Getting to Know Candidate Mark Bircher (R)

A legitimate Republican competitor for the District 13 Congressional seat.

The Florida primary is just twelve days away, and one of the more interesting races will be for the District 13 Congressional seat, currently occupied by Republican David Jolly who won the office in a special election in 2014.  This year, Pinellas Republicans will be asked to choose between Jolly and retired Marine Corps Reserve Brigadier General Mark Bircher.  The winner will face former Florida Governor Charlie Crist (D) who switched parties and lost a senate bid to Marco Rubio in 2010 and a return to the governorship in 2014, losing to incumbent Governor Rick Scott.

Bircher is a Florida native son, and has served with distinction as a Marine aviator and commander.  He is a graduate of the Naval Academy and has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terror.  His awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and Bronze Star.  Mark left active duty and became an international commercial airline pilot in 1988.  He retired from military service in 2009.  He is also a member of the Florida Bar.

I recently sat down with the candidate to discuss the upcoming primary.  I was struck by his knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and strong sense of American history which led to some rather lively sidebar discussions I enjoyed.  I quickly realized even though he wasn’t a career politician, this was an intelligent man who can articulate his ideas and was passionate about his community and country.

I began by asking him about his Republican rival, David Jolly, who many in the party are conceding the race to.  Bircher reminded me he only entered the race when Jolly announced he would not seek reelection to his House seat as he had no intention of running against an incumbent.  Jolly was originally running for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat, but when Rubio announced he would run again, Jolly registered to run again for District 13 congressman just a couple of days before the required date.  For months prior to this, Bircher was the lone Republican running for the office which was supported by the Pinellas Republican party, but with Jolly back in the race, some in the party leadership supported only Jolly.

As to Jolly’s campaign, Bircher said he thought their strategy was to compete against former Governor Charlie Crist, which explains Jolly’svoting record appealing to both sides of the aisle.  Bircher said, “Perhaps the only problem is that David didn’t count on me, a true conservative, staying in the primary race.”

One of Jolly’s biggest liabilities is his endorsement, or lack thereof, of GOP candidate Donald Trump.  This is going to hurt Jolly as Pinellas County is a Trump stronghold.  In contrast, Bircher supports Trump, going so far as to say, “Trump gets it” when it comes to understanding business and encouraging companies not to go offshore.  As such, he recognizes Mr. Trump as a confirmed capitalist and Mrs. Clinton as a socialist.

He doesn’t 100% agree with everything Mr. Trump proposes, but Bircher is a team player and sees the bigger picture, saying, “Trump will get us to where we need to go much better than Hillary Clinton.”

Bircher is also familiar with Jolly’s stint as a Washington lobbyist, where he donated money to both Republicans and Democrats.  According to an article in “Politifact Florida,” Jolly made donations to Florida Sen. Bill Nelson ($4,500), Rep. Kathy Castor ($3,600) and former Rep. Allen Boyd ($7,500).  Other Democrats from outside of Florida were also given donations, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin ($1,000), the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye ($1,000), Maine Rep. Mike Michaud ($2,250) and former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. ($2,300), who was sentenced to prison for wire and mail fraud.

Bircher observed such contributions were certainly not illegal, but questioned where Jolly’s allegiances resided.  According to Bircher, “There is no money in Washington that is not first taken from the people and states in taxes or debt.  I do not see the benefit of paying a lobbyist to go to Washington to ask for our own money back.  I would rather not send the money to Washington in the first place.”

Bircher is an advocate of limited government.  The country’s $19 trillion debt disturbs him greatly.  He advocates stronger fiscal responsibility, claiming, “We are suffering from a bad case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, meaning we do everything but address the true problem.”

Like Trump, he realizes excessive regulations and government bureaucracy inhibits growth, and would like to see this pared down to unleash local Pinellas business and create meaningful jobs.

In terms of second amendment rights, Bircher supports the right to bear arms, but has a different twist on the types of regulations for gun safety.  “Up to now,” he said, “we have been devising rules for gun ownership and the types of weapons involved.  Criminals are simply not going to follow any of these rules.  I think we should be controlling ‘assault people’ as opposed to ‘assault weapons’.”

More than anything, Bircher would like Pinellas voters to know he believes public service is the bedrock of the country, and it should be an honor to serve as such as opposed to becoming a life time politician.  The idea that the lives of our children will not be as good as our own irks him.  As a father, this was the impetus for him to get involved.

In the end, I was impressed by his sincerity and passion.  During our conversation, I particularly enjoyed our little game of Trivial Pursuit regarding American history and the Constitution.  It is always a pleasure to meet someone who knows what he is talking about.

Keep the Faith!