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Chris Hunter

Chris Hunter raises $242K in bid to unseat Gus Bilirakis

Democratic candidate Chris Hunter announced Thursday that he raised $242,266 in the first quarter for his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

“I am honored by the support our campaign is receiving. This campaign is about honest American service and a renewal of shared American values. The support our campaign is receiving shows just how strongly our message resonates,” said Hunter, a former federal prosecutor and FBI agent.

“Voters in my district and throughout our country are choosing to support leaders—people who place service to our country first. All of us are tired of politicians who play political games and say and do anything to get re-elected. It’s time for a new generation to lead us forward.”

Hunter declared for CD 12 in January and faces Stephen Perenich, Robert Tager, and Mathew Thomas in the Democratic Primary. Tager was the 2016 Democratic nominee for the district.

Both candidates have made plenty of attacks on Bilirakis, currently in his sixth term, and Hunter used his fundraising announcement to fire another volley over the Tarpon Springs Republican accepting campaign donations from corporate PACs and other groups.

“A congressional seat is not an entitlement program for career politicians, especially when their voting record aligns with the special interests who fund them instead of the people they are supposed to be representing,” Hunter said.

Hunter pointed to $79,000 in contributions Bilirakis received from drug companies last election cycle when he was sponsoring a bill on opioids as evidence of such an alignment.

Hunter is the first in the CD 12 field to preview his first-quarter fundraising numbers.

Through the end of 2017, Bilirakis had raised $787,359 for his re-election and had $370,061 in the bank. Tager account had $5,747 on hand at the end of the year while Thomas had $1,123.

CD 12 covers all of Pasco County and parts of northern Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The seat carries a heavy advantage for Republicans – it voted plus-19 for Donald Trump in the 2016 cycle and is currently listed as “safely Republican” by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato‘s “Crystal Ball

Gus Bilirakis defends 2013 opposition to Violence Against Women’s Act

Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis is facing heat over a five-year-old vote against the Violence Against Women’s Act.

Since 1994, Congress has taken every opportunity to reauthorize the Act, which provides protections for victims of domestic violence. However, in 2013, several congressional Republicans pushed back hard against reauthorization — a group that included Bilirakis. 

The legislation funds rape crisis centers and hotlines and community violence prevention programs. It also helps victims evicted from their homes because of domestic violence or stalking and offers legal aid for survivors of domestic violence.

Now, in a fundraising email this week, Democrat Chris Hunter, who is running for Florida’s 12th Congressional District, attacks Bilirakis for his opposition five years ago.

“He voted against extending safety protections even though the Violence Against Women Act enjoyed support from people in both parties,” writes Hunter, a former federal prosecutor. “Violence does not discriminate and neither should Congress. Voting to deny safety protections was shameful.”

Bilirakis’ deputy chief of staff Summer-Star Robertson explains his 2013 “no” vote: He was advocating a clean reauthorization of the original Violence Against Women Act and voted in favor of a substitute amendment to the Senate version sponsored by Michigan Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

That version also ensured protecting women from abusive and dangerous situations while offering proper support to victims and prosecution of offenders to the fullest extent of the law, Robertson added.

Nevertheless, she said Bilirakis couldn’t support the final passage of the Senate version because it contained new provisions “that he believed could have negative consequences … Specifically, the final version of the bill diverted a large amount of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs without any substantial proof or coherent argument that such a transfer would lead to more convictions or greater protections for women.

“Having been a state appropriator, he strongly believes state policymakers should have retained the discretion and flexibility to determine how those funds could best be utilized to meet the needs of women in their states in the most effective manner possible.

“Additionally, he had significant Constitutional concerns about newly added language in the final bill granting tribal courts criminal jurisdiction over cases involving non-Indians.”

Also in opposition was Florida Republican Marco Rubio, one of just 22 U.S. Senators who also voted in 2013 against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women’s Act.

Rubio’s stated opposition echoed Bilirakis; he disagreed with how the bill shifted funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs and took power out of state hands. Rubio also opposed a provision allowing Native American tribal governments greater jurisdiction in abuse cases, giving tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Native American men.

