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Government, Politics & Issues

Wagner, Koenen compete for 2nd District congressional district

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 15, 2012 - When voters in St. Louis and St. Louis counties go to the polls Nov. 6, many may be shocked to learn that they no longer reside in their familiar congressional district.

A number of former 2nd District voters who have voted in that Republican stronghold for years will find that they no longer live there.  And a number of voters who have voted for decades in the predominantly Democratic 1st District and 3rd District will find they are now in the revamped – and not-quite-so-Republican – 2nd District.

(Voters can go to the Missouri secretary of state's website to find out what district they are in.) 

The two major-party candidates running for Congress in the 2nd – Republican Ann Wagner and Democrat Glenn Koenen – are well aware of the confusion. (Libertarian Bill Slantz and Anatol Zorikova of the Constitution Party are also on the ballot.)

Wagner says she takes to campaign stops a large district map, affixed to foam board and posted on an easel, so that attendees can see whether they are – or are not – in the new 2nd.

“There is going to be a lot of confusion when people go in to vote,’’ she said.

Koenen predicts the confusion extends beyond the new boundary lines. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of the people in the 2nd District aren’t aware of who the candidates are,’’ he said.

Koenen notes the lack of press coverage of the contest, which will determine who will succeed U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, a 12-year veteran of the seat now running for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

Koenen says he has been contacted by reporters who have asked his opinion of Akin’s “legitimate rape’’ comments. But he adds hardly any have called back to talk about the 2nd District contest.

Candidates and their backgrounds

Koenen, 55, who is making his first bid for elective office, grew up in St. Louis and St. Charles counties.

He recently stepped down after 17 years as the executive director of Circle of Concern, a well-known food pantry. He also is a founding board member and former president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Food Pantry Association.

Wagner, 50, also is making her first quest for public office, but she’s been a prominent figure in GOP circles for over 20 years. A Ballwin native, she began as Lafayette Township Republican committeewoman, served as state director of then-President George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 1992 and became chair of the Missouri Republican Party by the late 1990s.

In 2001, she was elected co-chair of the Republican National Committee, while also retaining her state GOP post. In 2005, President George W. Bush chose Wagner as the new ambassador to Luxembourg, a post she held throughout Bush’s second term.

Wagner and Koenen are at odds on many major issues although it’s unclear if the two will participate in a debate or forum before the Nov. 6 election.

Koenen has been talking with the local League of Women Voters, but Wagner isn’t sure if there is time to arrange a debate. “I think we’re both busy campaigning,’’ Wagner said.

The two candidates first saw each other last week, during back-to-back interviews with the Missouri Farm Bureau. Wagner received the group’s endorsement.

Both agree on the importance of creating more jobs, but they disagree on how best to go about it.

Sharp differences over Medicare, Social Security

“This election is a discussion about the proper role of government,’’ Wagner said. She is calling for lower taxes, fewer government regulations and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

“What you hear from job creators is the uncertainty, limiting health-care costs’’ and curbing government mandates. “They’re feeling truly harassed,’’ Wagner said.

“The spending is out of control; the debt is out of control,’’ she said. Wagner supports a balanced budget amendment.

She also advocates revamping Social Security and Medicare, saying that Medicare in particular “cannot be sustained as it currently exists.”

Wagner said she supports many provisions of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, which includes transforming Medicare into a voucher program for people now under 55.

Koenen sees the GOP proposals to cut the benefits for Medicare and Social Security as evidence that Republicans will raise taxes and cut services for “the vast majority of working families.”

“To protect a few households at the top of the economic ladder, the House Republicans plan to let the other 80 percent get run over by a fiscal bus,” Koenen said in one of his latest news releases.

Government already has created “all the economic incentives you want,” Koenen said in an interview. He is concerned that the Romney-Ryan ticket has yet to detail all of the spending cuts they would seek.

Koenen strongly opposes transforming Medicare into a voucher program. Citing the rising numbers of Americans without health insurance, Koenen said that he’d like to see a single-payer health insurance system, in effect “Medicare for all.”

As for Social Security, he opposes any proposals to privatize it and blasts a proposal that already has passed the U.S. House and which calls for slowing the growth of Social Security benefits by changing how inflation is calculated.  Over a number of years, he said, the change could cost some Social Security recipients about $2,000 a year in benefits.

Wagner ahead in cash, aiding other GOP candidates

Koenen admits that he’s “the underdog,’’ noting that he lags behind Wagner in campaign cash. Both are running ads on their websites, but Wagner is expected to begin running TV ads soon. Koenen doesn’t know if he’ll have the money to do so.

Wagner says she’s not taking any victory for granted. But she also is campaigning for other Republicans in Missouri and in neighboring Illinois. “I am being a team player and doing what I can to help others,’’ she said.

Other congressional races

In the 1st District, which encompasses St. Louis and parts of St. Louis County, incumbent U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, faces Republican challenger Robyn Hamlin and Libertarian Robb E. Cunningham.

In the 3rd District, which includes much of what was the 9th District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, faces Democratic challenger Eric C. Mayer of Camdenton and Libertarian Steven Wilson of Westphalia.

In both contests, the incumbent is heavily favored to win.

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