Sowers to challenge Emerson on economy in election

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tommy Sowers, the Iraq war veteran mounting the first well-funded challenge to U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in more than a decade said Saturday that he plans to make the economy -- and Emerson's record on economic issues -- the centerpiece of his campaign.

In an interview before he spoke to Cape Girardeau County Democrats at their annual Fall Festival, Sowers said conditions in the 28-county Eighth Congressional District were poor before the recession hit. The national mess has just made things worse, he said.

"That this is the tenth-poorest Congressional District in the country is unacceptable," Sowers said. "That one in four kids in the Eighth Congressional District live in poverty is unacceptable."

In September 2008, unemployment across the district was 6.4 percent. This September the unemployment rate was 9 percent.

Sowers, 32, raised more than $200,000 in the first month his campaign was active. That is more money than the last five Democrats who faced Emerson have raised in total, and about $80,000 more than the incumbent raised in the same period.

"We are excited about having a viable candidate," Cape Girardeau County Democratic Party chairman Mark Baker said. "Not that we haven't had excellent candidates, but it takes money to run a campaign."

Sowers was in the U.S. Army for 11 years, ending his career as a major. Currently working as a lecturer on American government at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo., Sowers was an assistant professor of American politics at U.S. Military Academy before leaving the Army. His assignments as a Special Forces officer in Iraq included training Iraqi security forces, training and advising Iraqi counterterrorism units and advising the U.S. commander in Baghdad, he said.

That military background, and Sowers' age, will help Democrats, Baker said. "He will bring in a whole new demographic we have never reached before."

Sowers spoke as the Democratic leadership in the U.S. House was pressing members to a vote on a health care overhaul bill that sets a goal of providing health insurance coverage to 96 percent of the eligible population. Emerson announced Friday evening she planned to vote against the bill. Sowers said he would vote for it.

"The people of the district need help," he said. "Insurance premiums are going up and people have less coverage. This bill addresses many of those issues."

In a news release, Emerson said her opposition was based on a tax surcharge included in the bill, along with what she said was irresponsible spending, failure to address rural concerns and cuts aimed at Medicare.

The tax surcharge would hit incomes above $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for families.

"This bill does not reflect the changes we need to see in our health care system," Emersons said. "It's too big, too expensive and too bureaucratic to effect a positive change -- especially in rural areas where access issues are very real. We need more technology, more health care professionals in our rural communities and concrete savings on the medical expenses -- like prescription drugs -- that are causing family budgets to capsize all over southern Missouri."

Emerson has been an advocate of drug reimportation from Canada and direct negotiations between Medicare and drug companies over prescription prices.

When asked about those two issues, Sowers said he doesn't disagree with Emerson. But he said voters should look at the results she is achieving. He said Emerson hasn't heard the concerns of constituents.

"I am much more of a results-oriented kind of guy," he said. "Look at the district. See what has happened since she has been in office. It happens in every district in every state -- the member blames somebody else for the problems. I will set an accountability mark for jobs and economic opportunity and ask voters to hold me accountable in November 2012."

Over the next 12 months, voters across the district -- which stretches from Cape Girardeau almost to Branson, Mo., -- will see a real debate, Sowers said.

"That debate and providing voters a true choice -- that is the mission of this campaign," Sowers said. "If you don't have a vigorous debate, if you don't have a true choice, that isn't democracy."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau, Mo.

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

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