Aljanich hopes his anti-terrorism experience will give him the edge
Editor’s note: The Post Independent completes five days of profiles of the candidates competing in the Aug. 10 Republican primary in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District race. The candidates include Greg Walcher, Matt Smith, Gregg Rippy, Dan Corsentino and Matt Aljanich. The winner will face Democratic candidate John Salazar in November. Salazar is unopposed in the August primary.By Dennis WebbGSPI News EditorMost years, a little-known political newcomer might stand little chance of winning in a highly competitive race for Congress.But this year, when that newcomer is a veteran combat pilot with anti-terrorism experience inside the Pentagon, those chances may be greatly improved.Matt Aljanich of Steamboat Springs thinks that, with the nation at war against terrorists, his extensive military background gives him an edge against the more traditional candidates in the August Republican primary. “I’m here because I’ve been working on these things, and I understand how critical it is that we meet this threat,” Aljanich said. “I am running because in particular the terrorist threat to the country right now is the biggest challenge we will ever face. The terrorists are systematic in their approach, and they will not stop,” he said.If American loses the war on terrorism, nothing else matters, Aljanich said. “Nobody should have a learning curve when they show up in Washington, and if they’re going to be working on these issues they’d better understand them very well.” As a current Naval Reserve pilot he believes he would bring an important perspective to Congress. “I think it’s important that we have that perspective because we (military reserves) are being asked to do so much more than we have in the past,” Aljanich said. While all five primary candidates have spoken at length about the war on terrorism, only Aljanich and Dan Corsentino of Pueblo have made it a central issue of their campaign. “I’m not running to be a commander in the Navy, I’m running for Congress,” counters Greg Walcher of Palisade. Corsentino claims to have the most experience in the war on terrorism, through his work with the National Sheriffs Association in helping to safeguard the country. But Aljanich said his experience gives him a very direct knowledge of the war on terrorism. He became an anti-terrorism/force protection officer at the Pentagon after the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, and has above-top-secret clearances, and a familiarity with the terrorism organizations targeting the United States, he said.It’s personalHaving flown missions in the first Gulf War, he’s also the only candidate in the Republican primary race with combat experience. And the war may be as personal for him as any of them, on several levels.When a plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, it struck Aljanich’s unit, killing 42 sailors with whom he worked.Aljanich was in Chicago that day. He’s also a commercial pilot with United, which was targeted by the 9/11 hijackers. He had flown the same routes being flown by some of the hijacked planes. He knew Jason Dahl, a United pilot who was killed.As with the other Republican candidates, Aljanich supports President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq. But he sees that war as more of a continuation of the first one in which he served. After the first war supposedly had ended, pilots continued combat patrols, skirmishes continued in no-fly zones, and Saddam Hussein continued to thumb his nose at United Nations weapons inspectors.”The war never ended. Containment was a failed policy that would not work long term,” he said.Saddam was a destabilizing force in the region, not to mention someone who slaughtered his own people at home, Aljanich said. “The world is certainly better off without him.”He believes ousting Saddam was a step toward a more peaceful Middle East.At the same time, Aljanich sees a need for the United States to wean itself off Middle East oil, which he said only generates more oil revenues that support terrorists.”The less money we provide to the Middle East, the less the terrorists have to spend against us,” he said.”The faster we can become energy-independent, the more our national security interests will be protected.”The United States is spending $200 billion to secure a more stable Middle East. It would make sense to make that same kind of investment in domestic-energy research and development, he said.”Think of $200 billion being spent in the western part of the United States,” Aljanich said.He said the United States is fortunate to have the resources it does. It’s also lucky to be wealthy enough to be able to develop them in a way that can protect the environment as well, he said.With the newly issued report of the 9/11 Commission, Aljanich said Congress should have skipped its summer break and gotten to work adopting the commission’s recommendations for fighting terrorism. He said members of Congress were wrong to go home even as consideration was being given to postponing the November election due to fear of a terrorism attack.”They need to stay there and do the things that this report