Newcomer Robert Owsiak Jr. faces longtime U.S. Rep. Bob Latta in GOP primary: 5th District Congressional race preview

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WASHINGTON, D. C. – Is it better to have an old hand or new face in Congress? Republicans in Ohio’s 5th congressional district will answer that question in next month’s primary when they decide whether they want to keep veteran U.S. Rep. Bob Latta of Bowling Green or pick newcomer Robert L. Owsiak, Jr. of Sheffield Lake for the job that pays $174,000 per year.

The strongly Republican district that both want to represent includes all or part of Lorain, Huron, Seneca, Crawford, Wyandot, Hancock, Wood, Henry, Putnam, Paulding, Van Wert, and Mercer counties. The Cook Political Report says Republicans have a 15 point demographic advantage over Democrats in the district.

The winner will face Democrat Keith Mundy of Parma in the general election. Mundy, a Bernie Sanders organizer who owns a legal research and delivery service, does not live in the district and has made previous longshot bids for Congress.

If money was the only factor in this year’s congressional primary, Latta would cruisie. Federal Election Commission records indicate he had $1.2 million in the bank at the end of last year, while Owsiak, a 38-year-old paramedic, says he hasn’t raised enough campaign cash to file an FEC report. He’s getting the word out about his campaign on social media, through his friends, and by visiting candidates’ nights.

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Owsiak says he’s running because he got sick of complaining about politicians and decided to do something about it. He says electing him will “get regular people back into office.” He said he’d like to see more compromising and less fighting in Congress. If he’s elected, he says he’d decide how to vote by listening to his constituents, rather than blindly following what his political party wants.

“I’m not a politician, so I have the interests of everyday people in mind,” says Owsiak. “And I know the struggles of everyday people. I work paycheck to paycheck. I have two jobs. I know what average people are struggling through with inflation, paying $3.89 for a gallon of gas or for a gallon of diesel. I know what it’s like to have 30 bucks in your bank account until pay day and I think I can represent that better.”

Latta, 67, has served in Congress since 2007. He says he strives to represent his constituents, and piles up miles in his used Chevrolet over long days of visiting factories, police departments, public officials, high schools, chambers of commerce – any entity that will let him know what’s on peoples’ minds. He says the district measures around 180 miles east to west, and is around 220 miles diagonally.

“I’m a firm believer that you have to be a representative and be out with the people and know what their concerns and needs are,” says Latta, who regularly ranks among Congress’ most effective lawmakers in ratings produced by the Center for Effective Lawmaking.

Latta is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he chairs its Subcommittee on Communications & Technology. When the chair of the full committee retires next year, he will seek the job. He says more than 30 pieces of legislation he’s written have become law as free-standing bills or when they were incorporated into larger measures.

Some of the measures he’s proudest of crafting include a bill that required tracking and tracing of drugs to ensure they haven’t been adulterated, and a provision in a larger bill to fight opioids that created what he calls “a one-stop-shop dashboard” where communities could learn about federal funding opportunities for programs that fight substance abuse disorders.

Ohio's 5th Congressional District

Ohio’s 5th Congressional District stretches from Lorain County west to the Ohio-Indiana border.Rich Exner,

Where do they stand on the issues?

ABORTION: One of the biggest differences between the candidates is on abortion. Latta is staunchly anti-abortion. His voting record got a 100% rating on the National Right to Life Committee’s latest scorecard. Previously, he’s said he opposes abortion in all cases, except to save the life of a mother.

He has introduced legislation called the “Protecting the Dignity of Unborn Children Act” that would make it a federal crime to dispose of aborted baby body parts in landfills or in any navigable waters of the United States. A separate bill from Latta called the “Support and Value Expectant (SAVE) Moms and Babies Act” would also prevent remote dispensing of abortion drugs by mail, or via telemedicine, and would block the Food and Drug Administration from approving new chemical abortion drug.

Owsiak believes women should be able to make their own abortion decisions. He said he supported the standard in place before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

“If you don’t want abortion, don’t get one,” he says. “If you want one, you have that right. I don’t want to take people’s rights away. I like the thought of people having the option, of having having choices and not the government telling them what they can do what they can’t.”

AID TO UKRAINE AND ISRAEL: The pair also differ on foreign aid. Owsiak says the United States “sticks its nose in a lot of other problems when we should worry about our country first,” and thinks it’s wrong to spend “billions of dollars to fight somebody else’s war.

“I think we should take care of the people that fought wars for us and protected our country before we even worry about other countries,” he said.

Latta supports aid to Israel, as it is the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East and “it’s pretty much known that there’s over 100,000 rockets and missiles pointing at Israel right now.” He also supports making sure Ukraine has the supplies and munitions it needs to fight Putin, whom he describes as “a dictator” whose goal is to reconstitute the Soviet Union.

