistics that show that an overwhelming number of new jobs are created by the part-time or “gig economy,” Thomas said the job dynamics in the country are becoming a “social crisis.”

Thomas and Robert Tager are running in the Democratic primary for the Pinellas-Pasco seat, with the winner taking on Bilirakis, who has now been in Congress for nearly 11 years since defeating Democrat Phyllis Busansky in 2006 — after Mike Bilirakis (Gus’ father) stepped out of the political limelight. It was the last time Gus Bilirakis faced a competitive race.

Not surprisingly, Thomas insists he can win the seat; his “secret weapons” will be a well-organized ground game.

“We’re breaking it down precinct by precinct, practically block by block. We’re organizing teams of volunteers, phone bankers and canvassers.”

Thomas believes he can give non-party-affiliated voters an incentive to vote Democrat in 2018. That remains to be seen, of course.


Opponent blasts Gus Bilirakis for bill hamstringing DEA opioid fight

Gus Bilirakis is taking heat from an opponent for pushing a bill that dilutes the Drug Enforcement Agency’s efforts to stem the nation’s opioid crisis.

Mathew Thomas, a Democrat running against the 11-year Republican incumbent in Florida’s 12th Congressional District, blasted Bilirakis Wednesday for co-sponsoring the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.

The 2016 bill had a (somewhat unintended) result of severely hampering the DEA’s ability go after opioid distributors supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who flood the black market with pain pills.

Bilirakis was one of six co-sponsors for the House version from Rep. Tom Marino, the Pennsylvania Republican who, until recently, was President Donald Trump’s nominee for drug czar.

On Tuesday, Marino backed out of the position, after CBS’ “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post reported that the bill changed a longtime standard required before the DEA could freeze suspicious sales of painkillers, which cuts the flow of opioids into the black market.

Instead of requiring the DEA to first determine shipments pose an “imminent danger” to the community, the agency must now conclude they represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat.”

“I’m appalled, but not shocked,” Thomas said Wednesday. “It has become business as usual for bills like this to roll through as lobbyists team up with members of Congress to ensure these bills succeed.”

Thomas noted that his opponent received $79,000 in campaign contributions from “corporations running this multifaceted campaign to undercut law enforcement.”

Bilirakis has responded. You can read his entire statement here.

Thomas responds: “At some point, we have to question the priorities of a Representative that sides with drug corporations over law enforcement in the midst of an opioid epidemic.”

He calls it “inexcusable” that Bilirakis claims he thought the bill would “strengthen cooperation” on the issue of drug abuse.

“His statement reveals he either never read the bill or he read it and voted for it despite the consequences,” Thomas said. “Both scenarios are unacceptable.”

Thomas added: “We cannot accept Representatives championing and co-sponsoring bills like this while we are losing people. We cannot accept Representatives stating ignorance to the effects of the bill when Judge John Mulrooney II, the DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, warned about the bill’s diminishing DEA authority.

“That’s why I am running to be the Representative we deserve,” he continued. “I am someone who champions the American people and fights for their interest not lay down in the face of opposition or roll over for corporate donations. We have serious issues, people are drying, we need strong leaders empowering not diminishing our power. I am that leader.”

Thomas is a Palm Harbor-based software architect. He entered the CD 12 race in late June, and to date has raised $6,137.

The other Democrat in the race, Robert Tager, has raised $13,423.

Bilirakis, on the other hand, has amassed more than a half-million dollars in his re-election bid for the seat he has held since 2006.

Gus Bilirakis draws second Democratic challenge in CD 12

Democrat Robert Tager has filed papers to run for Florida’s 12th Congressional District seat currently held by Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis.

Tager is an attorney and business owner who has lived in northern Hillsborough County since 1998. He practices law in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. He is admitted to practice in the federal courts of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida and the 11th Circuit Court.

After being honorably discharged in 1986 for medical reasons, he worked various jobs unloading trucks and in retail, fast food restaurants and manufacturing. He worked while attending school and earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in finance from Florida Atlantic University. He received his law degree from Nova Southeastern University.

Tager said his varied job and life experiences combined with his education give him a different perspective than Bilirakis, a career politician, who has no vision or experience outside of politics.

“We have many challenges as a district, state and country that have been ignored for too long,” Tager said. “The national challenges include ending the long wait times for care and disability determination for our veterans, fixing our costly health care system, creating an economic climate for job creation and growth, tax relief for the rest of us, and many more problems that must be fixed.

“Our local problems include unacceptably high unemployment, horrible water drainage, traffic gridlock, unused and vacant buildings causing urban blight, over 60,000 veterans not being served, a large homeless population including over 3,000 children, and many other problems.

“I am running because our current representative has done virtually nothing towards addressing any of our problems, and 10 years is enough time for him to earn the seat he occupies. These problems all have common-sense solutions, and I am stepping up to bring a new voice and new blood to the debate.”

Bilirakis, from Palm Harbor, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2006. He is running for his sixth term of office. Tager is the second Democrat to challenge Bilirakis. Damian Stone of Land O’ Lakes has also filed.

The 12th Congressional District runs along the Gulf coast. It includes all of Pasco and the northern parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The primary election is Aug. 30. The general election is Nov. 8.

Tager can be contacted at;; or,, or

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