Concrete magnate won't spend his cash for Weller's seat

  • Marty Ozinga

    Marty Ozinga

Published: 4/30/2008 10:06 AM

Millionaire concrete company owner Marty Ozinga doesn't plan to dig too deep into his own pocket to win a seat in Congress.

The Republican hopeful says he doesn't believe in self-funding like some other wealthy candidates. Instead, he says he's counting on robust financial backing from the community to fuel his bid to replace exiting Rep. Jerry Weller.

"I know when my name first surfaced I started seeing some articles about the Republicans found another self-funder. They didn't. That's not me," he told The Associated Press Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The 58-year-old Ozinga has emerged as the top choice of local Republicans who are expected to meet Wednesday to officially pick a candidate for the November ballot in the 11th Congressional District, which meanders from the suburban sprawl south of Chicago to the farmland of central Illinois.

Republicans have the spot to fill because Weller is stepping down amid ethics questions after seven terms and the GOP primary winner dropped out.

The closely watched race is a key contest for Republicans who have already lost another open seat in Illinois. In former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert's old district, a wealthy Democrat beat a self-funded Republican businessman in a March special election to fill the remainder of Hastert's term until January.

Weller's is one of two open GOP seats. The other is U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood's in Peoria. LaHood is leaving to spend more time with his family.

Elections aren't cheap, especially in an expensive television market like Chicago, but Ozinga said he is philosophically opposed to footing the bill himself, calling it bad strategy because campaigns thrive on a broad base of support.

Ozinga said he was willing to put in a "small amount of seed money" to get the campaign up and running, but he won't divulge the total amount he's willing to spend.

"I do not plan to spend any significant amount of money, probably not even close to $350,000," said Ozinga, president of Mokena-based Ozinga Bros., a family business that has been around for 80 years and has more than 1,000 employees.

In House races, $350,000 is a personal spending threshold that may let other candidates in the race raise more money.

Ozinga said he plans to announce initial fundraising numbers Wednesday. He has a campaign kickoff planned at a Mokena restaurant after local Republican leaders formally choose a ballot replacement.

Ozinga would face well-known Democratic state Sen. Debbie Halvorson and Green Party newcomer Jason Wallace in the fall.

"Voters have so many unanswered questions about Mr. Ozinga, his positions on the issues and his business practices," Halvorson campaign manager Brian Doory said in a statement.

A religious man and self-described "conservative person," Ozinga said he's influenced by his faith. He calls himself a "strong pro-life person."

"My life, both in work and in community and in my family, is all based on a simple philosophical foundation that I exist first of all to honor and glorify God and then secondly to serve the crown of his creation which is our fellow man," Ozinga said.

Ozinga said life is about service and that's what this run for office is about.

But it's not his first shot. He interviewed, but wasn't picked, four years ago for a chance to be the replacement Republican candidate in the Senate race that ultimately sent Democrat Barack Obama to Washington.

On the issues, Ozinga said he opposes raising taxes and supports President Bush's tax cuts. With motorists besieged by skyrocketing gasoline prices, Ozinga said the country needs to work hard at promoting the research and development of alternative energy sources, everything from nuclear power to clean coal technology.

He calls the Iraq war "a frustration and a disappointment that we've been there for so long." He said there needs to be timelines for the Iraqi government to show improvement, but not timetables for what the American military does in that country.

"I would bring the troops home when we win, meaning when we accomplish our ... goals," Ozinga said, adding he would rely on the advice of military commanders there.

With Illinois Republicans already down Hastert's seat, Ozinga said he isn't feeling any extra pressure, although he's confident he can keep Weller's seat in GOP hands.

"Obviously, I wouldn't get into this unless I expected to win," he said.