Grass-roots newcomer Hans Lessmann takes on U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle

Congressman and GOP's Lessman opposites on almost all issues

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An optometrist with his own practice, Republican Hans Lessmann said he would take a knowledge of health care and small business to Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said he's delivered many economic opportunities to Pittsburgh over the past 18 years and isn't finished yet.

The 14th District congressional race is a classic contest between Washington insider and grass-roots outsider, between entrenched incumbent and political neophyte. The candidates agree on the need to grow the energy sector of the local economy, but they're otherwise as different as political rivals can be.

Mr. Lessmann, 52, of Forest Hills, who had only about $14,000 in campaign funds as of June 30, hopes to strike a chord with voters unhappy with the Obama administration. He opposes the president's health-care plan, which Mr. Doyle helped to craft, partly because he believes it would dramatically increase the number of people seeking care without increasing the number of physicians providing it.

"Good luck getting an appointment," said Mr. Lessmann, former president of the local Society for the Education of Physicians and Patients, a group established during the Clinton health-care campaign in the 1990s.

Mr. Lessmann wants to eliminate health care as a job-related benefit and give residents refundable income-tax credits that they would use to design their own health-care plans, much as motorists can design auto insurance policies. He said health care for the indigent should be provided in a manner similar to food stamps, giving poor people, too, the opportunity to make health-care choices.

At the same time, Mr. Lessmann said, he is open to a flat income tax, or to ending the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. By his reckoning, under that system, collection would be more efficient, and the need for the Internal Revenue Service would diminish.

Mr. Lessmann's mantra for the Nov. 6 election is Jobs, Energy, Tax Reform. As a small-business owner whose work as an optometrist is geared to helping children with eye-related learning problems, he said he understands the diversity of needs in the district.

Though Pittsburgh has weathered the recession better than other cities, Mr. Lessmann said it's a far cry from its days as a corporate center. By some measures, including the number of younger residents, he said, the city has stagnated during Mr. Doyle's tenure.

"I feel like a young person walking around Pittsburgh. I'm 52," Mr. Lessmann said.

Mr. Doyle, 59, of Forest Hills, a one-time insurance broker elected in 1994, has better name recognition than Mr. Lessmann. He also has a financial advantage, with $293,000 in campaign cash on hand June 30.

But if there's an anti-Obama backlash, Mr. Doyle, an ally of the president, likely will feel it.

Mr. Doyle helped to fashion the abortion compromise in Mr. Obama's health-care plan. He has said the plan will have little effect on most consumers but will extend needed protection to the uninsured and underemployed.

He also voted for the controversial economic stimulus package, the advantages of which, he said, included needed investments in bridges and other infrastructure.

"My focus has always been on opportunities for Pittsburgh," said Mr. Doyle, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose local projects include establishing a green energy business center at the former Connelley school building in the Lower Hill District.

Mr. Doyle has touted his record of funneling federal money for research at local universities and federal contracts for high-tech firms. He's also helped to provide technology transfer opportunities to local manufacturers struggling to remain competitive in the global economy.

electionsmunicipal

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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