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Make room for one more in the already-crowded race to replace eight-term Congressman Jeff Miller. Air Force veteran Steven Specht, 33, has filed to enter the race.

Miller, who announced last month that he would not seek reelection, has represented Florida’s first congressional district since 2001. The district stretches across six counties in Northwest Florida.

“I am running for Congress because I believe I can lead the people of Northwest Florida through intelligent dialogue instead of partisan talking points,” says Specht, a Democrat. “I want to run because I am dismayed by the partisanship that has raged for most of my adult life. I am inspired by the likes of Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Henry Clay, all of whom worked with opponents to accomplish great things, despite conflicts with those from another party.”

Specht is the second Democrat and ninth candidate overall to enter the race, which also includes six Republicans and one non-affiliated candidate. The district leans heavily Republican; a Democrat hasn’t represented the district in more than 20 years and the district hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1960. The Cook Political Report gives the district a Partisan Voting Index of R+22, meaning Republicans have a 22-percentage-point advantage over Democrats, the highest in the state.

However, Specht isn’t discouraged by the odds. “What the Trump and Sanders candidacies have shown us is that people are fed up with the status quo,” he says, referencing the rise of two presidential candidates widely viewed as establishment outsiders. “If people are given the option to vote for an upstart with a good head on his shoulders or a career politician from a political dynasty in November, they are going to pick me.”

Specht also sees his military service as an asset. “While veterans tend to be more conservative, they also tend to value their own, and I am going to meet with as many veterans as I can and hammer that point home as often as I can,” he says. “They may not like the D next to my name, but they will recognize the sacrifices I have made.”

Congressional candidate Steven Specht and his family. (Steven Specht/Special to The Pulse)

Congressional candidate Steven Specht and his family. (Steven Specht/Special to The Pulse)

After graduating from the University of Florida in 2005 with a degree in journalism, Specht enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he became proficient in Pashto and Dari, two languages spoken in Afghanistan. As an airborne cryptologic linguist, Specht says he supported more than 70 combat support missions over Afghanistan, providing intelligence to troops fighting on the ground. After receiving an honorable discharge, Specht stayed in Afghanistan for another year working as a civilian contractor providing linguistic support for the U.S. Marine Corps. In his spare time, Specht says he taught English and basic literacy to Afghan workers while finishing up a master’s degree in International Relations from American Military University.

If elected, Specht hopes to focus on veterans’ issues. “As a veteran, I am concerned with the large number of suicides in our veteran population,” he says. “Reintegration is tough. Jeff Miller recognized that and I want to continue his work.”

Specht also names education and fiscal responsibility as key issues in his campaign.

He lays the blame for the country’s record national debt at the feet of both President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush. “There are merits to limited government and there are merits to big government,” says Specht. “However, no matter what government we have, we need to pay for it. The last two presidents both doubled the national debt while in office, destroying a budget surplus brokered by a Republican Congress and President Bill Clinton. Fifteen years of foolish fiscal policy will saddle my children and my grandchildren with a burden they didn’t earn if we don’t act sooner than later.”

Citing the need to keep American workers competitive in an increasingly global economy, Specht emphasizes the importance of education. “I think we need to focus on a skilled and flexible work force,” he says. “There was a time when a high school or college education was all one needed, but in today’s world, we need to constantly upgrade skills. The days of 30 years, a pension, and a gold watch are probably never coming back, but we can embrace that change with education reforms that keep our workers competitive. Education should start as early as conceivably possible and not stop until the day we die.”

And Specht is walking the talk on lifelong education: not content with two degrees, he is set to graduate with honors next month from the Florida State University College of Law, with a specialization in constitutional and international law. Specht lives in Pensacola with his wife Lauren, an active duty physician assistant in the United States Navy, and their six-month-old son.

For more information, visit stevenspecht.com.

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