Ann Wagner, Glenn Koenen battle for seat in 2nd Congressional District
By: Carol Enright
Two well-known public servants are battling for Todd Akin’s vacant seat in the 2nd Congressional District this November.
Ann Wagner calls herself a “strong, principled, constitutional Conservative.”
Glenn Koenen, calls himself a “progressive” Democrat.
Wagner grew up in West County and has lived in Ballwin for most of her adult life with her husband, Ray, and their three children. In talking about her childhood, Wagner mentions working at her dad’s carpet store in Manchester from the age of about 12 or 13. She attended Cor Jesu Academy and graduated from the University of Missouri. She then worked at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City and Ralston Purina in St. Louis.
Her career in public service began as a committeewoman in the Lafayette Township. She chaired the Missouri Republican Party – perhaps her best-known role – and co-chaired the Republican National Committee under George W. Bush.
What voters may not know is that Wagner also was the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg from 2005-2009.
“The president asked me to go. He was looking for good communicators who had families and were willing to promote U.S. interests abroad during a time when it was difficult,” she said. “We were prosecuting two wars, and it was a difficult time in Western Europe.”
As Ambassador, Wagner not only represented U.S. interests to the local government, she also supported U.S. commerce and trade, and visited small towns and villages.
“We liberated Luxembourg twice during WWII. The second time was during the Battle of the Bulge,” Wagner said, noting the historical connection between the countries.
Because of this history, Wagner said the locals were very welcoming to Americans.
Her four years representing the U.S. in Europe left her with “two huge, big takeaways.”
“We all grew, and I most certainly, in my love and respect and appreciation for the United States of America, the values that we share in our government, in our constitutional republic,” Wagner said. “Also, I grew in a sense of how globally connected we are as a world.”
Those who have watched Wagner’s public career as a champion of the GOP might be surprised to learn that she has never run for office.
“I’ve been involved in the private sector in politics and public service for the better part of my life, but it’s the first time I’ve ever put my name on a yard sign,” said Wagner.
She said her reasons for seeking a seat in Congress run deep.
“This is a district that’s very personal to me. It’s home. It’s where I was born and raised. I’m the daughter and granddaughter of small business entrepreneurs here in the second district. I’ve raised my own family. I’ve worked in the community, both in business and politics and serving the community – and care deeply about what I consider to be the economic engine of our state.
“The new second district has moved back into the St. Louis County metro area in such a large way. It needs a good, strong, pro job creation, fiscal responsibility advocate in Congress and that’s what I want to be. I decided after so many years to run because I’ve got three kids – one just got out of college, one who will graduate this year and a daughter who will head off to college next year – and I really think our government is mortgaging their future,” Wagner said.
Koenen grew up in St. Louis and St. Charles counties. He graduated from Duchesne High School in St. Charles, earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Louis University and his master’s from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He has worked at a number of nonprofits, including the Archdiocese of Belleville, Metroplex and the Joint Neighborhood Ministry. For 17 year, he was the executive director of Circle Of Concern, a West County food pantry. He retired from that position earlier this year.
He and his wife, Peggy, live in Oakville and have a daughter who resides in St. Charles County.
Koenen’s years at the food pantry have clearly informed his political views. He said he saw firsthand how a lack of health insurance impacts the poor.
“(For) most of the them, what happened is they didn’t buy the health care they needed because they couldn’t afford it,” he said.
He noted “a little thing like when kids get immunizations.”
“Your immunization record is probably the only health record your parents get to keep on you,” he said. “And so they might not get all the shots – but once they learn what they have to put on the form, they have the paperwork to turn into school – but the kids really aren’t immunized.”
He said while “the poorest of the poor get Medicaid and the rich get insurance,” he worries most about people in the middle working in lower paying jobs whose employers don’t provide health insurance.
“They’re the ones that are most vulnerable,” Koenen said.
Koenen said he’s running for Congress, because he’s not happy with “all the things going on in Washington – the lack of civility, the lack of the ability to get basic things done like pass a budget and do things that need to get done like moving forward to get jobs going and protect Social Security.”
He believes his experience at nonprofits will serve him well.
“I’m good at bringing people together. I’m good at leading groups, and I think I’d be good at representing this district. I’ve lived in this area my entire life. I understand it from the business side, from the family side and from the social side – all the things that have to be done and should be done,” he said.
Koenen said working at Circle has shown him “how well people can work together on core issues, things like fighting hunger and poverty and trying to help families, no matter what their political background.”
Job creation is Wagner’s top issue.
“It’s a concern in terms of uncertainty – uncertainty in health care costs, uncertainty in energy costs, taxes,” she said. “Then, probably a sea of overregulation that job creators are facing right now in an unprecedented way. I’m deeply concerned with the debt – as I said, I think it’s mortgaging our children’s future – and spending that has gone just completely out of control.”
Another priority for Wagner is overturning the Affordable Care Act.
“You’ve got a government right now that is trying to control one-sixth of our economy through health care and Obamacare, which is one of my key issues in terms of wanting to repeal or replace it with free-market solutions,” said Wagner.
In stark contrast, Koenen called the Affordable Care Act “a good way to start expanding the pool so everybody has access to health care.”
But Koenen said his biggest issue is Social Security.
“We talk about cutting back on Social Security to save money and so on,” he said. “But that means a lot of seniors who are maybe just below the poverty line or just at the poverty line now, if there are cuts in Social Security, their situation is going to be much, much worse.”
Koenen cited statistics showing that a significant number of retirees has no savings and depends on Social Security to live.
“If people can’t afford to retire, they’re going to try and stay in the workforce,” said Koenen. “That means the younger people who need jobs are being blocked, especially in the lower paying jobs, by people who have to work to pay for their prescriptions and keep a roof over their heads because Social Security won’t allow them a comfortable retirement.”
The role of government
Koenen believes that the current government “is close to the size we probably need,” while Wagner advocates for more limited federal power.
“Government is there to protect people from the worst of the world,” said Koenen. “In other words, we have to have a military to protect our borders. We have to have a safety net, so when people run into trouble they’re not going to fall through the cracks. You have to make sure that if you’re running a business in Ballwin, you’re going to be on a level playing field with somebody running a business in New Jersey. We have to make sure that you have a chance to succeed and you’re going to be treated fairly.”
Koenen acknowledged that “the role of government is, unfortunately, large, but the trick is to make it efficient.”
Wagner said the role of the federal government is “to be limited and less, returning as much power and control to local governments and state governments as possible.”
“I am very concerned with what I see as true government overreach and a shifting of the role of government away from an ownership society to an entitlement society. That is not the America that I grew up in,” she said.
Wagner said she will “bring strong, effective, conservative leadership to Washington, D.C., and will represent families.
She added that because she grew up in West County and has “lived in Ballwin for the better part of my life, I think I’m in touch with the values and the issues that are most on (people’s) minds.”
Koenen said his career in nonprofits has prepared him for a job in government.
“I understand the needs of families, and I will put in a full day’s work and use common sense to get things done …. All my life has been spent helping people. This is just an extension of what I’ve done at Circle … to help families,” Koenen said.