State Sen. Oelrich plans run for Congress


Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Alachua, debates the property insurance bill during session on Thursday, April 28, 2011 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 4:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 4:22 p.m.

State Sen. Steve Oelrich announced Thursday that he will run for Congress if the preliminary changes to congressional districts hold up, giving North Central Florida — and Oelrich's potential voter base — a more cohesive congressional district.

The Cross Creek Republican and former Alachua County sheriff said if Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, decides to run for the new congressional seat in District 26, which includes Stearns' hometown, then Oelrich would run for Stearns' current seat representing District 6.

In an interview, Oelrich did not rule out the potential of a primary with an incumbent should Stearns want to stay in the District 6 race.

However, Oelrich said: "My intention is not to really run against an incumbent such as Rep. Stearns. I think he does a good job for North Central Florida, and he is a conservative guy."

Oelrich said the reworked district contains 63 percent of his current constituents in Florida Senate District 14.

"It really lines up more with my current senatorial district than it does Rep. Stearns' congressional district," Oelrich said.

Stearns is currently running against Steve Schonberg, a Democrat from Belleview, and Ted Yoho, a Republican from Gainesville, to keep his seat in 2012.

When his office was asked for comment, Stearns released the following statement: "Redistricting will continue for some time before a final map is developed, and it is too early in the process to comment."

Earlier this week, the Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee released its proposals for the district shuffling that takes place every decade to coincide with new census data.

After 2010's count, the state got two new seats in Congress, one of them being District 26, which would include Ocala, according to the committee's proposal.

Oelrich said if District 6 ultimately looks like the one drawn by the committee, he will run. "If it's completely different, it's a new ball game," he said.

He added that he didn't want his potential opponents to get a head start on him if he waited for the redistricting process to take its course.

As for his goals for a role in Washington, Oelrich said he wants to cut back on the role of the federal government.

"Why do the taxpayers in Wyoming fund a program that is exclusive to Florida or Maine or vice versa?" he asked. "I just think it really calls out for a conservative voice — another conservative voice — to even be a small participant when we put the country back on the right track, both fiscally and what our priorities are."

Stafford Jones, the chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, said he would be happy with either Stearns or Oelrich in office.

"I am always thrilled with the work Cliff Stearns has given us," Jones said.

Of Oelrich, he said: "He's been a friend for a long time. He's been a great elected official. He was a great sheriff. He's been a great senator."

Jones did say having an Alachua County resident in Congress would provide a rallying point for local Republicans.

"Having someone based out of Alachua County for any seat is something we love to have," he said.

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