Three Republicans are vying for Ohio’s Fifth District congressional seat in the May 8 primary election, including six-term incumbent Bob Latta.
Last week, Bob Latta voted for balanced budget legislation in Washington, but the amendment failed to receive the two-thirds vote necessary for passage.
On his website, Latta, 61, has a continually scrolling update of the outstanding public debt as of April 13.
“The only way we’re going to get to that point is to (push) the constitutional amendment that says you must balance the budget. You can’t keep spending more than you take in,” he said. “We’ve got to get our fiscal house in order because we can’t leave this mess to the next generation.”
Elected to Congress in 2007, he advocates reducing taxes to put more people to work. With that job creation comes the need for businesses to purchase more machinery and materials to accommodate the increase, thus stimulating the economy.
“This is a whole chain of events that happens with folks out there,” Latta said. “We’re seeing the benefits of tax reform.”
He praised the recent enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which he calls the first tax reform in 31 years. The bill provides a tax cut for a family of four with a median income, doubles the Child Tax Credit, and offers tax relief to small business owners, among other benefits.
Unfortunately, the number one issue in the Fifth District is that business owners can’t find enough workers. And that problem is tied directly to the current drug problem, specifically opioid abuse, he said.
“We’ve got to get people off drugs and back employed. I want to see everybody working,” providing for their families and ensuring a future for the children, he said. “It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”
Health and help organizations within the Fifth District have complained they can’t find resources or dollars to help them battle the opioid scourge, Latta said. He’s currently sponsoring legislation that would provide assistance, and feels confident it will pass before Memorial Day this year.
“We’re in a fight, so we have to have all the resources out there to prevent (opioid abuse) from happening,” he said.
Other top issues in the district are veterans rights, for which he has drafted legislation, and worries about the future of Social Security. He also presses for a strong military “to make sure we have the right materials and tools to make sure we can defend our country.”
Latta cites among his accomplishments in office 61,000 manufacturing jobs in the area and representing the largest farm income producing district in Ohio. He has also received endorsements from the Right to Life organization. And in over five years he has held 879 district meetings with constituents, including 139 courthouse conferences and town hall meetings.
“Every day I find this a blessing that I get to serve the people in the fifth congressional district,” Latta said. “It’s what you put into it. You’re not doing this job for yourself, you’re doing it for the people. The only way I know how to do this job is to be with the people I’m representing. I want to maintain the conservative views of our district.”
Van Wert County commissioner Todd Wolfrum pulls no punches about what he sees as the country’s greatest threat: out-of-control spending.
“There’s no discussion of (cutting spending) in Washington right now,” he said.“I don’t know when it became not a priority to get our pennies in order. I haven’t heard one word in Washington. What we’re doing to future generations should be a crime.”
The 47-year-old attorney and Defiance native vows to fight the government spending spree.
“I’m not someone naive enough to think I’m the first congressman to reform entitlements, but we all know there’s stuff out there that’s a waste,” he said. “Let’s find things that we can cut and start working on those, instead of from the start trying to propose these grand schemes to reform everything, which will never happen. Try to create a culture of cutting unnecessary things.”
To that end, Wolfrum promises that once a month in office he’ll search for one wasteful government proposal and work against it.
He believes people on fixed incomes will get hurt most by unchecked government spending “when money is suddenly worth half of what it was the year before, and you have the same expenses. We’re not going to be able to provide government services like we were even 20 years ago, when our spending was under control.”
Ultimately, the programs liberals worry most about funding will be hurt, Wolfrum said. “Every one of those concerns is going to come true when we just start printing money to cover our debts,” he said.
A self-proclaimed product of the Libertarian wing of the GOP, he favors the Freedom Caucus. The group of Republican congressmen has pledged to keep promises made to constituents about remaining fiscally conservative and being conservative when voting on issues.
“A lot of politicians like Bob Latta just trumpet that part of conservatism and are nowhere to be found on actually getting the budget under control,” Wolfrum said. He said Latta has been absent without leave when it comes to fighting for issues.
