John Boehner’s 8th Congressional District is a jigsawed chunk of southwestern Ohio that hugs the Indiana border to the west and runs north along Highway 127 from Hamilton through Eaton and Greenville before jutting east to Springfield. Significantly farmland — its largest cities are Hamilton with 62,447 residents, and Springfield with 60,608 — it eschews the Cincinnati and Dayton metro areas, and it provides an incumbent like Boehner plenty of political flexibility for his stances in Congress and re-election bids back home.
According to 2012 data from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, 326,825 of its 468,484 voters are registered as “other” or are unaffiliated. Of the leftovers, 109,781 Republicans call Ohio’s 8th home, while only 31,878 Democrats live in its boundaries — a huge advantage for Boehner, who’s held the seat since Jan. 3, 1991.
In 2012 the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate and Boehner, running essentially unopposed, captured 99.97 percent of the vote. Earlier, he beat his primary opponent, David Lewis, by more than 5-to-1.
So how could a man with such a substantial political advantage run aground lately in battles over the budget and debt? First, and obviously, he’s contending with White House and Senate Democrats, but he’s also sparring with more conservative House members who have pushed Boehner into this stalemate.
Could his district be a microcosm of a fractured House? Numbers say no, but how do Ohioans feel about their representative and the House speaker — proud, upset, exhausted, hopeful, chagrined? This week, Yahoo News asked voters in his district to judge him specifically on how he’s handled the shutdown, the infighting with tea party Republicans and the across-the-bow bickering with President Barack Obama.
Here are some excerpts from what they wrote. Some residents shared their opinions before the House offered a deal on Thursday to raise the debt limit and possibly end the shutdown.
Brian Smith dubs himself the “rare Democrat” in West Chester, north of Cincinnati. He’s lived in the area for 16 years and says when Boehner assumed the speakership, he felt pride for his neighbor and fellow Buckeye. But now he worries Boehner’s become dangerous. He writes:
The Speaker of the House is playing Russian roulette with the American economy in an effort to appease a minority of his majority in the House of Representatives and to hold onto his speakership.
But with the rise of the tea party within the Republican Party — and particularly within the House of Representatives — I began to feel a bit sorry for Boehner. I've thought him a reasonable man who knows how things get done in Washington, D.C. Trying to manage his caucus now, though, is like trying to herd cats. Not only do tea party representatives not understand how things in Washington work, they don't care if they work at all. Speaker Boehner is now caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
I am torn between feeling sorry for the man and feeling contempt for his blatant ambition, which is single-handedly putting the nation at risk. He could call a vote to end the stalemate today, and that would probably pass a clean continuing resolution and a clean debt limit, ending the shutdown and moving us back from the edge of another fiscal cliff.
But to do so he would have to violate the Hastert Rule, risk the wrath of the tea party and possibly lose his role as speaker. He could be putting his job as a congressman on the line as well, as he would risk someone running to the right of him in 2014's GOP primaries.
If he called for a vote, however, he would be a hero in my book, and I'd even consider switching over to vote for him in the primary.
In the predominantly conservative areas of Miami County, which is just north of Dayton and west of Springfield, Maggie May notices her neighbors solidly backing Boehner. But she fears global perception of the scuffle between the House GOP and Democrats has been distilled to “a bunch of little kids arguing over a sandbox toy.” She writes:
Boehner has the right idea, executed poorly. To compromise with people who don't want to is just like dealing with a child. He is overseeing an understaffed "daycare" full of a bunch of whining, screaming people that are paid way too much not to compromise. And I feel sorry for him.
To get past this, let's give and take and, please, for God's sake, keep talking.
Quit fearing being re-elected as Speaker. Who cares? If he does his job with tact and a straightforward approach, he will have nothing to worry about. There's no risk, no reward — as history has shown only those bold enough to take a stand and offer a solution are the people who change the world.
I would like to say this to all of the lawmakers: The pawns are off the board. Stop using scare tactics like school cuts, the poor, children, elderly, sick and dying. It’s the knights and bishops that are really in play — big business, lobbyists, and your own pay and luxuries.
Troy resident Charles Snee says he has major concerns about the Affordable Care Act, but he doesn’t believe shutting down the government will do anything other than sag down Republican poll numbers. He writes:
It's been disheartening to watch this deplorable spectacle unfold in Washington. There seemed to be a ray of hope earlier this week, when Boehner and the House Republican leadership began pivoting away from trying to defund the Affordable Care Act as a condition for passing a continuing resolution to reopen the shuttered parts of the government.
Boehner asserted on ABC's This Week that he didn't want the United States to default on its debt obligations. This is reassuring, but Boehner continues to press for spending and other concessions that the president and his Democratic allies will only consider after the government is fully opened and the debt ceiling has been raised.
Based on Thursday's news, it seems Boehner is now trying a divide-and-conquer strategy, by proposing a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, while still keeping the government partially closed. The intent, according to some of the more conservative hard-liners, is to couple taxes, entitlement reform and so on to the debt-ceiling debate, while linking the shutdown debate to the Affordable Care Act.
If that is the intent of House leadership, then Boehner ought to be forthright with the American people and say so.
This political trench warfare serves no useful purpose. At this point, I am still proud to be an American, but I am ashamed of my government. Mr. Speaker: It's time to dispense with the political brinkmanship and lead the nation out of this fiscal morass.
Julie Wallace of Butler County, which is north of Cincinnati, says she’s not a registered Republican, but she usually votes for the party. She opposes the Affordable Care Act and says she doesn’t believe it will have a positive effect on health care and insurance costs. She writes:
At no time in my life would I expect the type of shenanigans going on in Washington to be going on in Washington.
Speaker Boehner and the Republicans have said repeatedly that they do not agree with the Affordable Care Act. Speaker Boehner has made it clear that he and tea party Republicans in the House want spending cuts. Speaker Boehner and tea party Republicans speak for a large percentage of Americans on these issues. Yet, President Obama refuses to address or give value to their views, other than to say the government won't be held hostage. His public responses to these demands are derogatory and dismissive. Meanwhile, Speaker Boehner's tactics are the only way to get concessions.
On Thursday, he announced a new plan to address the debt ceiling. Again, he asks that the president and Senate Democrats come to the table. Earlier that day, the White House indicated the president would not fully negotiate with Republicans until the debt ceiling was raised and the government was reopened:
"Once Republicans in Congress act to remove the threat of default and end this harmful government shutdown, the president will be willing to negotiate on a broader budget agreement to create jobs, grow the economy and put our fiscal house in order."
So basically what the White House is saying is, “Once I get everything I want, then I will be willing to talk.” What would be left to talk about? What leverage would be there to encourage negotiations?
Chris Stevens, a 24-year-old Oxford resident, has voted against Boehner on every ballot. He says he realizes he’s not in the Republican majority in his town, and his dislike for Boehner — and Obama, too — has grown. He writes:
John Boehner is an arrogant, self-righteous, and selfish human being and politician. His actions are what is wrong with this two-party democratic system and his flaws are surfacing that feeling among Americans throughout the country.
The House of Representatives are divided and, as the Speaker of the House, Boehner has proven he cannot sit down and negotiate with anyone who doesn't agree with him. I admit I voted for President Obama in both elections, yet I have been thoroughly disappointed in how he has handled the divide as well.
After the shutdown is finished and when Boehner is up for re-election, again, I hope he is voted out of office. But when I look around and I see the type of people who have voted for him and have kept him in office, I know that will never happen. Boehner has played his cards so well … in this area that no matter what he says or does, he will come out ahead.
The issue here is not only Boehner, but the government system itself.