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Will the ‘health freedom’ slate grow?

Written by on Saturday, March 2, 2024

So far, two vaccine and mask skeptics have joined the race for four seats on the Sarasota Public Hospital Board.


By Florence Fahringer

Original Air Date: Mar. 1, 2024

Host: The arrival of three “health freedom” activists last year on the elected board of the public hospital in Sarasota caught the attention of the likes of the Washington Post and New York Times. This November, four of the nine board seats will be up for grabs. Florence Fahringer presents the crowded field of candidates.

Florence Fahringer: Sarasota’s hospital board was something of a spectacle two years ago during the mid-terms. Conservatives fielded a “health freedom” slate of candidates for four of the nine seats available. Three of them won, which in turn produced an internal investigation into COVID protocols, underlined with threats of privatization by Michael Flynn, the retired general, former Trump national security advisor, and subscriber to the Q-Anon conspiracy theory, who inspired the health freedom run on our local hospital.

Not in the race, but looming large: Michael Flynn, l. Photo: D. Myles Cullen, DoD

This year, the other four seats will be up for grabs come November. The influence of the 2022 elections is already visible, a full eight months from the coming one. Three of the seats are for the at-large districts, and for both at-large Seats Two and Three, a Republican-Democrat showdown is brewing. 

Seat Two

Seat Two incumbent Republican Tramm Hudson is retiring, and both parties have already picked his prospective replacements. From the Democrats comes John Lutz, current Executive Vice President of Integrated Delivery Systems for Capital District Physicians Health Plan, and an overall veteran of the American healthcare system. In a statement, the Democratic Party commented on his candidacy, citing the explicit goal to “prevent the effort of ‘health freedom’ Republican officials to discredit and privatize Sarasota Memorial Hospital.”

Lutz

Cooper

From the Republicans, there’s Kevin Cooper. He’s not a veteran of the healthcare system like Lutz is, though he is a veteran in the more literal sense, having served in Iraq. Instead, he’s more of an administrator, currently serving as Vice President of Communications and Strategic Initiatives for Mote Marine Laboratory. Besides that, he’s also an executive committee member of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance Board of Directors. He hasn’t associated himself with the “health freedom” fervor, which gripped the party just two years ago, emphasizing more his administrative and combat experience rather than any ideological stance. 

Seat Three

Riner

Moving on, Seat Three incumbent Britt Riner has yet to announce any intention to run for reelection, meaning that as of right now, the field is open for both parties. The Democrats are running George Davis, a former family practitioner in Venice, who’s now working as a grief counselor. The Democratic Party commented on his candidacy in the same statement as with Lutz, with county party Chair Dan Kuether saying “our support of these two outstanding candidates, both with decades of professional medical experience, stands in sharp contrast to the extremist Republican-backed candidates who were elected in twenty twenty-two after questioning the effectiveness of vaccines and spreading medical misinformation.”

Davis

Beitlich

The Republicans are fielding Pam Beitlich. She’s been the quietest candidate of the bunch, which is strange, considering her decades-long career at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She’s retiring from her position as the executive director of SMH’s Women and Children’s Services to run for the seat. Like Cooper, she’s made no comment on where she stands when it comes to the “health freedom” camp of the party. 

Seat One

Wetzler

Seat One is a different story to these previous two. It’s here where the Democrats run out of candidates, with incumbent Republican Sharon Wetzler DePeters running for reelection. She’s another healthcare veteran, having spent time in the Air Force as a healthcare worker. She predates the “health freedom” movement, which has picked its own champion to challenge her. Dr. Tamzin Rosenwasser doesn’t have a campaign website, though she did provide an email to the supervisor of elections — Tamzin@healthfreedomSRQ.us. She looks to have recently been a dermatologist in the Sarasota area; it is unclear if she is still practicing. She also has a sizable digital footprint to make up for the lack of press releases. She was featured in an article titled, “An enlightening conversation with a Critical Race Theory opponent, Doctor Tamzin Rosenwasser.” Her Linkedin says she is currently a director at Birdspirit, a business she created in 1999, whose purpose is not immediately clear.

Rosenwasser

She’s also commented on posts extensively through her LinkedIn account, replying to one person’s post as follows: 

“Do you actually take care of patients? I do. Many of mine are paid for by American taxpayers. They have just about zero interest in putting forth any effort in their own behalf. Many smoke, drink lots of booze, take harmful illegal drugs, engage in carelessness and violence and make bad decisions about sex. Who is going to pay for all the wonderful stuff rhapsodized about in your piece? I do not want to. I was orphaned at age 15, and I have worked very hard all my life. The US government has confiscated my earnings, and bestowed them on other citizens who are strangers to me. I am forced to pay for all those on Medicaid and Medicare. After paying back all my educational loans, now Socialists in the USA want me to pay for everyone else’s education.”

Central District

Lodge

Finally, there’s the central district, which echoes the race for at-large Seat One. Incumbent Republican Sarah Lodge is running for reelection; she’s currently a financial advisor at RBC Wealth Management. She was first elected to the board in 2020, predating the “health freedom” movement. Challenging her is Tanya Marie Parus, known for opening the We the People Health and Wellness Center in Venice. The Health and Wellness Center does not provide vaccinations of any kind, though it does prescribe Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for COVID-19.

Parus

All in all, that’s four out of nine hospital seats up for grabs: Two of them feature showdowns between fresh faces, Democrats who define themselves in contrast to health-freedom politics, and Republicans who avoid the label; the other two feature incumbent moderate Republicans facing a challenge from health-freedom candidates. The qualifying period for these elections is in June, which means if anyone else still wanted to throw their hat into the ring, their window of opportunity is growing smaller by the day. Assuming that doesn’t happen, these elections will be decided on two different dates: Aug. 20 for the Republican primaries, where there are no Democrat challengers, and Nov. 5 for the Democrat-Republican showdowns. 

This is Florence Fahringer, reporting for WSLR News. 

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.