“I personally don’t know where he stands on most issues. I never heard him propose to cut taxes…and I’ve certainly never heard him propose to cut spending,” he said. “You can talk about terrorism…whatever the issue of the day is, it’s our spending that’s going to destroy this country. That’s the biggest threat to national security and the future of the country.”
Calling Latta “the quintessential establishment politician,” Wolfrum added, “He lets it all seep up with the lobbyists and the other career politicians. The lobbyists and career politicians are all working together to bankrupt the country.”
Every politician sent to Washington starts out as idealistic as he currently feels, Wolfrum said. “Then they start thinking about their careers.”
To avoid that trap, he has promised to limit himself to three congressional terms. “By doing that, if I get to Washington it will give me more independence than anybody else there, because I’m not there for the long haul,” he said.
A retired engineer and dairy farmer, Bob Kreienkamp has no prior political experience. But that won’t stop him from speaking out in Congress about what his constituents think is wrong in government.
Should he be elected, the 69-year-old Wayne, Ohio, native plans to immediately set up an email computer bank of 15,000 people he represents, Republican and Democrat alike. When questions for crucial legislative votes come up, he’ll ask them all for input.
“A representative represents the people. And he is their employee. We elect our representatives to act in our best interests as a district and to keep us informed on what they’re doing,” Kreienkamp said.
In fact, it was his disappointment with Congressman Bob Latta’s communication skills that impelled Kreienkamp to run for the Fifth District seat. He became disillusioned when he tried to discuss with Latta President Donald Trump’s insistence on a Mexican border wall.
“I think we can invest better than to build a wall on the south border of America,” he said. “How can we even think about investing that much money in something that’s not going to work? I’m all for stemming the flow of immigrants but there has to be a better way.”
And targeting those people seems prejudicial, when immigration problems are present at the Canadian border as well, Kreienkamp said.
He said Latta responded to his concerns with a two-page letter “but he said absolutely nothing.”
What really set off Kreienkamp, however, was the health care bill Latta voted for to replace the Affordable Care Act.
“Which was terrible for our district,” he said. “According to the Congressional Budget Office, that health care bill would have raised rates for people in his district by 25 percent in 2018. I wanted to know why he would support something that was so bad for his district.”
Kreienkamp also wouldn’t have voted for income tax cuts, believing the individual income tax should have been made permanent. As for corporations, he would withhold half of the 14 percent tax break the government gave them until they proved they were bringing jobs back from overseas and reinvesting in America.
And he generally disagrees with U.S. tariffs, calling the North American Fair Trade Agreement a “godsend” for the agricultural community but not for industry.
“If you drive down the cost of the goods the American people sell, and you drive up the cost of machinery, you’re going to drive the American farmer out of business. The farm community is the backbone of America,” he said.
He also plans to target the condition of Lake Erie’s water.
The problem in the Fifth District, Kreienkamp said, is that Latta fails to respond to his constituents about these and other issues.
“I wanted the people’s voices to be heard because, obviously, Bob Latta wasn’t hearing it,” he said. “He’s not showing any leadership. A leader should get out there and make his voice heard. Just because you have a well-known name doesn’t make you a leader.
“A leader needs to stand up against all the hate and rhetoric that’s coming from Washington. We’re dividing the United States of America, and Bob Latta isn’t speaking up about it. If you don’t speak up about something, you’re condoning it.”
Kreienkamp said the heart of his campaign is that everyone, regardless of race, religion, age or party affiliation, has the right to be heard.
“I will attend meetings. I won’t hide from any of the constituents in the Fifth District like Bob Latta has done,” he said. “You will be represented, and I will keep in touch with you. That’s my campaign in a nutshell. (And), whatever it is, I vote for the best interests of the district and not what the big interests of the Republican Party or the donors want me to.”
Next week, we cover the Democratic candidates for the Fifth District congressional seat.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.