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Vern Buchanan: after a controversial election, our new Congressman looks forward.

Even by Washington standards, it's been a rough road to Capitol Hill for Congressman Vern Buchanan. He battled through a nasty primary and spent $8 million on the general election (more than any Congressional candidate), only to have the results questioned after Sarasota voting machines had an unusually high 13 percent undervote, giving him the seat over Christine Jennings by a mere 369 votes. On the day we met with Buchanan, he was dogged by anti-war protesters upset with his vote to increase troops, and state officials were still examining the election machines. But Buchanan seemed unfazed.

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You're getting ready to make your first speech in Congress. What's going through your mind? You feel part of history and humbled at the same time. I'm still one of those people who believe--maybe I'm naive--that one person can make a difference.

Christine Jennings has said she's getting ready for the next election. Are you? We are, but it's not our priority. Our priority is constituency service. We'll start gearing up more later in the year.

When will our soldiers be coming home from Iraq? I hope soon. We have to make sure that when we pull our troops out, there's stability in that region. As I told the protesters, I wasn't there, I didn't vote on it. I think it's like a bad business deal--it hasn't worked out. We brought in a new general, and we've got to give this one last shot. We need to see some progress in the next three to six months.

What's most important for you to accomplish in Congress? The first bill I sponsored myself was a balanced budget. In a matter of five years we can phase it in. The budget last year was $2.7 trillion; this year it's $2.9 trillion. We grew at about 12 percent in revenues and we still can't pay our bills? It's time we don't spend more than we take in.

Do you support paper backup on the election machines? I think anything that gives more confidence. At the same time we need to be careful. Forty percent of the country has electronic voting, and we have to be sure that when we have another close election, we don't throw that all out.

Do you have a mentor? I have a lot of them. Adam Putnam [Republican Congressman from Bartow] has been very helpful. He's way beyond his years in wisdom and he's got great leadership skills.

How does Sandy like being the wife of a Congressman? She's been incredibly helpful. I wasn't expecting to spend so much time in Washington, but there's this feeling that if you're not there, you're not working. My wife travels with me most of the time. We bought a house a block from the Capitol and she's redoing that. She's gotten active in a couple of groups--an international group she got asked to join with Senators' wives and Congressmens' wives, kind of a support group. They had tea with the First Lady the other day.
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Title Annotation:HOT SEAT
Author:Hackett, Kim
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:505
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