Sheila McLaughlin reports:
House Speaker John Boehner has been taking a beating in Washington, with tea party Republicans accusing him of betraying conservative ideals and Democrats accusing him of being too partisan.
Here in Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, which stretches north from Butler County to Mercer County, the only people who matter for Boehner’s job are his constituents – in other words, his bosses since he was first elected in 1990.
And their opinions of Boehner? Pretty much the same as those on Capitol Hill, according to two dozen Enquirer interviews.
Local tea party activists say he caved in to President Barack Obama and shirked his Republican principles. Some say he’s too partisan. Others say he’s lost control of Congress to an outspoken minority of tea party activists.
Still, one thing is certain: Boehner’s grip on the the district looks to be secure, based on election results and his always-formidable fundraising. As with Thursday’s tense vote in which Boehner was re-elected House speaker, griping does not always mean ousting.
“He’s compromising his principles too much,” said Mark Etterling, 51, a business consultant from Liberty Township. “He should be conservative, and if you look at the fiscal cliff deal,… basically he pretty much gave away the the proverbial farm. It didn’t address our debt and deficit problem.”
But Sheila Jones, 65, of Hamilton offered a supportive view: “They want to say he’s not doing a good job. But who could under the circumstances? You have to compromise somewhere along the line. I think he probably did what he needed to do to move it on.”
‘I can’t see him being replaced here’
With nearly three-quarters of a million people, mostly white, the 8th District is the most Republican district in the state, according to national data.
Butler County, where Boehner resides in a swank country club setting in West Chester Township, is the hub. It’s a staunch Republican stronghold with the largest population – 368,130 (2010 Census) – in the five-county district with the highest household incomes. It’s also home to the district’s largest employer, Miami University.
Chris Kelley, a lecturer in political science at Miami University and a voter in Boehner’s district, doubts that Boehner will ever lose his political hold here.
“The thing he has in his district is whether he has to face a primary battle, which he just hasn’t had to do,” Kelley said. “While there may be Republicans out here that may be disgruntled that he has compromised with the Obama administration, I can’t see him being replaced here. Even in a primary challenge I can’t see it.”
The reason? “So far he’s been raising a lot of money, and he’s been using that to help other people run. And that secures his place as a speaker. But if he was to face a primary challenge, the primary challenger would be woefully outmatched” financially, Kelley said.
His “Friends of John Boehner” campaign fund – one of several funds he operates – has more than $1 million sitting in it right now, according to federal election filings.
Local critic: ‘He’s increased debt’
Similar to Congress, an active tea party movement is vocal in Boehner’s district, but it remains a minority.
Ann Becker joined the West Chester Tea Party in 2009. The 36-year-old mother of three now heads the 900-member organization. She’s fed up with Boehner after the fiscal cliff deal that extended Bush-era income tax cuts on the middle class but increased payroll taxes, among other things.
The local tea party’s frustration started well before then, Becker said. The West Chester group began asking Boehner in 2011 not to raise the debt ceiling, she said. It happened anyway.
“Over the speaker’s tenure in the past two years, he’s increased debt almost $2 trillion. That had nothing to do with President Obama. All spending comes from the House,” Becker said.
Nationally, the public’s perception of Boehner‘s performance as speaker has taken a hit in the last two years. A CNN poll published the week before Christmas showed that Boehner’s approval rating, 34 percent, had fallen seven percentage points since early April 2011.
James Szuch, an independent voter from West Chester, has lost faith in Boehner. The separated father of two boys is in the midst of selling his house and moving to Cincinnati to be closer to Walnut Hills High School, which his sons attend. “I am not unhappy to be leaving his district,” Szuch said. “Boehner has done an excellent job at representing the interests of the Republican Party and to further his own political ends.”
Boehner’s handling of the fiscal cliff drove that point home, he said. “It wasn’t about helping anybody – not even the wealthy business owners he purports to protect. It was about enduring that his side wouldn’t lose. He has made a mockery of the notion of representation.”
Szuch thinks the same of most in Congress. “If this is what leadership in Congress means, I propose that we recall all of them,” he said. “And I would start with John Boehner.”
Mark Peters, who owns a small manufacturing business, expects to see some benefit out of the fiscal cliff deal. The Liberty Township resident will be able to hold onto more personal income since the deal extended Bush-era tax cuts. He and his partners also will be able to hang onto more money from the business side to invest further in equipment.
“They’ve fixed the tax structure at least for me as a small business owner. The concession … was that they didn’t address the debt,” Peters said. “My disappointment with John Boehner is at the last minute he collapsed. But, he did it for the American people … to prevent the cliff.”