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Local Pediatrician, Dr. Z, Makes Run For Congress

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

In the race for the Florida’s District One Congressional seat, there are five candidates, including three Republicans. Jennifer Zimmerman of Pace is one of two Democrats running for the office.

Known as Dr. Z, Zimmerman is a pediatrician who operates a children’s clinic in Santa Rosa County. Like her Democratic opponent Phil Ehr, this is her first run for political office.

She admits that seeking a seat in Congress her first time out is ambitious. But, she says a spark was ignited when she spoke about her experiences both as a consumer and provider of affordable health care at incumbent Matt Gaetz’ very first town hall meeting in the district early last year.

“My main purpose was just to go there and possibly, possibly instill some common sense and maybe the voice of a doctor,” recalled Zimmerman, noting that the town hall happened at the height of the Republicans’ push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  

During the meeting, Zimmerman shared her own family members’ medical stories and made an impassioned plea to Rep. Gaetz to drop efforts to repeal ACA.

“I agree there are provisions that can be modified just like Medicare was modified through all the year,” she said. “Why do we have to repeal and waste all those millions of dollars? Let’s improve it! Improve it!”

Zimmerman was energized by the support she got afterward, with people urging her to run for office.

“But, you know, Sandra, I’m a pediatrician at heart. I am a mother of three. It’s quite difficult to combine all of this, but that day I found my voice.”

Zimmerman calls it shameful that Florida ranks 47th out of the 50 states when it comes to access to affordable health care.  Additionally, she has specific concerns about the Trump Administration’s effort to dismantle Obamacare, by moving to eliminate the individual mandate, as well as protections for pre-existing conditions.

“You cannot keep it afloat if you’re cutting off its legs,” said Zimmerman, noting the pending law suits in multiple states that would now repeal that part that covers pre-existing conditions. “That is atrocious; it’s unacceptable to me.”

When it comes to improving healthcare for veterans, Zimmerman says she’s open to all ideas, including privatization. But, one of her priorities is finding a better way to help those vets who are suffering from pain and vulnerable to the opioid addiction.

“This is something that must be dealt with,” she said referring to the serious consequences of their illnesses, including unnecessary deaths. “We need people who actually, number one, care; and actually know how a health system works.”

Another issue that Zimmerman is passionate about is immigration. She was born in the Philippines, the daughter of a Filipino guerilla fighter during World War II.  She immigrated to the U.S. 25 years ago.

“Let me just make it clear, no one is against protecting our borders; we want to protect our borders,” Zimmerman proclaimed before denouncing President Trump’s push to spend $25 billion to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

Zimmerman called such an expenditure a “waste,” adding that $25 billion could be better spent on bi-partisan reform of the U.S. immigration system, which she says is excessively complex to navigate.

She’s calling for the process to be streamlined to one that’s accessible and reasonable.

“And, I can tell you it took me 11 years and about $25,000,” said Zimmerman. “And, I was married to an American, I’m a doctor, and I already had American children, who were born here and it still was difficult for me.”

Zimmerman is also sensitive to those young people, known as Dreamers and says she would support a pathway to citizenship for them.

Dr. Z is also a proponent of Florida’s proposed Amendment 4, which calls for automatic restoration of voting rights to eligible felons.

Protecting the environment is a priority for her.

And, when it comes to education, Zimmerman wants to make sure every child feels they have a chance, whether that’s access to college or to alternative career sources, such as trade school certificates.

She proudly talks about the journey of her son, 23-year-old J.Z., who did not do well in college, but has excelled after getting a culinary certificate. He now works for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and for a local catering company.

Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman is a Democratic candidate for Florida U.S. House of Representatives District 1. She is the first woman to run for the seat since Lois Benson’s bid in 1994 and faces Phil Ehr on the August 28 Primary ballot.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.