Gonzalez Kicks Off Congressional Campaign

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY MAR 13, 2018

With the state legislative session barely in the rearview, state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, turned his focus anew on his next political ambition. Gonzalez on Monday evening official kicked off his campaign for Congress in District 17. The move came days after he gave a speech in the state House saying goodbye to colleagues there.

Now he’s hoping to set himself apart from a growing list of politicians looking to succeed U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney. “All of the candidates I am sure have a great love for their country,” Gonzalez says. “But clearly where I set myself apart is my intimate knowledge on health care.” Indeed, in addition to writing books on health care and lobbying federal lawmakers, he’s also a doctor in private practice at Orthopedic Center of Venice.

From running that practice with one other physician, he knows the impact of health care legislation on healthcare providers, from the Affordable Care Act to the regulatory environment put in place by Congress regarding Medicare and Medicaid. “We’ve been able to painfully avoid merging or being absorbed by bigger entities, but have had to change our modern specifically on how to do business based on things we’ve had to implement on no choice of our own,” he says. That’s involved expensive computer upgrades that had nothing to do with quality of care, he says, and the hiring of additional personnel, increasing inefficiency to adhere to new regulations.

Gonzalez, if elected, would be the rare member of Congress holding both a medical degree and a law degree. He earned the second at the same time he ran for state House the first time in 2014, and he focused on constitutional law. He’d like to bring both areas of knowledge into play in Washington.

Over two terms in the Florida House of Representatives, Gonzalez developed a reputation as cordial and ardently conservative. Gonzalez, for example, recently joined Democrats in voting against a gun and school safety bill backed by House leadership and just signed into law by the governor, but did so because he considered portions like a restriction on gun purchases by anyone under the age of 21 to be an unnecessary infringement on the rights of adults. He supports a Guardian program allowing more school personnel to be armed, which he says will deter some shooters from opening fire on campus because they won’t know who could shoot them down.

Gonzalez in 2014 won an expensive and highly contentious Republican primary but has coasted to election to two terms in the Senate in a Republican-leaning district. His ambitions for higher office, incidentally, mean his District 74 seat will open up four years sooner than expected. But as he enters the Congressional fray, he once again may be in a difficult primary.

While Rooney’s District 17 leans heavily Republican, it also stretches over nine counties. So far, state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, already announced his candidacy for the district. Charlotte County Republican William Akins had already intended to challenge Rooney before the congressman announced his retirement, and John Sawyer, a conservationist who previously challenged Rooney, has also filed to run in the Republican primary. Democrats April Freeman of Cape Coral and William Pollard of Avon Park have also filed. And other high-profile Republicans are reportedly considering a run as well. How will Gonzalez introduce himself to voters throughout the district, most of whom never have seen his name on the ballot? “I’m doing a lot of driving,” he says.

The Florida Republican primary is scheduled for Aug. 30. The mid-term general election is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Photo: State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, speaks on the Florida House floor.

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