By Chris Manson
This is the first in a series of profiles on the candidates running for Matt Gaetz’s seat in Florida’s 1st Congressional District. Phil Ehr, a retired U.S. Navy Commander and former Republican, has his eye on the Democratic nomination. The primary election is August 28.
Beachcomber hopes to feature the other qualified candidates in upcoming issues, including the incumbent. You folks know how to reach us.
The first thing I notice when I visit EHRforCONGRESS.com is that Phil Ehr calls himself “a sensible Democrat.” I ask him about it when we meet at Bishops Coffee and Tea in Mary Esther for a friendly chat and, of course, coffee.
“I’m a Democrat, I’m a new Democrat, and I’m sensible,” Mr. Ehr explains. “Those things go together.” He adds that the label is intended to reach out not only to Democrats, but Republicans and Independents as well. “I just switched from Republican last year. Nobody needs to be afraid of me.”
The move to the other side was triggered by President Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz and what Mr. Ehr calls “that whole sickness we have as a country. In the military, we didn’t play politics, but we knew how to take political guidance and turn it into practical solutions. Military people are not driven by the radical ideology we see driving Gaetz.”
Mr. Ehr, who served in the U.S. Navy for 26 years, is running for Rep. Gaetz’ seat “to fight for the people of Northwest Florida and to reduce the chaos in Washington, D.C.” The candidate’s priorities include:
Good Paying Jobs. “We’re blessed here with the two economic engines of beach tourism and the military,” says Mr. Ehr. “Working with small business, the growing military produces good paying jobs. Beach tourism is amazing for us. It feeds our senses and love of recreation. But the jobs it produces are contingent and generally low paying. The federal government can influence growth in ways that are good for everything.”
Affordable Healthcare. “Everyone in America, especially our veterans, deserves quality healthcare they can afford. Our country has gone from what’s perceived to be a ‘leftist’ Affordable Health Care Act—although it came from the Heritage Foundation—to the conservative chant of ‘repeal and replace,’ which failed.
“I would like to see Congress immediately tackle major legislation in the way that you and I were taught it should be done—open hearings in Congress and no back room deals. Sometimes process is substance. Gaetz is right on board with all this reckless behavior. In this effort, I would want to see ACA principles on the table, Universal Health Care options on the table, and a good debate.”
As a military veteran, Mr. Ehr has benefited from TriCare, a single-payer system. “But it’s eroding because, as a nation, we haven’t come to sustainable economics. We have to sustain Social Security and Medicare, too. Our aging population demands it and can afford it. It’s immoral to saddle our children and grandchildren with the debt our Republican government has given us.”
Mr. Ehr and his wife Sue have two daughters of their own. They are currently in their 20s and “making their way in the world.” Mr. Ehr lives in Pensacola, where he first served as a Petty Officer in the United States Navy. After receiving his commission in Officer Candidates School, he earned his wings in Pensacola’s “Cradle of Aviation.”
“I’ve been voting here since 1984,” he says. “My professional roots are here.”
The Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm (among others) veteran has some choice words for the incumbent when it comes to an issue that hits home with Emerald Coast residents. “Matt Gaetz claims to be against offshore drilling. I find his position disingenuous at best,” says Mr. Ehr.
“If he was serious, he would demand a moratorium on further drilling off the Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. And pushing for clean energy—solar and wind. Instead, he’s all about building a trench in Navarre. This sends a bad signal about our community’s commitment to military activities and small businesses.”
Mr. Ehr says he has a path to victory because of Gaetz’s unpopularity. “Democrats are energized,” he says. “Independents lean Democrat, and clear-thinking Republicans recognize qualities in me that will represent us all.
“I know how to represent people and solve problems.”