Thursday, Jun 30, 2016
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Politics

'Joe the Plumber' moves to electronics

Mr. Wurzelbacher, 34, appears in an online video for the Toledo company VelocityStore.com reminding people that they need to convert their old analog TVs to digital by Feb. 17.

And they can apply for a $40 coupon from the federal government to buy converter boxes - up to two per family.

"This isn't about politics; it's about doing the right thing," Mr. Wurzelbacher says in the video.

The video sounds like a public service announcement about the importance of the digital transition. It ends with Joe the Plumber advising the viewer to apply for a $40 coupon from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration through the VelocityStore Website.

"The DTV transition affects the public safety of the United States, so it's imperative that all Americans come together and learn all we can about the DTV transition," Mr. Wurzelbacher says.

Mr. Wurzelbacher and VelocityStore.com "are teaming up to reach out to those most impacted by the transition which includes senior citizens, the handicapped, and the 54.8 million people in the U.S. who speak a language other than English at home, especially Spanish and Chinese," the VelocityStore news release says.

More videos are to come, with Mr. Wurzelbacher demonstrating how to connect the converter box.

The analog-to-digital switch, which takes place Feb. 17, will render analog televisions useless unless they are connected to an analog cable provider, a satellite dish, or a converter box.

The converter boxes can be purchased for the amount of the coupon, allowing people to continue using their old TVs without additional cost.

In 2005, Congress set aside $1.34 billion to provide coupons to people with traditional analog TVs to upgrade their sets to receive the new digital signal. The money comes from the auction of the analog television spectrum.

The coupon assistance program is mainly targeted to low-income, disabled, inner-city, or rural Americans who may not be able to afford the converter box that can cost up to $70, but the coupons are available to anyone who requests them on a first-come, first-served basis.

Mr. Wurzelbacher, 34, became a conservative icon overnight after he confronted Mr. Obama on Oct. 12 in front of his Springfield Township home about Mr. Obama's plans to raise taxes on higher-income Americans. Mr. Wurzelbacher suggested that higher taxes would dash his hopes of being able to buy a plumbing business.

Mr. Obama's response that he wanted to "spread the wealth around" became the centerpiece of Republican presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin's effort to portray Mr. Obama as a socialist.

Mr. Obama, a former U.S. senator from Illinois, won the election and is now the president-elect.

Making the $40 coupons available through VelocityStore.com is a subject on which Mr. Wurzelbacher and his potential political opponent, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), have common ground.

Miss Kaptur wrote a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration endorsing VelocityStore.com's application to accept the coupons.

Mr. Wurzelbacher told radio talk show host Laura Ingraham Oct. 24 that he might challenge Miss Kaptur in 2010.

Also writing a letter supporting VelocityStore.com's application to accept the coupon was Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

Company President Stephen Holland said the retailer's special emphasis is outreach to people who speak languages other than English, primarily Spanish and Chinese.

He said Mr. Wurzelbacher narrates the English-language video only.

The videos are being posted on line at www.VelocityStore.com.

Mr. Holland said he made contact with Mr. Wurzelbacher by driving to his house, not far from his own residence.

He said Mr. Wurzelbacher is being paid for his celebrity sponsorship.

Mr. Holland acknowledged that Mr. Wurzelbacher's conservative image might seem at odds with his role helping to give away federal funds.

But Mr. Holland said Mr. Wurzelbacher is only helping those in need.

"This program is in place, period. It is going to happen, period. Let's at least get this out and make sure it gets out to the communities that need it the most," Mr. Holland said. "I respect that and commend that with Joe because he just might take some flak on that."

He said outreach is important because if people don't act quickly they might lose the use of their sets for a period of weeks as demand for converter boxes increases. The deadline to apply for a coupon is March 31.

Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic chairman, said, "In this tough economy after eight years of George Bush I'm delighted th=at Joe's got a job. A lot of Ohioans don't have the same kind of security."

Jon Stainbrook, GOP chairman for Lucas County, said that the company is trying to reach out to "everyday Joes" to help them with the digital conversion.

"Joe is seen as an everyday Joe, so it is only fitting that he would be a spokesman for this company," Mr. Stainbrook said.

Mr. Wurzelbacher is working with a writer and publisher, Tom Tabback of Austin, to publish a book to be titled, Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.

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