Gus Michael Bilirakis is the incumbent in the U.S. House of Representatives, District 12, Republican primary race.
The 59-year-old Bilirakis said being the incumbent in the House of Representatives is an asset and he’s used that time to build relationships on both sides of the political aisle.
He met with the Chronicle Editorial Board Tuesday to discuss his decision to run for re-election.
“I have been in for 16 years, but I think that’s a benefit. I have credibility up there. I have seniority up there,” said the Republican from Palm Harbor.
“I have the trust of my party. I have the trust of Democrats,” he told the editorial board.
It takes a long time and a lot of working with other elected officials from both parties to earn that trust and respect, Bilirakis said.
There are many issues that are not partisan and need to be addressed in serving constituents, Bilirakis told the editorial board.
Bilirakis said he is reaching out to local elected officials and community and church leaders to better understand the needs of the area. That’s because of a change to District 12, which until recently represented all of Pasco County and northern portions of Pinellas County. The redrawn district now represents the bulk of Pasco County and all of Hernando and Citrus counties.
Bilirakis is endorsed by former president Donald Trump, who won the new district 12 area with nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2016.
Bilirakis’ father was a U.S. representative for Florida’s district 9 from 1983 – 2007.
The Lugar Center Bipartisan Index ranked Gus Bilirakis the 27th most bipartisan member of Congress, also making him the highest such ranked member of the Florida delegation.
Bilirakis said he aggressively pursues earmarked funding for projects in his district.
One of his priorities is working to make mental health care more accessible, especially for school-aged children.
“Our kids are in trouble,” Bilirakis said, adding that schools need to have programs in place to better detect when a student needs help.
He said he supports help for schools to train teachers, resource officers, and school administrators to identify struggling students “and get them the help they need before someone gets hurt.”
He said kids are too often left to their own devices with social media and many feel isolated.
“Something’s wrong with society. We haven’t done a good job with that,” he said.
“I worry about the kids all the time,” he told the editorial board.
He said he also wants more support for foster care and more foster parents.
As for Citrus County’s needs, such as a Baker Act facility, Bilirakis said he will meet with community leaders for input.
He will also talk with constituents about traffic issues and how best to address them.
“I’m not going to make decisions by myself,” he said.
As for the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision, Bilirakis said, “I think it was a good decision ... I believe it (abortion rights) should be up to the states.”
Bilirakis said he would also work to make it easier for military veterans exposed to burn pits to get treatment if they are sick because of their exposure.
Burn pits are large areas where military bases burned waste, including medical and human waste.
Bilirakis said he is currently working on a privacy bill to ensure people shopping online will have their privacy protected.
He also wants to fund a ranch where severely injured veterans can live their lives to the fullest, because they’ve given so much.”
As for current rising inflation, Bilirakis said, “We’re spending too much. There’s no question.”
Part of the solution is for the United States to produce more of its own oil.
While alternative fuels are a good idea, “we’re not ready yet” to fully rely on them, he said.
If re-elected, Bilirakis said he plans to open offices in Hernando and Citrus counties, as well as continuing to maintain his office in Pasco County.
The two other Republican candidates for district 12, Jack Martin and Sid Preskitt, were unavailable for interviews.
The Republican primary winner in August will face Democrat Kimberly Walker.