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Conservative contender

With Phil Troyer, 3rd district conservatives might have their first serious candidate to challenge Souder

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


We’re told that the 2010 mid-term elections will be a bad one for incumbents.

Democrats will probably bear the brunt of voter dissatisfaction with government — after all, there’s more of them in there right now — but members of Congress sitting on the other side of the aisle shouldn’t rest easy: many Republicans, the argument goes, are also spending a little too freely, talking like conservatives on social issues but throwing taxpayer money around like liberals.

That’s a simplified picture of the political landscape in 2010, and it seems as though the race for Indiana’s 3rd congressional district seat, currently held by Mark Souder, might provide a text book example of the conflict among conservatives and independents these days.

In this corner, you have Representative Souder, a conservative who was first elected to Indiana’s fourth district in 1994 (it’s now the third district, after redistricting in 2002). While most conservatives find no fault with Souder’s right-wing bonafides on social issues, his record when it comes to spending is another matter. And there’s also that nagging pledge about term limits; after initially pledging he would only serve two additional terms in Congress, Souder is still right where he started several terms later.

And in the other corner, representing the camp in the conservative movement that believes that many Republican elected officials aren’t being conservative enough when it comes to the taxpayers’ money, you have Phil Troyer, a Fort Wayne attorney who in November announced his intention to challenge Souder for the Republican nomination for US Representative for Indiana’s 3rd district.

The “anti-incumbent” camp believes that social issues are important, of course — Troyer says he’s a social conservative — but right now, the most important issue is what they see as out of control spending. “Republicans went from having a 30 seat majority to being an 80 seat minority,” Troyer says. “If Republicans had upheld the promises they made in the ‘Contract with America’, the independents would not have abandoned them. Voters lost faith, and as a result, the Republicans have turned in to a minority party, and that has real consequences with social issues.”

While Troyer isn’t the only Republican going against Souder in the primaries — car dealership owner Bob Thomas threw his hat in the ring at the last minute in mid-February (though “Tea Party” candidate Rachel Grubb from Auburn, who we profiled in FWR #139, neglected to file) — he is, as of this writing, the most well-organized. The “Compact With America,” a document Troyer developed with Liz Lauber, a Republican from Missouri also challenging an incumbent, has even garnered some national attention among conservatives (more on that in a moment).

Also, Troyer actually has some experience in Washington, working for Dan Coats in Congress and in the Senate. He’s still a huge admirer of Coats, but says he can’t understand why the former Indiana politician is getting back into the race. “I thought we had good candidates already, and I think he brings a lot of baggage with him because of his status as a lobbyist and not having lived in Indiana for a number of years,” Troyer says. “To me, what this strikes of as perhaps the national party sticking their nose in, because they didn’t trust the voters in Indiana to do the right thing, and that never sits well with me.”

Troyer made two short-lived attempts at political office himself many years ago, but thought he was out of politics for good. What renewed his interest was the TARP legislation enacted in late 2008 with strong backing from many Republicans, including the 3rd district representative. “I started thinking ‘now this is effecting me and my family,’” Troyer explains. “When I see all the debt that is being piled on to my children and grandchildren with things like this, I just cannot support (Souder) any longer. I kept thinking that I would support the person who steps up. Nobody did.”

After announcing his candidacy, Troyer wasted no time in attacking Souder’s spending record, citing among other things Souder’s vote on Medicare Part D, and pointing out that the National Tax Payers Union has ranked Souder as the biggest spender out of the Republican delegation in Indiana for each of the past five years. On Troyer’s campaign site — www.troyerforcongress.com — he lists 50 recent spending bills on which he would have voted for less spending while Souder voted for more, and highlights connections between Souder and Charlie Rangel, the New York Congressman who recently stepped down from his position as the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee while under investigation for… well, a whole host of rules violations.

Yet though Troyer’s complaints about Souder are shared by a lot of conservatives, for all the talk about term limits and excessive spending, the 3rd district Representative has been notoriously hard to budge from the congressional seat he’s held since being elected in 1994. But Troyer thinks that may be changing, citing the 2006 and 2008 campaigns, where Souder faced Democrats Dr. Tom Hayhurst (who is running again this year) and Mike Montagano respectively. Souder won the race against Hayhurst in 2006 by a close but substantial margin; the 2008 race against Montagano… well, we don’t know how much sleep Souder lost over that one — he won pretty easily — but Troyer seems to be saying that’s not the point: Montagano, “some kid” from Bristol, was able to garner nearly 40% of the vote in a very conservative district. “(Souder) hasn’t had a candidate run against him from the right,” Troyer says. “His last really serious primary opponent was Paul Helmke, and Paul certainly couldn’t say he’s more conservative than Mark.”

