July 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm
By Jonathan Mattise, Treasure Coast Newspapers
PORT ST. LUCIE — Democrat Jerry Buechler remembers first developing a taste for politics in junior high in Minnesota. The Vietnam War was heating up and he had joined his school’s debate program.
More important — he heard the military was drafting soldiers in alphabetical order, and the letter “B” tends to come pretty quickly.
Luckily for him, the government switched to a lottery system the year he became eligible.
Buechler, a 60-year-old Port St. Lucie resident and former firefighter, has jumped in the ring of a multimillion-dollar congressional District 18 race because he’s tired of seeing money dictating elections and policy. He’s sick of the attack ads and lack of substantial, useful civil discussions on issues.
He’d go as far as setting up taxpayer-funded free TV airtime so all candidates can weigh in on issues.
“The people can fund democracy, or we can let corporations fund democracy,” Buechler said. “You can call it a ‘people-funding-democracy’ fee.”
Whatever the solution may be, he thinks the process needs to be more fair for the common man to have a chance. He said congressmen and candidates are too dependent on the groups and people fueling their campaigns, and that reflects the way they operate in office.
“People keep caving to the special interests that fund their campaigns, so we have what’s called a plutocracy, where we’re ruled by the wealthy,” Buechler said.
But Buechler’s views go well beyond simple frustration with the electoral process.
He thinks global warming could be the one issue that unites the whole planet and embracing electric cars would be a big step in the right direction. He wants Medicare to be available at 55 years old. He’s a fan of the DREAM Act that helps certain young illegal immigrants attain citizenship and he favors employers checking all of their employees’ legal-worker status.
He’s against a federal balanced budget amendment because he fears officials will balance it on the backs of the poor, uninsured, elderly, children and public workers.
Buechler is funding his campaign through $20,000 of his own money. He tried sending out 1,000 mailers asking for donations, but that’s only proven to break even. He said the firefighters, construction workers and laborers who would be his donors are largely out of work or haven’t seen a pay raise in years.
In his first shot at political office, he said he quickly got a lesson in how campaigns succeed.
“I learned you have to start very early and develop a lot of grass roots connections, or you have to have a lot of money,” Buechler said.
Buechler grew up in a Republican family and bucked the trend early on with his Democratic views.
He was born in South Dakota, and his family moved to southeastern Minnesota when he was in fifth grade.
He studied political science, education and psychology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. After trying his hand at an actuarial assistant job, he started a construction and remodeling company in Minnesota. He also worked for a biotech company. But none of those gigs suited him as well as being a firefighter.
Buechler got interested in firefighting while living across from a fire station in Miami Beach, where he moved in 1979. He earned his paramedic license from Miami Dade College, and joined the city of Miami Beach as a firefighter/paramedic in 1984.
Buechler spent more than 26 years with the city, and tacked on additional responsibility by heading the Florida Firefighters Insurance Trust Fund for 16 years.
He first bought property in St. Lucie County in 2004, and moved to Port St. Lucie permanently three years ago. Buechler, who is divorced, has a 24-year-old son in Palm Beach County and a 19-year-old son studying computer science engineering at the University of Central Florida.
Buechler told local Democrats in October he planned to jump in the race if no one local volunteered. He collected his signatures and officially entered the field in February.
‘CORPORATIONS’ WORST ENEMY’
Buechler stayed in the back of the room, listening to fellow District 18 candidate U.S. Rep. Allen West. The Republican congressman dug into President Obama, laid out small-government priorities, cautioned against tax increases on the wealthy and stirred up an excitable Port St. Lucie Civic Center crowd. The April appearance was the outspoken figure’s first town hall in the area.
With nowhere near the bombastic charisma, Buechler rattled off stats and proposals in full form following the event. West and Buechler told two very different stories, and in very different ways.
“We’ve let the wealthy become so wealthy in this country that it’s destroying the economy,” Buechler said.
Buechler stressed that companies and the wealthy should pay their fair share and not receive big tax breaks. He’s not a huge fan of keeping the Bush tax cuts for top earners in place, either.
“I’ll probably, in a way, be corporations’ worst enemy,” Buechler said.
In his view, the experience Buechler obtained working on the Florida Firefighters Insurance Trust Fund could be an important asset in Congress. The trust fund is responsible for benefits plans of several South Florida fire rescue outfits.
Buechler thinks Americans would be better served if Medicare would negotiate prescriptions drug prices with pharmaceutical companies like other countries with universal health care. He thinks all types of cheaper treatment should be explored — herbs, compounding pharmacies, homeopathic, interventional radiology, treatment of cancer with low dose chemotherapy, raw organic sprout treatments for cancer and more.
He wants to see more seven-day-a-week community health clinics and thinks having a single payer system with one form, one set of deductible and co-pays for everyone would eliminate billions of dollars in costs.
BIG MONEY RACE
Like his fellow local Democrat Jim Horn, Buechler hasn’t gotten much love or attention from Treasure Coast Democratic figures.
The national party is funneling money into Broward County transplant Patrick Murphy’s campaign. The Democrat who just moved to Jupiter is starting to rack up endorsements from sitting congressmen, such as Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, and already has millions in his account.
But if he gets into office, Buechler plans to give back 20 percent of his congressional salary to Treasure Coast charities. The job pays about $174,000 a year.
He’ll also try his best to sort out campaign finance rules that, in his view, let big donors puppeteer candidates in races like the one he’s in.
“Rather than just a name and a personality and a (political action committee) telling a bunch of lies about an opposing candidate, I think we need to bring people closer to what they need to know about the issues,” Buechler said.