BROOKSVILLE — U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite has a primary opponent for next year's election who appears poised to come at the four-term Republican incumbent from a side she is not used to defending — the right.
Jason Sager, a 35-year-old unemployed audio-visual engineer from Brooksville, filed Tuesday to run for the 5th District seat Brown-Waite has held since 2002.
Sager says he's in the race to stand for conservatives concerned about a government that has strayed from the principles of the founding fathers and bothered by Brown-Waite's record on issues such as immigration and fiscal prudence.
"Instead of a government controlled by the rule of law, we have a government controlled by the whims of men and that's never what the Constitution of the United States was designed to do," he said.
"Republicans were in charge of Congress between 2000 and 2006 and also had a Republican executive, and none of the issues that concerned us most were addressed," he said.
Brown-Waite sounded unconcerned about the challenge on Wednesday.
"This guy is unemployed and he's looking for a job, but he's never going to get this one," she said in an e-mailed response to questions from the St. Petersburg Times.
A Clearwater native, Sager moved to Hernando County in the third grade and graduated from Hernando High in 1992. His father worked as a human resources manager, his mother in administration for Spring Hill Regional Hospital.
Sager spent four years in the Navy and attended some college classes. His wife, Stephanie, a Hernando High alumna, is music director for Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville. They have a 4-year-old son.
Sager says he lost his job in December after his employer, an audio-visual firm in Clearwater, declared bankruptcy and closed. That, he says, motivated him to rekindle the flame that grew in him after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Sager and his wife lived in New York City at the time and he says the attacks prompted him to become a political activist for conservatives in the city.
Sager recently founded Department of Constitutional Protection Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that aims to educate the electorate on the Constitution. "What it means to be American and what American character is all about," he said.
That nonpartisan mission spawned his desire to make a partisan bid for office, he said.
"I felt it was my duty to stand up as a leader and take it to the next level," he said. "I have a lot of respect for our current congresswoman. I just disagree with her voting record. I feel people are looking for a fresh face and a loud voice to represent them in Congress."
Sager questioned Brown-Waite's support of the Cash for Clunkers program and the GIVE Act that encouraged volunteerism but was criticized by a few members of Congress as a pricey measure that could lead to forced service.
He wonders why she supports bills to bolster Amtrak despite the rail company's failure to thrive. And he got worried when Brown-Waite, an Albany, N.Y. native, traveled to upstate New York to campaign for Dede Scozzafava.
Scozzafava ran afoul of her GOP base — including Sarah Palin — for supporting gay rights and abortion rights and was criticized as being soft on fiscal issues. She later dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat, Bill Owens, who wound up winning the seat over a state Conservative Party candidate.
Brown-Waite, 66, did not respond on those specific issues in an e-mailed reply to a request for comment Wednesday. But she questioned Sager's motives for starting the constitutional protection group, hinting that she considered it a guise for his bid for office.
"Unfortunately, when he was starting this group, he misled people as to his real intentions, and people are starting to see through it," Brown-Waite said.
In an interview last week, Brown-Waite said Scozzafava was being unfairly attacked and had a solid Republican record.
In 2008, Brown-Waite had a brush with a primary candidate who tried to come at her from the ultraconservative side of the political spectrum but didn't get far enough to find out if that strategy could work.
Land O'Lakes Republican Jim King criticized her record on energy policy and what he considered her late support for the Fair Tax plan to replace the national income tax system with a national sales tax. But King dropped out of the race after the St. Petersburg Times revealed he had made inaccurate claims about his medical credentials and his time in Afghanistan in 2001, among other damaging information.
In the fall of 2008, Brown-Waite twice voted against bills that bailed out the financial industry, citing deficit concerns.
Brown-Waite is popular with many of the 5th District's large number of veterans and has won handily against Democrats in general elections. The district extends from Levy County in the north to part of Polk County in the south and includes sections of Pasco County.
The 2010 race has drawn two Democratic challengers.
Jim Piccillo of Lutz is a 35-year-old small business consultant and a former Republican who bills himself as a fiscally conservative Democrat and gun rights advocate.
Perennial candidate H. David Werder, a 54-year-old disabled former truck driver from Spring Hill who has garnered few votes in past Democratic primaries, also has filed.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.