Failing to support Ukraine would send a bad message message to other countries that may have designs on invading neighboring countries, he said, such as China, which is believed to be eyeing Taiwan.

“The best way to deter the Communist Chinese is to make sure they understand that the free world will stand up to this aggression,” says Latta.

BORDER SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION: Latta says he recently made his fourth trip to the southern border, that it’s overwhelmed with illegal crossings, and that Congress needs to “listen to the people who are on the ground” to stop it. He said the Border Patrol needs to be able to set up barriers so they can stop people and drugs flowing across the border. He supports restarting the border wall’s construction.

He says people need to apply for asylum in their home countries instead of doing so after they enter the United States. He said prospective immigrants through the southern border should remain in Mexico until the United States decides whether to admit them. He said the border patrol should be able to expedite removal of those who enter the country illegally.

“When you release people into this country with a court date in four years, they’re never going to show up,” says Latta.

Owsiak says he supports legal immigration for those who go through the right steps to enter the country, and would like to see the border secured.

“The borders are our front doors,” says Owsiak. “Nobody I know leaves their front doors open for anybody to come and go as they please. And I think the border should be treated the same way. We need to secure them and know who’s coming in the country.”

CRIME: As a paramedic, Owsiak regularly sees the effects of the fentanyl epidemic. He’d like to see sentences for selling fentanyl made so severe that “it deters people from wanting to traffic those drugs, knowing that they’ll be thrown in jail for life.”

He says that better mental health care for people with issues such as schizophrenia would help reduce homelessness and crimes committed by those whose conditions aren’t being properly addressed.

Latta says existing laws around the country need to be enforced. He decries cities around the country that “all of a sudden they’re not prosecuting, and they’re going after the police and defunding the police… You’ve got to support your police out there.”

He says he opposes proposals in states and in Congress that would take away police officers’ immunity from prosecution, arguing that it will make it harder to recruit prospective police officers.

“You got to make sure that your police out there have the backing that they need to have, but at the same time you’ve got to have the courts and the prosecutors enforcing the law,” says Latta.

ECONOMY AND INFLATION: Latta is alarmed by how the national debt has increased and the rising amount of interest the federal government must pay to service it. He says the federal government needs to get its spending under control and live within its means.

Owsiak says the federal government overspends on most things, and the federal budget needs to cut spending “big time.” He’d like to see cutbacks in foreign aid, and decries “printing money” for stimulus checks.

GUNS: Owsiak says he’s “all for guns and legal ownership,” and that people who pass a background check, you should be able to buy whatever guns they want. He doesn’t see further regulation of gun ownership as a deterrent for criminals, who have no regard for laws.

“I’m a fan of the Second Amendment because it gives law abiding citizens a way to protect themselves and their families from people who are willing to break the law,” says Owsiak.

Latta is regularly endorsed by the NRA’s Political Victory Fund, which notes that he’s introduced and cosponsored legislation it supports. He does not support any new restrictions on gun ownerships and says current laws must be enforced.

MARIJUANA: Latta believes marijuana is a gateway drug to more potent substances and says he’s “100% against legalization.” He says it’s stronger and more addictive today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, and warns that its being laced with lethal fentanyl.

Owsiak supports legalizing marijuana and doesn’t consider it a gateway drug. He says legalization would cut down on “the war on drugs,” and would enable the government to get tax money from marijuana sales. He’d prefer that law enforcement focus its efforts on fighting fentanyl.

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Owsiak said he supported Vivek Ramaswamy’s presidential campaign and will vote for whomever the Republican Party nominates. He believes the 2020 presidential election results were legitimate. He says the economy “did great” when ex-President Donald Trump was in office, but that Trump should have been more discriminating in his public statements.

Latta says he supports Trump, as he will be the party’s candidate, and that he feels Biden does not have a good record on the economy and making sure the world’s a safer place. He notes that he voted to certify results of the 2020 presidential election.

TRANSGENDER ISSUES: Latta says biological males should participate in sports with biological males, and biological females should participate in sports with biological females. He says minors should not be allowed to get sexual reassignment surgery because they’re not mature enough to make such decisions.

Owsiak says transgender kids should have to wait until they’re 18 to get surgeries. He said there are age restrictions for drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and getting tattoos, where maturity is required before people make decisions that affect the rest of their lives.

He says biological women should play sports with with other biological women, and biological men should play sports with biological men. If transgender people want to participate, he suggests there could be separate sports categories for them.

Sabrina Eaton writes about the federal government and politics in Washington, D.C., for and The Plain Dealer.

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