Many years ago while at the Chronicle I was working on a story and had to speak with our congresswoman.
That was Karen Thurman at the time. As a former Dunnellon mayor and state senator, Karen was known well enough for me to call her at home.
Her husband, John, answered the phone. Karen was unavailable.
Yeah, right. That’s always the first response. I asked if she had just a few minutes.
Nope. She was mowing the lawn.
Great answer! That’s exactly what I want my representative in Congress doing at home. Mowing the lawn, just like the rest of us.
Ordinary goes a long way with me.
As much as I enjoy writing about Citrus County politics, I can’t get excited about the congressional races at all. I find them hard to relate to and deeply partisan. Can you remember the last time we had a competitive congressional race in our district?
So I’m pretty much looking for two things from these candidates: Some knowledge of Citrus County that they didn’t read on Wikipedia; and, two, could I trust them to watch my cat?
These two simple criteria separate candidates right off the bat. Either they recite facts memorized about Three Sisters Springs or they’ll exhibit some character flaw that eliminates kitty-sitting capabilities and, frankly, people who can’t be trusted with a kitty shouldn’t be in Congress.
Karen Thurman knew all about Citrus County’s challenges and her integrity was above reproach.
That brings me to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, our new congressman. He represented the 12th District in Congress for 10 years (the district shifted north to Citrus County on redrawn congressional maps the Legislature approved last year).
The congressman had a ribbon-cutting for his Inverness office the other day. A bunch of politicians and community leaders were there (plus one blogger who photobombed the congressman). Bilirakis got to know many of them in the last six months.
Even though a Citrus County win was almost guaranteed considering the county’s strong Republican leanings, Bilirakis spent a lot of time campaigning in Citrus County. He’s often said it’s the constituents who make the job fun and he tries not to forget that.
I don’t know much about his politics. He’s a Republican and widely considered one of the more nonpartisan members of Congress, meaning he’d rather find ways for a “no” to become “yes.”
And he’s the last person in the room you’d expect to have any title. Even his campaign slogan — “Gus is for US!” — is corny in a small-town hokey kind of way.
Sure enough, just as the new term begins, Bilirakis announced $15 million for the VA to build a medical facility locally.
Welcome to Citrus County, Congressman. Return to visit anytime.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.