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Ottumwa Courier - "Three vie for GOP Congressional nomination"

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Location: Ottumwa, IA

Ottumwa Courier - "Three vie for GOP Congressional nomination"

Freshman Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, surprised virtually everyone two years ago when he unseated 30-year veteran Jim Leach from his spot as the Second Congressional District representative. Now a trio of Republican challengers hope to re-take the seat.

Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Lee Harder and Peter Teahen are vying for the Republican nomination June 3 to take on Loebsack in November. Loebsack faces no primary challenge.

Accusations are flying from each of the campaigns. Harder and Miller-Meeks say Teahen isn't interested in southeast Iowa, and flipped his party affiliation to make this run. Harder dismisses Miller-Meeks as a "one-issue candidate."

Miller-Meeks said she filed to run, after Harder had done so, because she "didn't think anyone credible was stepping forward."

And Teahen criticizes Harder as being "too far to the right," and Miller-Meeks as trying to use fancy footwork to avoid Republican moral themes.

All of the campaigns are running hard, and none show any sign of backing down.

Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Miller-Meeks says she never envisioned herself running for Congress until after she met with Loebsack in Washington, D.C. He understood the issues on Medicare reimbursement and the challenges facing both doctors and their patients, but that wasn't enough to gain her confidence.

"I just felt there would be no progress," she said.

Miller-Meeks believes her experience as an ophthalmologist will lend credibility to her views on health care. That said, she's careful to avoid coming off as a single issue candidate. She talks about Social Security and the need for a coherent energy policy as readily as medical issues.

The Ottumwan blames both parties for failing to act on those issues.

"This district is primely suited for making an industry in energy," she said, pointing to biomass, solar and nuclear energy as options. "We have a tremendous opportunity."

Miller-Meeks favors expansion of drilling for oil on U.S. territory, but said that expansion must be balanced against environmental concerns.

The Second District is largely rural, and Miller-Meeks said people have to realize that farming has changed. The shifts mean people must adapt, but also bring opportunities.

"Fifty, 60 years ago, no one would have conceived of being able to take 1,000 acres and plant it in a week," she said.

Now that's not uncommon for farmers, and some are mixing their fields with wind energy and biofuels to increase their values.

Miller-Meeks points to immigration as one of the tough issues in the country. People understand what drives illegal immigrants to the United States, but they reject the idea that coming to the country illegally is somehow acceptable.

Amnesty is not a solution, she said. The 1980s amnesty vote was supposed to stop illegal immigration, but it failed. She wants the government to secure borders and use biometric data to identify people who may be in the country illegally.

"Should you be able to say ‘These laws don't apply to me at this time?'" she asked. "There has to be some benefit to being a citizen of this country and following the laws of this country."

Miller-Meeks favors a fast-track system for allowing visas and stiff penalties for employers who give jobs to illegal immigrants.

Lee Harder

Harder paints himself as an unabashed Reagan Republican. He wants fiscal discipline and conservative government.

"The reason I decided to run for Congress is I saw the Republican Party going in the wrong direction for the last six years, particularly with not having a balanced budget," he said. "I also believe it's an erosion of rights that we see in this country."

Harder is the most aggressive of the candidates in trying to draw distinctions between himself and his primary opponents.

He accuses Miller-Meeks of shopping for a political party ("She hasn't really explained why the Republican Party is the best party for her."), and says Teahen actually switched from being a Democrat ("You kind of wonder if he wasn't just trying to seek a political advantage.").

"I think the difference between myself and my opponents is you know where I stand," he said.

Harder, of Hillsboro, wants the United States to expand oil drilling in Alaska's ANWR refuge and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. The catch is that he wants the country to reserve any increased oil production for itself, instead of selling any overseas.

He also wants to revise U.S. farm subsidies. Subsidies are not a bad thing in concept, he said, but they interfere with the development of a free market for farm products.

That interference gives large farm corporations an unfair advantage over smaller, family-owned farms.

"If they have an advantage from the government, I don't think that's free enterprise," he said.

Harder said he can see both sides of the immigration issue from his own family. One relative owns a ranch in Arizona. Guides have left helium balloons and water coolers on the property as trail markers for people sneaking over the border.

Another relative worked as a missionary in Colombia. He saw the conditions people are trying to escape and understands the draw of America.

Harder calls for controls on immigration to ensure people coming to the country are here legally.

"Most illegal immigrants in some sense have probably stolen someone's identity. That's how they got their jobs," he said. Enforcement of existing laws can force an end to such practices.

Peter Teahen

Teahen said his experience as a small business owner drove his entry into the second district race. He blasts both major parties for what he sees as their blundering damage to small businesses national.

"There is just a lack, a failure of leadership that exists," Teahen said. "It's just sheer frustration that nothing is getting done. Washington doesn't have a clue."

Teahen's work with the American Red Cross has, over the years, taken him to disaster areas around the world.

He says that helps him understand the need to bring people together in times of need regardless of their day-to-day differences.

But there's a critical difference between helping people reach a level where they can hold their own and crippling their ability to act in their own interest. Teahen says the country is consistently missing that mark.

"We know from experience on all levels that the more you do for someone, the less responsible they will be," said Teahen, who operates a Teahen Funeral Homes in Cedar Rapids.

"That is a trend I see that we're going down more and more."

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