Archive for January, 2008

Zirkle enters race for Congress

January 30, 2008

Republican ran two years ago on platform of guillotine, drafting deadbeat dads.


South Bend Tribune Staff Report 

SOUTH BEND — Attorney Tony Zirkle said Wednesday he will seek the Republican nomination for the Congressional seat now occupied by Rep. Joe Donnelly. Zirkle ran for that seat in 2006, but lost in the primary to incumbent Chris Chocola, R-Bristol.

Donnelly, D-Granger, beat Chocola in the general election later that year.

Zirkle’s campaign gained attention when he proposed using the guillotine to punish sexual predators. He also shredded an original 1953 copy of Playboy Magazine featuring Marilyn Monroe, and recommended drafting deadbeat dads to patrol U.S. borders.


Republicans have their man in the 2nd

January 30, 2008

Article published Jan. 27, 2008 in the South Bend Tribune:


Luke Puckett now appears almost certain to be the Republican challenger opposing Congressman Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, in Indiana’s 2nd District this fall.

Puckett starts short on money and with long odds against him; with low name recognition but high hopes.

“I think it’s a winnable race or I wouldn’t be getting into it,” says Puckett.

He plans soon to file officially as a candidate for the Republican congressional nomination and then travel throughout the district to start getting known and to improve odds for an upset of Donnelly.

Donnelly’s moderate record and rhetoric during his first term seem to be in tune with the district, making him a tough target for Republicans, so tough that Republicans with far better political credentials and name recognition than Puckett have chosen not to run.Others can file, and it would not be surprising if some very unusual candidate, such as a Farmer Hass type from the past, also seeks the GOP nomination. Puckett, however, now appears to be the choice of party leaders. He almost certainly will be the nominee, unless some Republican who could personally finance a campaign or has wide name recognition suddenly decides to make the race.

For those who don’t know Puckett — and that’s at least 99 percent of the voters in the sprawling 12-county district — he is a 38-year-old Goshen businessman who describes himself as “an opportunist.”

He seeks opportunity in business ventures, and now he will venture into politics to seek the opportunity to serve in Congress.

Puckett says of his business approach: “I look for investments, ideas that will be profitable. I’m an entrepreneur and small business guy.”

In one successful venture, he operates a firm providing materials for pontoon boats, with sales nationally. He lives in the part of Elkhart County that is in the 2nd District, thus negating the complaints about residency that were leveled against former Congressman Chris Chocola, who actually resided in the 3rd District. One reason Puckett sees opportunity in a race against Donnelly is that the district is split pretty evenly between parties.

He is confident that if he can get off to a good start, eventually with a poll showing that victory could be within grasp, that he will get resources from Republicans nationally who want to reclaim the 2nd, a battleground district in which Donnelly beat Chocola, then the Republican incumbent, in 2006.

Donnelly thus far has had more criticism from Democrats who find him too moderate than from Republicans during his first term. For example, anti-war protesters wanting him to support a quicker pull-out of troops from Iraq have picketed Donnelly’s South Bend office.

If Puckett is to win, he will need to convince Republicans who may be looking favorably toward Donnelly that they should stay with the GOP in the congressional race. A Democratic presidential nominee who proved to be unpopular in Indiana could help Puckett in this. So could low esteem for the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Puckett says he will hit Donnelly on two main issues:

1. “Raising taxes.”

2. “Not supporting our troops in Iraq.”

Puckett concedes it could be a hard sell to convince voters that Donnelly is a big-spending Democrat in favor of raising taxes. After all, Donnelly voted against the House Democratic budget. He is associated with the fiscal conservative “Blue Dogs.” And Congressional Quarterly lists him as fifth from the bottom among House Democrats in party support on party-line issues.

What roll calls don’t show, Puckett says, is a political game in which House Democratic leaders tell Democrats in more conservative districts they have a pass to vote against the leadership as long as there still is a majority for passage.

“His methodology is still pushing for it (higher taxes) with Nancy Pelosi and his fellow Democrats,” Puckett contends. Like the anti-war pickets, Puckett disagrees with Donnelly on Iraq, but for just the opposite reasons.

