Races of the Week October 6

Kentucky’s 2nd District

Guthrie vs. Boswell

The retirement of Republican Rep. Ron Lewis after 15 years has created a race in Kentucky’s 2nd District that is rare among congressional races this year. On one hand, the major-party candidates — Republican Brett Guthrie and Democrat David Boswell — are both state senators with records to contrast on the same issues.

But on the other hand, the backgrounds and life experiences of the candidates are as disparate as those of the Jordache brothers (Rudy, who becomes a successful businessman and politician, and Thomas, a n’er-do-well black sheep) in Irwin Shaw’s epic novel Rich Man, Poor Man.

When Brett Guthrie was in high school in Alabama, he got a rude awakening one day: Facing a layoff from Ford Motor Company, Brett’s father announced he was taking the buyout from Ford and moving the family to Bowling Green, Ky. There, using his buyout money and the equity from his Alabama home, the elder Guthrie opened a small factory to make automobile parts. Beginning with ten employees in a crowded building, the business today is Trace Die Cast with 500 employees, a leading company in its field.

And Brett? He achieved his boyhood dream of going to West Point and then served 14 years in the U.S. Army. He also earned an advanced degree in business administration from Yale and, following his discharge, joined his brothers in running the business in Bowling Green. As a vice president of Trace Die Cast, Guthrie dealt with issues ranging from health insurance to labor relations. This hands-on management and economics experience served him well when he was elected to the state senate in 1999.

The background of David Boswell is light years removed from Brett Guthrie’s. The 58-year-old Democrat won his first term in the state house of representatives in 1978 and served for four years until his election as state agriculture commissioner. He held the agriculture slot for four years and then made a losing bid for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 1987. Following a stint in lobbying, he bounced back to win a state senate seat in 1990.

“And, with all the support he has from Big Labor, our opponent backs ending any and all trade agreements with other countries and card-check, which would end the secret ballot in union elections,” says Guthrie campaign quarterback Scott Jennings, onetime deputy political director in the White House. “And while he says he votes for pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment legislation in Frankfort, he’ll never sign the discharge petitions to get this kind of legislation to the senate floor for a vote.”

As with their respective backgrounds and experiences, Guthrie and Boswell are polar opposites when it comes to voting on issues. And that is the strongest case of all for conservatives to rally to Brett Guthrie in Kentucky’s 2nd District.   

Arizona’s 5th District

Schweikert vs. Mitchell

The case for electing David Schweikert to Congress, conservatives in Arizona’s 5th District frequently say, is as clear as today’s headlines. For a case can be made that if there had been more people with Schweikert’s credentials in Congress and fewer “go-along-to-get-along” career politicians, lawmakers these days would not be debating subprime mortgages, the collapse of financial institutions, and whether $700 billion would fix the situation.

Schweikert’s background is almost exclusively in finance and management and his career in public life has been primarily as a reformer. The holder of master’s degree in business administration, Schweikert managed a chain of Starbucks (“That’s where I met my wife”) and, as a state representative, was in the forefront of the battle for across-the-board tax relief. As Maricopa Country treasurer, he accomplished something that others in administrative offices promise but rarely achieve: Schweikert cut the number of the employees in his office as well as the size of his operating budget.

Had the Republican nominee in the 5th District served in past Congresses, it is certain he would have vigorously warned about and fought the legislation that opened the floodgate to mortgages for people who had no business getting them. And it’s very likely Schweikert would have forcefully made the case for privatizing quasi-government mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac years ago.

In addition to his passion for fiscal conservatism, David Schweikert is a proud cultural conservative who opposes abortion except to save the life of a mother. As he recalled, “I was born at an unwed mother’s home in Los Angeles after my mother changed her mind while driving to Tijuana for an abortion. You bet I’m pro-life!”

Having overcome a more moderate GOPer in the primary, Schweikert now faces freshman Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell. Elected as the oldest (66) member of his House class, Michell’s background says it all: A public school teacher, he spent eight years on the Tempe City Council, 16 years as mayor, and eight years as state senator.

“My opponent’s life in politics explains a lot about his voting record,” says Schweikert. “He favored the comprehensive immigration package that was stopped in Congress two years ago after a lot of us thought it was amnesty. He bows to the unions on ‘card-check,’ which will kill the secret ballot in union elections. And he sure hasn’t defied Nancy Pelosi in any way.”

“Basically, he’s a pleasant fellow. But he’s a leftie.”

David Schweikert is also a “pleasant fellow” and when it comes to issues, a committed conservative. 

Idaho’s 1st District

Sali vs. Minnick

“If people want go-along, get-along politics, I am not their guy.”

So said State Rep. Bill Sali, easily the most outspoken conservative in the Idaho legislature, following his participating in a spirited debate on abortion in ’06. Whether the issue was abortion, taxes, spending, or guns, voters could usually count on Sali to be in the forefront of the debate and at one volume: loud.

When Republican Butch Otter decided to leave his 1st District (Boise) House seat to run for governor in ’06, the legislature became a quieter place. Sali topped a six-candidate primary with 23% of the vote and, with some GOP opponents refusing to endorse him, nonetheless was elected to Congress 50% to 45%.

Now 54 and seeking re-election, Sali has not trimmed his sails at all in Washington. He opposed an increase in the minimum wage, voted against $100 billion in spending for higher education, and against extending the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion (“$7.5 billion of which would have gone to illegal immigrants,” he noted).

So it is no surprise that the self-described “real, honest-to-God conservative” who cares little about what anyone thinks of him would have another tough race this year. Walt Minnick, Harvard Business School graduate and building materials tycoon, is carrying the Democratic standard against Sali. An opponent of extending the Bush tax cuts, Minnick recently told an interviewer that the issue of marriage was resolved in Idaho in ’06, when the legislature enacted an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“Now that sounds fine,” observes Sali, “But that’s also ‘codespeak’ for ‘I don’t support a federal marriage amendment.’ And if he thinks so much of our state marriage amendment, then why did he donate to the campaign against it in ’06, I wonder?”

The conservative hopeful notes that Democrat Minnick has a “D+” grade from the National Rifle Association and serves on the Governing Council of the Wilderness Society.

Not exactly Idaho-like. But, recalling how Minnick was able to spend $945,000 of his own money as the Democratic Senate nominee in 1996, Sali says emphatically: “Whatever I can raise, he can still outspend me. And that’s why I need help from conservatives everywhere — folks who agree with me and know that I’m all I say I am.”