Hunter is one of four Democrats in the CD 12 contest this year; the others are Robert Tager, Matthew Thomas, and Stephen Perenich.

Chris Hunter

CD 12 Democratic hopeful Chris Hunter wants to restore ‘principled leadership’ to D.C.

A member of the Bilirakis family has represented Florida’s 12th Congressional District since 1982, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is not targeting it as a seat that could flip this fall.

But that isn’t deterring former federal prosecutor and FBI agent Chris Hunter. 

“I think people in the 12th district are looking for a restoration of principled leadership at all levels. That’s not partisan, that’s just what all of us should expect out of those who offer to serve,” says the Trinity-based Democrat who filed to run for Congress last month.

“People respect the fact that I’ve served our community. I’ve served our country, and I offer an approach to principled leadership that is appealing to people no matter where they’re coming from politically.”

A Hershey, Pennsylvania native who moved to Florida a decade ago, Hunter resigned from his position as a senior prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice in December to pursue a run for political office. He says he “loved every single thing” about his work with the DOJ and before that with the FBI.

But he’s a lifelong believer in American service that can be performed in a variety of ways.

“I could continue to do the public service job I already had, which I loved, or I could resign and offer to serve in a way that responds to what the country needs right now. It’s as simple as that.”

Talking about public service, Hunter gets animated.

“I’d like to think there’s a way to overcome the challenges we face in our society by lifting our heads up, getting out of our computers and looking out across our communities and thinking about which each of us can do to make a positive difference. I think we need to re-engage in person, and when we do what we find is we have a lot in common,” he says. “That’s a worthwhile experience to try to have, and that’s not something that can be had effectively unless people actually engage with one another.”

While some congressional Democratic aspirants (particularly in South Florida) are running on a platform that if elected they would support impeaching President Donald Trump, Hunter has no interest in the subject, quickly pivoting to his mantra regarding a “renewal of an American service ethic.”

If Hunter survives a contested Democratic primary, he’ll be facing in Gus Bilirakis a GOP legislator who has served in politics/public service for two decades, beginning as a state Representative in 1998 before succeeding his father, Michael, in representing the Pasco/Pinellas county seat in 2006.

Hunter labels Bilirakis as an entrenched career lawmaker who has lost his perspective in representing his constituents, specifically referring to his co-sponsorship of a controversial bill pushed by the drug industry in 2016 that weakened federal regulations just as the opioid crisis was reaching its peak.

That bill’s lead sponsor in the House, Pennsylvania Republican, Tom Marino, withdrew from consideration as Trump’s drug czar last October following a report by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post.

“The incumbent here was one of a cabal of legislators who did the bidding of the drug lobby, handcuffed the DEA and exacerbated the opioid crisis,” Hunter says. “All the way while sticking drug industry lobbyist money into their bank accounts.”

Hunter says that vote illustrates how “some career politicians get entrenched, get comfortable and think that nobody in their home district cares or is paying close attention.”

A former FBI agent, Hunter says he has plenty to say about highly controversial Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools. The fight over the memo has put Trump at odds with his top law enforcement officials, who have urged the White House to reconsider releasing the document.

Hunter penned an op-ed on the issue which ran Tuesday in the Tampa Bay Times.

“The recent conduct by certain members of the House Intelligence community and others reveals an alarming absence of maturity, seriousness of purpose and probity,” Hunter writes. “Scurrilous attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI create public safety and national security risk.

“Intentionally shattering trust in the men and women who work hard every day to keep us safe will impact federal criminal jury trials and will threaten access to critical counterintelligence sources of information.”

Stephen Perenich, Robert Tager, Mathew Thomas and Kimberly H. Walker are other Democrats running in CD 12.

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 TagerForCongress.com; facebook.com/TagerForCongress; or Tager@Tagerforcongress.com, Tagerforcongress@gmail.com, or @tagerforcongress.in

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