Gonzalez, Lopez Face Off in South County



Between work as a physician and an attorney, Republican Julio Gonzalez also represents South Sarasota County in the Florida Legislature, but Democratic challenger Manny Lopez says it’s that last job where not enough work has been done for the people. Two two men now face off in the general election.

The challenge comes as Gonzalez seeks a second term to a seat he won in 2014, and the incumbent has some specific priorities in Tallahassee that he would like the chance to address as the state deals with massive hikes in workman’s compensation. “It is having significant and painful effects on our area businesses and municipalities,” Gonzalez says. The hike comes as a result of Supreme Court rulings forcing changes in premiums. He feels revising fee schedules to address judicial concerns could help ease the pain significantly and avoid a crisis like that experienced in the state around 2000. Having an experienced lawmaker in Tallahassee will be important, he says, in dealing both with this sort of complex issue and in budgeting with potentially limited resources.

Lopez, though, feels frustrated that more work hasn’t been put into bringing resources here for projects like an extension of River Road and the location of a hospital in North Port. “Many of the voters I talk to don’t know what their representative did for them in the last two years,” Lopez says. He feels Gonzalez instead has focused too much on issues such as a “religious freedom” bill filed by Gonzalez last year that would have allowed certain business to deny customer service based on sexual orientation. Dubbed as the “discrimination” bill by Lopez, the Democrat says the issue showed Gonzalez was not representing and protecting all constituents on the Gulf Coast. “That’s a bill that would have been overturned by the courts had it gone through,” Lopez says. 

Gonzalez says that bill is a dead issue now. “You are resurrecting a discussion that has not been in the forefront for a year and a half,” Gonzalez says. That bill died in committee, but because of his involvement, Gonzalez says he got involved in more successful and widely supported measures like the Pastor Protection Act, which was signed into law this year and shields clergy from being forced to perform ceremonies violating their faith. As for River Road, he says he has worked with county officials trying to get the Florida Department of Transportation to put a higher priority on the project. He continues to argue the corridor, while not a state road, serves as valuable public service as a hurricane evacuation route and a driver of economic development.

Lopez realizes he has a tough fight ahead in a heavily Republican district, but hopes voters let him give voice to issues like opposing fracking in the state and fighting efforts to privatize public hospitals like Sarasota Memorial. He hopes a number of independent voters and Republican voters who want more moderate views represented in the Florida Legislature will vote for him this year. “If voters look at the issues, I’m their guy,” Lopez says. 

Gonzalez and Lopez are running for state House representative, District 74. The general election is scheduled for November 8.

Pictured: Julio Gonzalez. Manny Lopez.

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