US Rep. Johnson Faces GOP Primary Challenge
When U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) runs for re-election next year, he'll have to do something he hasn't done in more than a decade - square off in a Republican primary. Two other Republicans from the St. Louis Metro East area are eying the newly re-drawn 13th Congressional district seat.
The last time Johnson had any challengers in the primary was back in 2000, the year he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was up against State Rep. Bill Brady, who later went on to the Illinois senate and won the GOP nomination for Governor in 2010; Sam Ewing, son of former Congressman Tom Ewing; and Jeffery Jones, a dentist in the Bloomington-Normal area.
Johnson walked away with 44 percent of the vote.
"It's like the semifinals of the final four," Johnson said shortly after his primary win in March 2000. "Before you get the championship game, you got to win semifinal and you work on your parameter game. So obviously it's a tremendous significance and it makes you a better candidate. These three individuals made me a better candidate, and I thank them for that."
Now, there is a different group of players in the upcoming primary match who have never held political office and who live in the Metro East area. That is because the new 13th Congressional District - covering much of the old 15th district -now stretches to the southern part of the state.
Veterinarian Michael Firsching of Moro is one of Johnson's two Republican challengers. He ran against Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Collinsville in 2010, and lost in the primary by a wide margin, securing only 15-percent of the vote. Now he is running against a different incumbent, but Firsching said his reasons for wanting to go to Washington have not changed.
"I really was expecting in the last two years we would have seen a huge collapse of the economic situation worldwide, but it's been held off a little bit longer," Firsching said. "I just have a hard time believe that we can go another two years without the bubble that is it going to pop and cause a lot of havoc to everybody's life."
Firsching said he favors a flat income tax, disbanding the Federal Reserve and limiting military engagements to those authorized by a formal declaration of war by Congress. He said he would cut spending on programs that the government can't afford to run, and move all agricultural programs to the states.
"If you have disseminating powers, then you have more local control of it, plus you have more states doing the various programs," Firsching said. "If you just have government running everything, then when they screw up and do the wrong thing, then it's a lot hard to control."
Firsching said he thinks the 13th Congressional district's rural constituency will relate more to his ideas, and support him in the primary.
But Firsching isn't the only GOP newcomer in this race. Frank Metzger, 70, is a retired Iron Worker from Glen Carbon, who now runs his own tree cutting business.
"Retirement's not in the bible," Metzger said. "I'll just work until I drop dead someday."
Metzger has not run for political office before, and he admits he doesn't have any name recognition in the state. But he said politics is in his blood. His father was a New Jersey legislator who also ran for governor. Metzger said he thinks there needs to be more elected officials who represent a broader base.
"The lack of respect for the American people - the working man - distresses me way beyond distress it disgusts me," he said. "The average person does not feel they are represented in the House of Representatives."
As a registered Republican and Tea Party member, Metzger said he believes in smaller government. On economic issues, he is against new tax hikes, but would like cut spending for Planned Parenthood and foreign aide. He supports the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has tried to delay.
"I would like to see our own energy resources developed to the max," Metzger said. "Right now, everything is on hold. There are 10,000 jobs that will open - and union jobs, too - as soon as Obama OK's the pipeline."
Metzger and Firsching have about three months to garner support for the March 20 primary.
Tim Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the presence of these two candidates from an area where the Congressman isn't well-known poses a challenge in the race. But he said it's different from the challenge Johnson faced in his last contested primary in 2000. Back then, there were more prominent names on the ballot, and no one had the advantage of being an incumbent.
"This is a little different sort of situation because I frankly don't really know these guys and they don't have any public policy experience," Bloomers said. "They're just individuals who are angry and frustrated with the status quo."
Bloomer said Johnson is already campaigning in the Metro East area, and has no plans to change his strategy.
The candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional district are Bloomington physician David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten.