AIMING FOR CONGRESS : On the Republican front, a candidate seeking the end of poverty battles a seasoned incumbent with a large war chest. The Democrats are split on abortion rights.
By JANET ZINK
Published August 24, 2004
Democratic voters in U.S. House District 12 will choose between two political novices who share views on fiscal issues but differ greatly on social policy.
Republicans will be choosing between the equivalent of David and Goliath.
Republican incumbent Adam Putnam is a fifth-generation Floridian whose campaign has raised more than $500,000 and has 500 volunteers prepared to post signs in their yards, slap bumper stickers on their cars and go door-to-door throughout the district.
His opponent in the primary, Robert "Bob" Wirengard, has barely raised a dime from supporters. He's funding his campaign with a $10,000 loan to himself.
"I'm running a very frugal campaign," he said.
The largest plank in his platform is the creation of what he calls a "living dividend" of $1,040 a month for every adult, which includes $290 a month for free-market health care.
"The long-range goal is the ending of poverty in the United States of America. When we do that it will be the beginning of world peace," said Wirengard. In protest of what he sees as an ineffective health care system, Wirengard hasn't cut his hair since his mother died of cancer five years ago.
During Putnam's first two terms in the U.S. House, he has proved himself to be a party-line Republican, voting on the conservative side 98 percent of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly. He supported the war in Iraq, the overhaul of the Medicare program and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. He co-sponsored bills to strengthen obscenity laws and to make English the official language of the United States.
Putnam, however, said he's not afraid to break away from Republicans.
"When the party view or the White House views are bad for my district, I've stood up and taken the heat," said Putnam, who lives in Bartow. "Thankfully, that hasn't happened very often."
His votes to protect the Florida citrus industry from imports and his opposition to drilling off the Florida coast are instances where he stepped outside the conservative box, he said.
On the Democratic side, there's Jeffrey Siemer, who believes the gay marriage debate is a distraction from more important issues and supports a woman's right to choose an abortion. In the primary, he'll face Bob Hagenmaier, who opposes gay marriage and the adoption of children into gay households. He also opposes abortion, and has been endorsed by Democrats for Life of America, Inc., a national organization for antiabortion members of the Democratic Party.
Both candidates list deficit spending as one of their top priorities.
Deficit spending, Siemer said, is a threat to the country's economic security and limits the ability to expand access to health care, increase military pay and maintain veterans benefits.
"The first solution is to get some discipline and pass pay-as-you-go legislation," said Siemer.
Hagenmaier shares Siemer's views on fiscal responsibility. In addition to the pay-as-you-go legislation, he supports removing tax cuts for the wealthy.
Hagenmaier also wants to see a 2 percent increase to Social Security contributions going to individual accounts instead of a big pool.
"That way," he said. "Congress can't spend it."
ADAM PUTNAM, 30, has represented District 12 in the U.S. House since 2000, after serving two terms in the Florida House. He grew up in Central Florida as part of a prominent ranch and citrus family and earned a bachelor's degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida. The National Journal, a nonpartisan Washington political magazine, listed Putnam as a Republican to watch in 2003. This year he was named chairman of the subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census. Among other things, the subcommittee focuses on cybersecurity and streamlining the federal government's information technology systems to save money. He lives in Bartow with his wife and three daughters. ASSETS: Two homes, investment and retirement accounts. LIABILITIES: Two mortgages. INCOME: Ranching and citrus growing, congressional salary. WEB SITE: www.putnamforcongress.com
BOB WIRENGARD, 58, is making his second bid for elected office with the District 12 race. He ran for Hillsborough County Commission in 2002, but lost to Jim Norman. Wirengard was born in Sweden and moved to the United States when he was 14 with his parents, who were circus performers. He earned a bachelor's degree from Case Western Reserve University and a master's of business administration from the University of Chicago. He retired to Tampa five years ago after working in the finance departments for Ralston Purina Co. in St. Louis and Union Carbide Corp. in Chicago. He has been involved with the League of Women Voters of Hillsborough County and the American Civil Liberties Union. He is divorced and has two grown children. He is engaged to be married. ASSETS: Homes, investments. LIABILITIES: Mortgages. INCOME: Pension and rental income. E-MAIL: email@example.com WEB SITE: www.wirengard.com
JEFFREY SIEMER, 36, decided to make his first run for political office after volunteering on Howard Dean's presidential campaign. He was born in Japan and moved throughout the United States every two years as his military father was transferred. Siemer earned a bachelor's degree in education and social policy from Northwestern University in Chicago and after graduation worked briefly at Northwestern before pursuing a career in banking. In the late 1990s, he served as an election supervisor in Bosnia with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He moved from New Jersey to Lakeland in early 2003, where he works as a financial software consultant, advising banks on reducing credit risk. He has had a live-in partner for six years. ASSETS: Two homes, retirement and bank accounts. LIABILITIES: Mortgages. INCOME: Software consultant. WEB SITE: www.jeffsiemerforcongress.com
BOB HAGENMAIER, 65, retired from his job as a scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to run for the District 12 seat. For 16 years, his work at the USDA focused on researching how coatings put on citrus effect their quality. Hagenmaier grew up in Ohio and served three years in the Army, with most of that time spent in the Philippines. After earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Detroit and a doctorate in chemistry from Purdue University, he worked briefly as a researcher at Texas A&M University and then moved to the Philippines where for 10 years he was involved in research and manufacturing. He came to Florida in 1986 and lives in Winter Haven with his wife. They have two grown children.
THE JOB: U.S. House District 12 represents most of Polk County, a sliver of Osceola County and a U-shaped portion of southeastern Hillsborough that includes Plant City and Brandon. U.S. House members serve a two-year term and earn $158,100 a year.