Troyer points out that in 2008, right before the election, political commentator Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes The Rothenberg Political Report and serves as an analyst for several news organizations, wrote a piece calling out five Republicans that the National Republican Congressional Committee needs to cut off from funding. One of those was our own representative. A strong showing by a Democratic candidate in the district isn’t a sign that the district is growing less conservative, Troyer argues; it’s a sign that we don’t like the conservative candidate. “The RNCC has had to pump a lot of money into this district, and it’s money that could have been used to support strong conservative challengers for open seats,” Troyer says. “They basically need to tell Mark ‘you’re on your own’.”

But Troyer believes that in this election, it’s not enough for a candidate to claim they would have, for instance, voted against the bailout or the stimulus package. That’s one of the reasons that, along with Missourri Republican Liz Lauber (a former staffer for Dick Armey), Troyer created a document called the “Compact With America” which addresses some of the fundamental government reforms he feels are necessary. “I think voters want candidates who say ‘we need to change the entire way Congress operates’ and try to do it in a way that’s not gimmicky, that actually makes sense,” he says.

One of the main issues in the Compact With America is term limits. Troyer is well aware that we’ve seen this before, but he has in mind something more than just a pledge from individual candidates. “We already have a Constitutional amendment in place for presidents. There’s no reason we can’t apply the same logic to the House and the Senate, that they can’t serve more than 6 terms, or 12 years total. The point is to just remind members of Congress that there is this document out there called the Constitution that’s supposed to limit what they’re able to do. I think we’ve lost that.”

But Troyer’s biggest bugbear is earmarks, the little items that lawmakers slip into legislation that can direct a certain amount of money to a particular project. Sometimes, this project can be in the legislator’s particular state or district. Other times, they’re used as bargaining tools — “I’ll vote on this particular bill which includes X funds for your project, if down the road you do something for me…”

If you think this practice sounds like something ripe for corruption, abuse, and waste, you’re not alone. In Troyer’s eyes, it basically amounts to 535 members of Congress each horse trading with the taxpayers money. “It’s one thing to say ‘I’m going to try to get an earmark for the city of Fort Wayne to extend US 24’,” he says. “It’s another thing to go to private companies that you have received PAC money from, and then turn around and submit a specific earmark funding request for that company.”

According to Troyer, that’s exactly what Souder has done. Troyer’s website details several instances where Representative Souder received PAC money from a company and then submitted a specific funding request on their behalf. “Souder has received about $9,500 over his career from the PAC of Zimmer, Inc. (the medical device company located in Warsaw), and submitted a funding request on the company’s behalf for $700,000,” explains Troyer. “He’s taken about $16,000 from Raytheon (defense contractor) in PAC money, and submitted a request for $7.2 million in earmarks.”

This is the very thing the Republicans who came to power in 1994 pledged not to do under their “Contract With America.” “They promised to cut spending; they increased it,” says Troyer. “They promised to get rid of the culture of corruption in Congress, and instead, they went to the lobbyists and said ‘it used to be the Democrats who provided all the earmark spending and you gave them the PAC money. Now we’re the ones who will do it.’ What that gave us was Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Ted Stevens, Randy Cunningham, who all got in trouble for either fundraising scandals or earmark scandals. Because of that you’d think Republicans would say ‘we’re not playing this game anymore.’ Some have, including Mike Pence, but Congressman Souder hasn’t, and I disagree with it strongly.”

Of course, the issue every candidate for political office has to deal with is fundraising, especially if they are going up against a well-known incumbent in a primary. Troyer downplays that aspect of campaigning for now, saying he’s more concerned with getting his message out. “I have some fundraisers being planned, but it’s more important for me to put in a grass roots effort than spend my time trying to raise money to buy a slick ad,” he says. “I’ve seen candidates in the past who have been able to raise a lot of money, but didn’t have a message and so they didn’t make it. In this election, I’m hoping voters can see through that.”

Troyer’s whole focus right now is on beating Souder in the primaries, drawing a stark contrast between his type of conservatism and what Troyer sees as the diluted version practiced by the incumbent. And if he wins the primary in May and finds himself campaigning against Tom Hayhurst, the likely Democratic nominee and a popular guy who made a strong showing in 2006…

Troyer seems to view that possibility with a certain amount of equanimity — a straightforward conservative vs. liberal contest in a district that leans heavily to the right. After all, despite Indiana “going blue” (barely) in the 2008 presidential race, this is a district where McCain got 56% of the vote to Obama’s 43%. Though that’s a closer margin than the 2004 presidential elections (Bush got 68% or the vote to Kerry’s 31%), Troyer sees any Democratic inroads into the area as indicative of conservative failure rather than support for the other party. “Many people would like (Souder) out, but we’re not willing to vote for a Democrat,” says Troyer, who voted for the 3rd district Libertarian candidate last time. “I think politically I would line up really, really well with the demographics of this district.”

For more information on Phil Troyer and updates on his campaign, visit www.troyerforcongress.com

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