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Republican, Democratic primaries in District 17

August 22, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The decision by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney to not seek reelection has resulted in a wide-open scramble by both major parties to take an all-important seat in the House of Representatives.

U.S Congressional District 17 encompasses northern Lee County - including North Fort Myers, Babcock Ranch, Alva and parts of Lehigh Acres and Buckingham - as well as parts of Polk, Highlands, Hardee, Hillsborough, DeSoto, Okeechobee, Charlotte, Manatee, and Glades counties, making this one of the largest districts in the state in terms of geography.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney - not to be confused with Congressional District 19's Francis Rooney - is a Republican. Tom Rooney has represented Florida's 17th Congressional District since 2013. He previously represented Florida's 16th Congressional District from 2009 to 2013.

Closed Republican and Democratic primaries will be decided Tuesday, Aug. 28, with the winners of each facing off in the General Election on Nov. 6. Only registered party members can vote in their respective party's primary.

Mail ballots are out and early voting is under way at 10 locations from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Saturday.

Early voting sites include the North Fort Myers Recreation Center at 2000 N. Recreation Way (just off Old 41), the East County Regional Library, 881 Gunnery Road, and Veterans Park Recreation Center, 55 Homestead Road S., in Lehigh Acres.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day.

Democratic Primary

(registered Democrats only)

Age: 54

Residence: Cape Coral

Occupation: TV producer

April Freeman is no stranger to running for office. She ran for Congress as a Democrat in the 19th District in 2014, in the 17th District in 2016 and ran for mayor of Cape Coral last year. She's running again in D-17, hoping to build on the support she got the last time around.

"I've been picking up endorsements left and right. I have more name recognition than anyone else running and the ability to win that race," Freeman said. "We have the data from 2016 and are picking up where we left off. I think the Republicans are scared of losing that seat, and I think we scared Tom Rooney away."

Freeman said people are tiring of the "break-up and make-up" style of Congress and are very concerned about environmental issues, which she will campaign on heavily.

"There's blue-green algae, there's toxic waste coming into our backyards, there's red tide and it's all affecting our property," Freeman said. "The only way to get rid of it is to get rid of who's there, and that's the Republican majority."

Freeman said redistricting took her to D-17 where her heart is and she said she knows the district as well as anyone despite her residence outside of it.

"I've campaigned there for four years. I only live 30 minutes outside the district. I defy anyone to tell me I know nothing about the district," Freeman said.

Age: 64

Residence: Avon Park

Occupation: Respiratory Therapist

Bill Pollard has worked in the medical field his whole life. He said he wants Congress to be represented by someone who knows what it means to work for a living and that people seem to have tired over the same-old politicians that have made for insular system.

"With one party pretty much dominating everything, we need a strong two-party system. There's a lot of unhappiness with the way things are and a lot of people who are looking for a Democrat," Pollard said. "I've lived here 16 years and there has never been a Democratic primary here."

Pollard said he would like Medicare for All with so many people falling through the cracks with health care, strengthen Social Security so everyone can rely on it when they retire, and make sure anyone who wants to work has a job.

Pollard said he believes the Democratic Party can do better than the 34 percent it has gotten in recent years, which was about what April Freeman got in 2016.

"I think we can get better support than that and I believe I have better support. Everywhere I go, people are very supportive," Pollard said. "I'm willing to go anywhere to talk, even to Tea Party and Republican audiences. Everybody needs to hear what you have to say."

Republican Primary

(Registered Republicans only)

Age: 69

Residence: Port Charlotte

Occupation: Retired

Bill Akins was inspired to run for office because of the work he did to build a Vietnam Memorial Wall near Laishley Park in Punta Gorda. He served in Vietnam and 10 years in the Army. He said it seemed people were tired of Rooney.

"Everyone was afraid to take on an incumbent, but in October I jumped in and in January Rooney jumped out," Akins said. "I'm a street fighter."

Akins said his main platform is on veterans issues, adding that Rooney sat on the House subcommittee for Veterans Affairs and did nothing. Akins also supports pro-life, is anti-tax, anti-spend and a proponent of the Second Amendment and term limits.

"I'm very conservative. I'm behind Trump all the way. I believe he's doing the right thing. There are a lot of RINOs up there who don't support him and he needs our help," Akins said.

Akins said he would never vote to undermine traditional marriage, raise taxes or non-military spending, raise the debt ceiling or weaken the Second Amendment.

He said he would go to Washington to get things done and would not be wooed by lobbyists.

"If people knew where this dark money was coming from, it's absolutely incredible. Campaign finance has to be looked into because it's pretty ugly," Akins said.

Age: 54

Residence: Venice

Occupation: Orthopedic Surgeon

Julio Gonzalez says he believes the country is under assault. And he believes he has a skillset that he can lend to create sound policy and solutions to the problems we have today.

"I'm a doctor who is also an attorney who went to learn the regulatory schemes that affect health care and combat them better," Gonzalez said. "I have expertise on the Constitution and see the assault that's being made on that more so than on health care."

Gonzalez said besides supporting the Constitution, the nation needs to shift decision making to the states, that we should lower taxes and support much of President Trump's agenda regarding sealing the borders, immigration policy enforcement, and the Second Amendment.

"I also have an interest in environmental issues for pretty much my adult life, seeing what happened to the Everglades. I want to address the issues that are impacting our waters," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said it's ethics that will make him the best candidate, as the primary race has been a very heated one.

"I am the only candidate who has advocated on health care issues federally for 15 years. I've written books on the Constitution and health care and I've advocated as a citizen and not a lobbyist." Gonzalez said. "I have also built my life helping others while watching the negative impacts the federal government has had on health care."

Age: 40

Residence: Sarasota

Occupation: State Sen. D-23, attorney

Greg Steube has the most political experience in the field, having been a state representative for six years and the current state senator. He now wants to serve his nation in Congress as he did in the military during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I've always wanted to use the experiences I've had. We can do things at the state level, but the majority of veteran and defense policy is at the federal level," Steube said.

Steube said his platform is very much aligned with the Trump agenda. He supports the Second Amendment, supports an immigration policy that does away with chain migration, builds a border wall and ends the visa lottery system.

Steube also believes in allowing the states to have more power in making decisions.

"I believe in cutting taxes and I believe Washington has a spending problem. We need to rein back a lot of issues I don't believe the federal government should be involved in," Steube said.

Steube said his background in agriculture as a cattle rancher and the fact D-17 is among the largest agriculture districts in the nation, along with his military and governmental background. give him the edge.

"I have understanding from a security perspective and I have a record for fighting for conservative principles," Steube said. "I've filed bills supporting life, the Second Amendment and illegal immigration in Florida. I would do the same at the national level."



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