Three candidates vying for reconfigured U.S. 5th District

Lutheran pastor, realtor challenge Latta

By TODD HELBERG cnedit@crescent-news.com Published:

The race for northwest Ohio's newly configured U.S. 5th District features three candidates, though two are making the most noise.

They are two-term Republican incumbent Robert Latta, 56, of Bowling Green, Democrat Angela Zimmann, 39, of Holland -- the two candidates most known to voters -- and Libertarian Eric Eberly, 28, of Bowling Green.

While Latta, an attorney, has been a Wood County commissioner, state senator and state representative, Zimmann is an ordained Lutheran minister, Lucas County Education Service Center board member and instructor at Bowling Green State University. Eberly is a real estate agent with A.A. Green Realty in Bowling Green and banquet chef at Nazareth Hall near Grand Rapids.

The winner on Nov. 6 gets a two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in January 2013, representing a district that will include 11 counties (Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, Williams, Wood and Wyandot) as well as parts of three others (Lucas, Mercer and Ottawa).

Latta won re-election in 2008 and 2010 after winning Paul Gillmor's unexpired term in 2007. And, indeed, a Republican -- including Latta's father, Delbert -- has held the position for many decades.

But Zimmann believes she has a real shot to change that, with district boundaries being reconfigured following the latest Census -- conducted every 10 years.

Zimmann is one of the residents whose representation is changing with the new district boundaries. She resides in the portion of Lucas County that is now in the 9th U.S. District -- long held by Democrat Marcy Kaptur -- that will become part of the 5th next year.

"The district has more registered Democratic voters than Republican voters with the new district lines, so it's a very different district," said Zimmann. "I think that the district is hungry for a moderate."

Whereas Latta currently represents a 5th District that stretches from Mercer County in west central Ohio to Ashland County in the north central part of the state, the district loses a number of its eastern counties and gains a couple others such as Hardin and Hancock -- a Republican stronghold -- and parts of Lucas -- with Democratic voters -- and Ottawa.

Latta doesn't believe the district makeup has changed much.

"Overall it's changed very little ... because I picked up Hancock County and Hardin County and the rest of Wyandot County," he said, noting that he represented parts of Lucas and Ottawa counties that have come into the district when he was an Ohio senator. But he is cautious about his re-election chances.

"... you never look over your shoulder in a race because they might be catching up to you, so you do everything flat out," said Latta. "You work every day. You can rest the day after the election."

Eberly, too, was impacted by the redistricting, saying he had to refile for election after the boundaries changed.

"I think it was a debacle back in December when they rushed to change the district lines," he said. "(Afterward) I was required to go back out and refile. I find the gerrymandering to be ridiculous."

Why is each candidate running?

"I'm a firm believer that for our country to go forward we have to have the American people participate in this great system of government we have," said Latta, "and I want to make sure I can make a difference for the future."

Eberly, the treasurer of the newly formed Wood County Libertarian Party (in 2010) -- said the new organization was looking for a 5th District candidate "because we understand a portion of the public leans more toward Libertarian views" of being "fiscally conservative but socially tolerant. ... we wanted to give them an alternate, viable choice from the two party (Democrat and Republican) candidates."

"I'm running because the people of Ohio's 5th District deserve better representation," said Zimmann. "They deserve a representative that truly answers to them."

She says that an "in-depth study" of Latta's record shows that "it's really not in line with the interest and needs of Ohio 5."

All candidates express concern about the nation's $16 trillion debt and deficit reduction, though their ideas for dealing with it differ.

"The Libertarian Party believes we need to take strong austerity measures with our budget," said Eberly. "Right now we are borrowing 43 cents for every dollar we spent (federally). We advocate for a 43 percent cut in all agencies, departments and programs so we have a balanced approach. We believe we can find those cuts in every department and every program."

"We definitely need to reduce the deficit," said Zimmann who calls herself a fiscal conservative and moderate independent Democrat. "But we need to do it gradually because if we do it all at once such severe austerity measures could cause our economy to collapse. You don't wake up one day and say you're going pay off your car, but you're not going to eat."

She says raising taxes on income above $250,000 is "perfectly acceptable," but she adds that "to say it's going to take care of the deficit is foolish," though it's one place to start.

Latta's approach?

"The only way you are going to reign in federal spending is to have a constitutional amendment mandating that we have balanced budgets, otherwise it's not going to happen," said Latta. "I voted for that last year, but the Democrats did not give sufficient votes so it failed. ... You have to live within your means. ... they've run up another $5 trillion in debt the short time the president (Barack Obama) has been in office. It comes down to you just have to start saying no."

As for the nation's economy, Latta prescribes lifting regulatory burdens, including those connected to Obamacare, as well as preventing estate and income taxes from rising.

"We've got to get the regulatory system that is coming from Washington under control in this country," he said. "Businesses back home can't keep up."

Zimmann offers a three-point program centered on improving infrastructure, cutting corporate taxes from 35 percent (which she and Latta both say is the largest in the world) and promoting job training aimed at filling positions that are unfilled in the marketplace.

"Making sure we have a workforce skilled for the jobs that exist is of paramount importance to me," she said.

Eberly believes the key is a complete tax overhaul.

"A lot of Americans agree we need to scrap the current income tax system and replace it with a national sales tax, a fair tax," said Eberly. "What we are advocating for is a 23 percent national sales and completely eliminate the income tax system and eliminate capital gains and estate taxes. We believe this would increase the insourcing of jobs in America -- keep from sending them overseas."

Unfunded mandates -- usually handed down by EPA -- are one item that all candidates agree needs addressing. These primarily include an EPA mandate to separate storm and sanitary seers, a requirement that is costing communities millions of dollars.

