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Government, Politics & Issues

Wagner, Jotte headline crowded field seeking 2nd District seat

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 1, 2012 - Ann Wagner has the campaign money, the political endorsements and – at the moment – most of the TV visibility.

But in the Republican contest for the 2nd District congressional seat, Randy Jotte says he wants it to be clear to GOP voters that “they have an alternative.”

Jotte, 52, is an emergency room physician and a former Webster Groves city councilman. And he is the only active Republican rival challenging Wagner, 49, in next Tuesday’s GOP primary.

The two are competing for the seat that had been held the last 12 years by fellow Republican Todd Akin, who is running instead for the U.S. Senate.

The 2nd District has been held by a Republican for 20 years, but under the new boundaries that go into effect with this election, the 2nd District will no longer be unquestionably GOP turf.

“It’s about 53-54 percent,’’ said Wagner, a redistricting expert who has been part of the process in Missouri after every census since 1990.

The winner of the Republican primary will compete in November against the winner of the four-way Democratic primary, as well as the unchallenged nominees from the Libertarian and Constitution parties.

But Wagner – generally considered the favorite -- has heavily outspent the others, running TV ads for weeks. Jotte is running some targeted TV spots.

Jotte has unsuccessfully sought a debate, but Wagner says his latest timing has been poor. He posted a debate request on Youtube just days after her father had died on July 13. Jotte says he was unaware of Wagner’s personal tragedy at the time.

The two did appear together at a forum July 24 before area Republican women, when it was clear they agreed on a number of issues but offer different perspectives.

Wagner, Jotte backgrounds and top issues

Wagner’s political resume is a long one. A graduate of Cor Jesu high school, she swiftly rose through party ranks over the last 25 years, from township committeewoman to state Republican Party chair. She’s been a major behind-the-scenes player in Missouri politics.  After George W. Bush’s presidential election in 2000, Wagner soon was selected co-chair of the Republican National Committee. In 2005, she was named U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

She is married to Ray Wagner, an executive at Enterprise Rent-A-Car whom she met when both were teenagers working at her parents’ carpet store.

Jotte is a graduate of DeSmet high school, attended Vanderbilt and Oxford universities and graduated from Harvard Medical School. He served on the Webster Groves City Council for four years, then made unsuccessful bids for state representative in 2008 and 2010.  He is married and has two children.

Jotte's chief issues are health care and the rising cost of the federal entitlement programs for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The rising cost of health care, he says, is the chief driver of the nation’s future debt.

“We have to have a serious conversation of what we have and where we need to go,” Jotte said, adding that he’s seen first-hand the nation’s health care during his 20 years working in the emergency room.

Wagner says she is focused primarily on two issues. “It’s jobs and it’s spending,’’ she said. “There’s this sense that government has overreached into people’s lives. I will cut up the government's credit card.”

Wagner wants to trim federal spending so that it is no more than 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, far less than it is now (estimates of the current percentage range from the mid-20s to the high-30s).  She acknowledges she is calling for “fundamental cuts” and would shift the responsibility for many programs to the states.

Democrats run low-key campaign

The Democrats competing for the seat include former state legislator George “Boots” Weber, Kirkwood lawyer Harold Whitfield and Glenn Koenen, the former longtime executive director of Circle of Concern, a food pantry in Valley Park.

Whitfield and Koenen have been the most active in promoting their bids, but neither is running major media campaigns, instead focusing on grassroots efforts.

Both call for more careful government spending but say it can be done in such way that won’t endanger Social Security and Medicare or hurt national security. 

Start of update: Koenen says that 2nd District voters need to be aware of the consequences if Wagner ends up winning the seat. He asserted that she is "committed to undermining the financial future of working people."

He cites her proposed budget cuts, as well as her support for "a national 'right-to-work' law" that would bar closed-union shops in states like Missouri, which now allow them.

"'Right to work' has been shown to depress wages in manufacturing, construction and other industries," he said. "The spread of state-level 'right-to-work' legislation has coincided with the ongoing decline in family income for the middle class."

Wagner's support for a federal balanced budget amendment, Koenen continued, would "require draconian cuts in Social Security, Medicare and other programs which sustain families."

Any debates over such matters will have to wait until after Tuesday's primary. End update.

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