Ohio's 2nd congressional district includes all of Adams, Brown, Clermont and Pike counties, eastern Hamilton County, southern Warren County and western Scioto County. It stretches from Lebanon in the northwest to Portsmouth in the southeast.
Republican Rob Portman, currently in his sixth term, represents the district in the U.S. House. Chairman of the Republican Leadership, he is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and Budget Committee.
Vying in the March 2 for the Democratic nomination to run against Portman are Charles Sanders, former mayor of Waynesville, and Mark Crummie, a professor at Shawnee State University. Here are excerpts from a Q&A session with the two candidates.
Q. Tell us about your background and why you believe you are the better choice for your party's nomination.
Crummie: I'm from the "wild east" Adams County area. I've taught in the social science division at Shawnee State for the past 13 years. I'm dealing with a lot of social policy, not only as it relates to education but as it relates to economics and some of the district's problems.
I live in a very poor area where people are struggling trying to find jobs, attempting to survive. I believe I have the necessary skills to start articulating and working through the key issues of how economic development can occur in this district. Effective leadership can reach out and create new ways of looking at things. I believe I'm best qualified for that.
Sanders: I'm a lifelong resident of Warren County. I'm a military veteran, U.S. Army 1964-67. I'm retired from General Motors. I've been in local government. I was elected in Waynesville, both council and mayor. I feel I have a pretty good command of being able to interact with people and digesting problems as they exist.
I think I can be a catalyst for change. In order to be a catalyst, you have to be able to interact with individuals at various levels, meet them at their point of understanding and bring them forward. You have to be able to articulate issues in such a way as to gain synergies from camps on the left and the right and come up with a consensus. I believe I'm the best one to do that.
Q. Rob Portman is a powerful, well-known and influential member of Congress. Why do you believe you would better serve the residents of your district in Congress?
Sanders: Mr. Portman's nothing more than a rubber stamp. He is chairman of the Republican Leadership. As such he's the liaison between the White House and Congress. He is bound to take the Republican dogma all the way to the nth degree, regardless of whether it reflects the wishes of the people in our district. The people in our district are suffering today because of the special interests he votes to protect and enhance at the expense of jobs in this district.
Crummie: Mr. Portman is a bureaucrat. He works for the president. We have some big needs in the district. He has been there nearly 12 years and these needs have not been met. There's an incredible rise in poverty. The downsizing of corporate structures and the destabilization of investments have occurred on his watch. Billions of dollars have been lost in the stock market, and there's been very little accountability for that.
Q. Tell us about your district and what you perceive its biggest needs and issues are.
Crummie: I have a lot of students from the Cincinnati area and the Columbus area. The east side of the district is quite different. There are challenges that seem to be common to all the college graduates. They're finding it more difficult to find employment. So I see a lot of frustration among the student body and among senior citizens when it comes to basic medical care and the rising cost of health care. There seems to be a high level of frustration in this district. I believe these problems can be solved. We are a global environment. We need to respond globally in bringing better quality jobs and being very creative in how we can create investments for this district. We need to empower the 2nd district and think in new ways.
Sanders: The main concern I hear is jobs, employment viability. The next important thing is health care. The federal budget that was just passed takes money from essential programs - education, veterans benefits, health care.
I propose increasing Pell grants by $2,000 per student. I understand there are 5.1 million people eligible to receive Pell grants. If you take that times $2,000 you're looking at $10.2 billion. That is a far better investment in terms of programs to empower and to invest in people than the $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax break primarily to the rich. People are going to be able to get out of school and qualify for high-paying jobs, good jobs that will have good benefits. We need to empower and build the middle class in this country. The middle class is eroding. We need to build it back up and take care of the needs of our citizens. We're being blindsided by giving $87 billion to Iraq when they're sitting on $2 trillion of oil reserves.
Q. What do you think would be the main focus of your campaign in the fall?
Sanders: It's going to be the economy, hands down - the economy and jobs. Along with that is health care. We need to put programs in place that encourage businesses to invest in this country, not outsourcing to China. Make it profitable for them to stay in this country.
Mr. Portman would do well to write bills that focus on new empowerment zones in each county in the district. Also roads, public projects, bridges, bypasses. That I-675 bypass around Dayton? As soon as it went in, millions and millions of dollars in investments went in around that roadway. That's how you build jobs.
Crummie: I think it's basically about jobs, economics. The Concord Coalition, Goldman Sachs and other think tanks predict in the next 10 years we're going to be adding $5 trillion of deficits. And so we have a domestic fiscal crisis that has not been addressed. We are buying a lot more overseas that we are buying here. So we've got an imbalance in the entire global market.
The national debt could increase by the year 2013 to $14 trillion, a tripling of the debt we have today. And I've excluded the $25 trillion of unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare that will continue to increase. I think an effective leader will address the needs of the 2nd district and will be very aggressive in Washington and will attempt to address these deficit numbers.
I'm concerned about the many elderly fighting over their ability to get Social Security. There are 348,000 veterans waiting for disabilities claims decisions right now. If we send our young men and women to Iraq or Afghanistan, we have a moral duty to take care of those heroes as they return to the homeland. And that moral duty has not been fulfilled by the present leadership.
Q. What would your priorities be for solving these problems if you are elected to Congress?
Crummie: First, there's a long-term approach. We need to revisit and look at NAFTA agreements. The outsourcing of jobs tends to help corporate America empower itself. We need corporate America, but corporate America needs to empower the worker. There needs to be a balance here.
A short-term goal is a stimulus package to get people back to work. You know, [Sigmund] Freud said that we must learn to love and to work. Work, contributing something to society, is very important to human beings.
I think the first duty of a congressman is to his district. When I look at the 2nd district I see enormous economic problems. And that's my first duty, to go and fight for the needs of this district.
Sanders: I've learned a few things being a mayor, about the way we can change things and elicit new interactions among communities to bring abut economic benefits. Citizens want their representatives to do more with less. The way you can do that is to initiate cooperatives and programs of that nature. And you create regional authorities. That's going to mean being a catalyst, one who is not afraid to invite various, sometimes opposing jurisdictions to come and amass their resources to bring about a common advantage. It's a grass-roots effort, and it would amount to an extension of what a congressman does.
A congressman is no more than a fiduciary officer. You try to allocate those monies to try to bring about the optimum results. If we embark on unified approaches, then we're going to come up with proposals that the majority can live with.
Q. What one question would you most like Rob Portman to answer?
Sanders: I'd ask him why he has become such a partisan. Why did he come back to Hamilton County in 2000 and become vice chairman of the Republican Party when he was elected to serve all the people? I'd want to know why he voted not to increase the pay of combat military people serving in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive a $1,500 bonus last October.
Crummie: We have lost over 21/2 million manufacturing jobs. We have 3 million more people who have slipped into poverty. The middle class is melting down. We have 4 million more people who have lost their health care coverage. There's a proposal in this administration for $28 billion cuts in veterans health benefits over the next 10 years. I'd ask him: Do you care? Do you really, truly care what is occurring in this country and in this 2nd district?
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