recommended that they do,” he said.The government is currently not set up to adequately repel terrorism attacks, he said.”The bureacracies that are in place were designed for a different threat,” he said.A health care expertAljanich feels justified in running for office and focusing on the terrorism issue after his campaign conducted a poll of district voters that found the war on terrorism and health care costs to be their two top concerns.”We thought that that was pretty compelling,” he said.He believes he’s eminently qualified to address health care issues as well as terrorism. He cofounded a health care software company that shares information on the credentials of medical personnel. Going beyond commercial applications, the company helped set standards in 2002 bioterrorism legislation for the credentialing of first responders, he said.Aljanich said reform is needed in Medicare and Medicaid, or the programs will bankrupt the country. He also supports fair caps on awards for malpractice, to help keep overall health care costs down.Health care savings accounts should be expanded, “so that people take some control of their own health care,” he said.He believes bureacracy should be streamlined, and technology such as the kind his company has ushered in should be used to bring health care into the 21st century.Aljanich’s military background also makes him empathetic of the needs and concerns of 3rd District veterans, from health care to education and economic opportunity. He said veteran benefits have eroded greatly since the days of the generous G.I. Bill passed after World War II. Perhaps not coincidentally, Congress went from having many veterans in its ranks, to having few, between World War II and now.Aljanich said he’s been speaking with 3rd District veterans unable to find jobs. He’d like to see improved education benefits for them. He also supports the efforts of retiring U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis to improve access by veterans to local health care in rural areas, so they don’t have to travel to far-off veterans hospitals. “For GIs who have put their lives on the line, we owe them that much at least,” he said.’A fighting conservative’Aljanich describes himself as a “fighting conservative.” He vows to defend Second Amendment rights. His position on abortion is to “protect the sanctity of human life.”He also supports making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent.But with the nation spending about $550 billion this year on national defense, and an almost equal amount on health care, these are his chief concerns, he said.”We need people in Washington who understand these issues, due to their scope and size.”His challenge is to convince voters he’s one of those people, despite being not only an acknowledged outsider in the primary, but also a late-comer in the race.In fact, Aljanich said, he began exploring a potential run for Congress at the start of the year. But when McInnis gave signs he might leave office early, Aljanich decided to wait to see if that happened. Had McInnis stepped down and someone been appointed to his seat, that person would have had a big advantage in the election, Aljanich said.When McInnis stayed put, Aljanich saw the race as being more wide open. He said his polling showed name recognition to be low for all the candidates, even though some are spending much more than he.He’s raised almost $70,000, compared to $300,000 raised by Greg Walcher, who leads the five Republican candidates in fund-raising. But Aljanich said more spending by his competitors apparently isn’t buying them much more name recognition. He believes he’s got enough cash on hand to make him competitive between now and the day of the primary.”We’ll have enough money to get the message out when it matters,” he said.He expects it will cost at least $1.5 million for a campaign lasting through November, and Aljanich said he has committed to contributing about 10 percent of that amount out of his own pocket.This, from a Peoria, Ill., native raised by a single mom who loaded up the station wagon for Colorado in 1978 and landed, jobless, in Steamboat Springs.His mother made a career out of teaching, and also made a hobby out of marathon running, back when few women undertook that endeavor. Aljanich, an all-state basketball player in high school who enjoys mountain climbing and like his mom has taken up marathoning, appreciates the example she set for him in life through her leadership and independence.”She’s always been a trendsetter in her own right. … I was very fortunate to have such a strong mother.” Matt AljanichAge: 37Family: Divorced, no children.Place of residence: Steamboat SpringsEducation: Graduate of Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.Experience: F-14 Navy fighter pilot who flew combat missions in first Gulf War. Received Air Medal, three Navy Commendation Medals with Combat “V” distinction. Became instructor in Navy, transferred to Navy Reserve in 1996, and joined United Airlines as pilot. Has worked on anti-terrorism at the Pentagon. Cofounded health care software company in 2000.More info: http://www.mattaljanichforcongress.com.
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