YORK – Kirk Penner says he is not a career politician – he’s a business owner with real world experience and a drive to get things done for the Third District.
He believes Congressional Third District Representative Adrian Smith is a career politician who needs to be replaced.
And Penner says his decision to run against Smith for the Republican nomination is one he takes very seriously and will take that commitment to Washington should he be ultimately elected.
Penner has emerged as a strong challenger against Smith who has served five two-year terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Penner visited the York News-Times Friday morning, to talk about his intentions as the May 15 Primary nears.
He says he brings to the table the same concerns he’s hearing throughout the Third District, as well as a willingness to actively find solutions.
“I was born in York and I’m told that when I was born I was delivered by Dr. Nordlund,” Penner said.
He was raised in Aurora and is a graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan University.
For the past 25 years, he’s been the vice-president of Penner Patient Care, a distributor of bathing systems to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In 1997, the Penners started from scratch to create Penner Manufacturing and in 2001, launched the Penner brand of bathing systems, a business that has grown from the basement of the house in which he grew up to a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Aurora. They employ 15 people and their products can now be found in 49 states and Canada.
He talked about the early days, starting off with traveling around the country with a trailer full of product models. Those early efforts paid off as the business grew . . . and of course, along with success has come all the challenges as well, which is part of doing business.
He’s just like the rest of the people in the Third District, he says.
“I’m you. I know what’s going on. I pay towards my employees’ insurance. I know what it is like to sweat out a payroll on a Friday. I know what it’s like to comply with regulations. I know what it’s like to pay bills. I know what affects our 15 employees,” Penner said. “I have real world experience. And Adrian Smith is a career politician. There are two totally different people in this race, we couldn’t be more different from each other.”
Penner says he decided more than a year ago he was going to run for Smith’s Congressional seat.
“It comes down to two choices,” Penner says. “You can be an arm chair quarterback or you can jump in and really get something done. Adrian Smith said a few years ago that he wants to be in Washington for a long time and that’s scary. He wants to have a career in Washington and the result is that the constituency becomes secondary. He doesn’t have the same life experience as me or of the rest of us in the Third District.
“I see our representatives going to Washington and not doing anything,” Penner said. “There are just a bunch of promises and then they do the exact opposite. So I thought well, I could complain, or I could do something about it.”
If he’s elected, he is committed to serving a maximum of five two-year terms and no more.
“I’ve said it many times on the record and I mean it, no more than 10 years because no one should be there longer than that,” Penner said. “Term limits will never happen until Washington sees more people like me. I’m not climbing the political ladder – and having fewer people climbing the political ladder is the only way we are going to see change in Washington. And I’m going in knowing Washington is a swamp full of corruption. I will come back and say what’s happening in Washington, why there is gridlock. When you expose the corruption, then you start to get results. Let’s do something about it. If you don’t expose it, you are condoning it. My pledge is to expose Washington for what it is.”
Penner says Smith has spent so much time raising funds, for the political party and in an effort to get reelected, that he has neglected the job at hand. Penner says he “won’t compromise and fundraise on the backs of the Third District.
“My background is like the backgrounds of others in the Third District and it is totally different than what we have in Washington D.C.,” Penner continued. “And that’s why I would work for this district and not play politics.”
It should be noted that Penner and 16 local investors have built a new privately-owned 64-bed nursing facility in Aurora to replace the former county-owned nursing facility that had been bleeding taxpayer dollars. The new Westfield Quality Care of Aurora is now open and in the black, Penner said. This, he said, was a project that not only brought new economic development to their community, but also saved a much needed service and brought in more funds to the tax rolls rather than taking them out.
By being a small business owner in the healthcare field, he says he has a better insight into the reforms needed in health insurance. Over the last year, the costs paid by his own company have increased from $11,000 a month to $23,000 a month – and he says the cause behind this massive jump is due to “Big Pharma” (pharmaceutical lobbyist s in Washington).
“We have to get Big Pharma out of their pockets,” Penner said as a solution to this country’s health insurance/care problems. “And we need to allow small business owners to pool together to bring their insurance costs down. If they could pool together, these different small companies, it could make a big difference in premium costs.”
And he says governmental interference in health care and insurance has been paramount in what’s driven up the costs – “we need to get back to the free market.”
Penner says he recognizes the large amounts of money business owners and ag producers are paying to comply with out-of-control federal regulations . . . he’s done it, too.
He says he’s pleased that some form of tax cuts took place – “but I don’t think they cut deep enough for the middle class. I’m tired of the middle class being an afterthought. I’m all about main street and agriculture. This is the backbone of our district and America.”
He says he also wants to build the Third District through economic development. That is a commitment he says he feels strongly about. “For young people to come back to the district after college, economic opportunities have to exist here, we need to more businesses, have healthy trade for agricultural products grown here.” He says he wants the Third District to benefit from him being in Congress and he “will work hard for the constituency and not waste time trying to figure out how I’m going to retire in Washington, D.C.”
He says he wants more power out of the hands of the federal government and back to states and local communities. He wants to focus on keeping international agricultural trade open and fair for Nebraska’s farmers. “The Third District feeds the world and people need to understand that, not only in this state, but in the world.”
Penner reiterated that he would take an entirely different approach toward business in Washington than Smith.
“We can’t keep sending career politicians to Washington D.C., expecting different results,” Penner said. “We have to change what we are doing. And I would work hard to do just that. I’m you. I get it. And I would actually represent the Third District and do what I am sent there to do.”