While Donnelly has miffed some of the war critics by insisting that funding not be cut for troops now in Iraq, Puckett sees Donnelly’s support for a call for the president to begin reducing the troop level as undermining the effort in Iraq.

“We should be supporting and pushing for a win, not a pull-out,” Puckett says.

Puckett actually began a very tentative congressional campaign early last year. He filed papers with the Federal Election Commission and loaned $5,000 to his campaign committee to get started. By mid-June, however, he had changed his mind, telling supporters that he would not run. He paid back the loan to himself.

But when nobody else stepped forward, Puckett, with encouragement from some influential Republicans, decided to think again about making the race. Now, Puckett says, he is ready to run, this time with no turning back.

Donnelly: Bush Administration has work to do

January 29, 2008

The following piece was published January 25, 2008 in the South Bend Tribune.

Bush administration has work to do


On Monday, President Bush will deliver his final State of the Union address. Given the near universal importance of keeping and creating jobs, making us less dependent on foreign oil, providing better care for our veterans and making health care more accessible, I’m hopeful the president will touch on each of those issues on Monday.

The Economy

Over the past few months, Hoosiers have felt the full impact of our struggling economy. From rising energy prices and health care costs to mortgage concerns and a volatile job market, the people of north central Indiana are feeling the squeeze in almost every facet of their lives. For these reasons, I support the outline of the recently negotiated economic stimulus package that includes rebate checks for working families, incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and mortgage lending reforms to ease the burden of the recent mortgage crisis. I hope the president emphasizes in his remarks that we must put aside partisanship and get this done as soon as possible.

We must also recognize that the strength of the American economy is linked to our trade policies. For too long, our government has allowed countries like China to manipulate their currency, steal our intellectual property and illegally subsidize exports at the cost of millions of American jobs. These countries are playing us for fools, and it’s time for the president to use the full weight of his authority to ensure that our businesses have access to foreign markets — just the same as our market is open to foreign commerce — and that our workers have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

Energy Independence

Last year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a significant energy package designed to make America less energy dependent. The legislation provides for the first increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in 32 years — a change that is expected to reduce oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels per day by 2020.

In the coming year, Congress should pass an energy tax package to renew a number of expiring tax provisions designed to promote alternative energy sources and infrastructure — including my own bill that would provide incentives for gas station owners to install E-85 pumps.

At a time when 65 percent of America’s oil comes from foreign sources, we must stay committed to a policy of energy independence. We should not continue to compromise our national security by putting our hard-earned dollars into the pockets of oil country dictators. Investing in a new generation of ethanol, bio-diesel, and other renewable energies right here in Indiana will create jobs and make us safer in the long run.


With the Department of Veterans Affairs straining under the pressure of an aging veteran population and new war veterans coming home from overseas, I hope President Bush uses part of his address to call attention to the monumental task of caring for our wounded warriors that lies ahead of us. Veterans’ issues have received scant attention in the president’s past State of the Union addresses. The president will miss an opportunity if he does not reverse that pattern.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 1.6 million brave American men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and approximately 30,000 have been wounded. The Army recently released a report estimating that as many as one in five returning Iraq veterans have suffered a traumatic brain injury. Moreover, disabled veterans of all ages, who often are living on fixed incomes, must wait, on average, a frustratingly long six months before a decision is made on their disability claims. Major changes are needed to fix a disability system that is too complicated and unnecessarily slow.

Health care

Too many Hoosiers can’t afford the rising costs of health care and businesses — particularly small businesses — face increased difficulty maintaining health benefits for their workers. In 2006 alone, 47 million Americans went without health coverage, including more than 9 million uninsured children.

No one has ever suggested that reforming our health care system to bring about universal coverage would be easy. That’s why the president and Congress should start with a smaller, yet important healthcare reform to get the ball rolling. That reform would be expanding and reauthorizing the successful State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which currently provides healthcare to more than 6 million children who otherwise wouldn’t have it. We were close to getting this reform into law in 2007, and we hope the president will sign it into law this year.

If we can work together to get more children insured, then I’m confident the next reform — possibly, making it easier for small businesses to band together to buy insurance for their employees — would come more quickly and easily.