Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who has represented Florida’s 16th District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2008, faces Democratic challenger Will Bronson in the Nov. 6 general election for the newly drawn District 17, which encompasses all of Hardee, DeSoto, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades, and Charlotte counties and portions of Polk, Manatee, Hillsborough, and Lee counties.
After living in Palm Beach County during his first two terms, Rooney has said he will move his main office to Punta Gorda and live in the new district, probably in Charlotte County, if reelected to the House.
Rooney’s position on the House Agricultural Committee and his support of the passage of a long-stalled comprehensive farm bill is important to this area and its ag industry. As federal biofuel policies evolve away from a dependence of corn as the primary source for ethanol, Florida farmers will gain access to a new market for crops such as sorghum. Rooney’s influence on non-corn ethanol quotas and biofuel research and development will be critical.
Like his previous district, the new District 17 is expansive and Rooney has demonstrated a commitment to reaching out to constituents, being responsive to their concerns and keeping in touch with local officials. As we noted during his primary challenge, Rooney was a key player in the funding of U.S. 17, which runs through the heart of the new district. The roadway will give him a prime vantage point to gauge how federal policies impact everything from economic development to education to the environment.
Bronson is a newcomer to Florida politics, running his first campaign here, but he is a veteran of three congressional contests in Massachusetts and Georgia. A former Republican, he switched parties in response to the launching of the Iraq War and has developed an antipathy for the way banks and other corporations have redistributed wealth from the middle class to the 1 percent he accuses of “gaming the system” for their benefit.
A Navy veteran who later flew for Delta Airlines, Bronson became a Episcopalian minister after his retirement. Staunchly defensive of guns right, he is just as fierce in his beliefs about what he feels are rampant abuses of civil liberties by post-9/11 statutes. He criticized Rooney for his support of a bill that restricts where protesters can gather when the Secret Service is operating in an area. He shares our view that Rooney overreached in signing onto what he called the “infamous Bachmann letter” that he called a “McCarthyite witch hunt for Muslim Brotherhood influence in our government.” Bronson said Rooney’s opposition to climate change policies puts coastal residents and communities at risk for rising sea levels and extreme weather cycles.
Bronson is a passionate and intelligent man, who cares deeply about a wide range of issues, locally, nationally and globally. He is frank about his political conversion and undaunted by running against an incumbent in a traditionally conservative area of Florida.
We were impressed with Bronson’s intellect, passion and frankness. Rooney has deftly negotiated politically turbulent waters in his two terms, maintaining a problem-solving approach to the job that serves his constituents and communities well. He needs to lead his fellow moderate Republicans away from the damaging brinksmanship some in the party have flirted with in recent years. Divided governments in the past haven’t devolved into dysfunction as this one has. That must change and we believe Rooney can play a role.
We recommend Tom Rooney for the District 17 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.