Latta has sponsored legislation (HR 1189) to help lessen the financial burden -- as have other Ohio federal legislators -- but his bill remains pending in a House transportation and infrastructure committee. Among other things, it would lengthen implementation scheduled for mandated projects, thus allowing a longer time to pay for them, and provide smaller communities with financial help.

Zimmann said she's spoken with Defiance Mayor Bob Armstrong about the need for a new approach. Armstrong has led a regional group in lobbying Ohio's federal legislators for financial help.

"We need to find a funding source or not do it, but we cant bankrupt Defiance, so we have to find a third solution," she said. "It would be one of my priorities on day one to meet with Mayor Armstrong and see where we can get help."

Eberly believes the entire mandate premise is flawed.

"I don't believe that any legislation should come out of Washington that is an unfunded mandate," said Eberly. "That's just epitome of big government and government control with no accountability. "It's all over the country. The idea the government can force state and local governments to do something and put the liability on the taxpayer at the local level is ridiculous, and I don't agree with it at all."

What about Social Security and Medicare, both of which have future unfunded liabilities in the trillions of dollars?

Zimmann said she wants to raise the cap on Social Security taxation. As it stands, no Social Security tax is assessed against income above 106,800.

"I'm saying everybody should pay Social Security and income tax on all of their income," said Zimmann,

"Medicare goes broke in 2024," warned Latta. "We have about $38 trillion in unfunded liabilities with Medicare (over approximately 70 years). We have not heard any proposals coming from the White House and the Democrats. What we have said is we want to make sure everyone 55 and up would have the same Medicare that they have right now."

"Part of the Libertarian platform is to give states block grants ... to make efficient these programs," said Eberly. "Some states will do well and other states won't. We will be able to see from those experiences which methods work and which don't and go from there."

He adds that people who are "willing to stand up and make" tough decisions affecting Social Security and Medicare are needed.

"... they are going to be tough decisions," he said. "They could be political career killing decisions. Too many politicians in Washington are kicking the can down the road."

Neither Eberly nor Latta supported the federal government's bailout of General Motors.

Latta did not vote for the legislation that allocated federal money for GM, and he notes that $20-$25 billion of that may not be returned. He believes GM would have survived through bankruptcy proceedings.

"Look at how many airlines have gone through bankruptcy," said Latta, noting that he was concerned about language in the bailout bill that he felt gave the U.S. secretary of the treasurer too much power. "That option (bankruptcy) was there."

On the bailout out question, Zimmann has been critical of Latta.

"(The bailout) wasn't a perfect solution, but it had to happen because we had to save those jobs and especially in northwest Ohio," said Zimmann. "I can understand someone being more reticent if they were from another part of the country, but when you are the representative of northwest Ohio, you have to protect you people first and foremost. That's what it did."

Says Eberly: "I don't think the government should be in a position of bailing out any company, especially a Wall Street bank or an overleveraged car company," said Eberly. "That's not free market capitalism, it's is cronyism. ... Part of the beauty of free market enterprise is that when a company does poorly in sales a better company replaces that company."

On the subject of national defense, the candidates offer these views ... .

"I believe we should end our foreign intervention," said Eberly. "I believe if we are going to put troops in harm's way the president comes to Congress and asks for a declaration of war as the Constitution states. I think we can bring our defense spending levels down to 2003 levels and be okay. Our military has gone from working harder to working smarter. We can do with one soldier what had 20. We're in a much better position to be efficient and reduce our spending and defense contracting."

"We want to make sure our country is secure," said Zimmann. "I came from a military family ... and defense is really important to me but I think we can talk to the joint chiefs (of staff) and see what we can do. They're there for a reason. We trust them, and they know what it takes to secure the country. I'm very concerned about our veterans ... we send these men and women off and they come back and we say thank you very much. We don't train them for jobs. We we have to make sure we are caring of people we are sending off to fight."

"Right now defense is taking quite a hit ... ," said Latta. "We can't have national defense having a trillion-dollar cut over 10 years. We're looking at a Navy (the year) 1915 in size and an army like 1940. ... When America looks weak that's when bad things happen."

He adds that the military already has said it could weather an initial round of cuts, but describes a second as "devastating."

The 5th District race has had its biting moments, usually with the Zimmann or her campaign issuing criticism of Latta.

The Zimmann camp, for example, sponsored a "Latta's chicken" -- a person dressed in a yellow chicken suit -- that followed Latta's bus tour this week with the Mitt Romney campaign. The "chicken" held up a sign near the bus asking why Latta "is too chicken" to debate Zimmann.

"My opponent will not debate me," said Zimmann. "He refuses to debate. I have said I would debate him anytime anyplace, anywhere at his convenience."

Asked Monday to respond to Zimmann's request for a debate, Latta said, "in the last 21⁄2 weeks I did several forums with her. I think that we've had a very good opportunity to get around the district to have a discourse. ... we've had a good opportunity for people to be out and attend meetings."

But what about a one-on-one debate?

"It gets down to your time," said Latta, reiterating that there were eight forums in 21⁄2 weeks. "I know what from here on out, and before that -- my calendar is pretty well booked where I need to be."

Eberly is not mentioned in Zimmann's calls for a debate with Latta. He notes that neither she nor Latta don't "find me as a threat" but he believes "we should have open debate among the candidates."

Eberly said he has attended candidate forums to which each candidate has been invited.

Latta and his wife, Marcia, have two daughters while Zimmann and her husband, Martin, have a son and daughter. Eberly is married to wife Suzanna.

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