BOWLING GREEN — Two northwest Ohio congressmen are facing constituent questions over their votes against ending the federal government’s partial shutdown, a position that — if successful — could have thrust America into a catastrophic credit default.
U.S. Reps. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) and Jim Jordan (R., Urbana, Ohio) are among 144 members of the House — eight from Ohio — who opposed ending the 16-day stalemate on Wednesday night. Mr. Latta represents Ohio’s 5th District; Mr. Jordan holds the 4th District seat.
Despite their pro-business platforms, they ignored pleas by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation’s most powerful business lobbyists, to end the standoff.
Their votes also contradicted one cast by House Speaker John Boehner (R., West Chester, Ohio), one of President Obama’s fiercest critics. Mr. Boehner was among 285 congressmen — 87 of them House Republicans — who voted to end the shutdown. Three congressmen did not vote.
Votes against ending the shutdown have galvanized conservatives who disdain Mr. Obama’s policies, especially the Affordable Care Act his administration got through Congress in 2010. The health-care reform law, often called Obamacare, has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
But the votes of lawmakers such as Mr. Latta and Mr. Jordan also have generated some uneasiness, even among some Republicans who wonder how tightly the right will clutch its political agenda the next time Congress flirts with an economic crisis.
“I don’t understand his vote,” Sue Clark, Bowling Green Economic Development Foundation director, said of Mr. Latta. “It’s scary, because we have to go through this in another 90 days.”
Mr. Latta told The Blade in an interview after the vote that he hasn’t sensed any blowback from those who would ordinarily support him.
What Mr. Latta and other members of Congress apparently don’t realize, Ms. Clark said, is the damage they’re already causing to the private sector.
Mr. Jordan, who heads a House Republican Tea Party caucus, was quoted in a story published by the Huffington Post that he now believes, in retrospect, that the GOP erred by attempting to defund the Affordable Care Act. He said Republican leaders should have focused on delaying some of the law’s provisions for a year.
The resulting shutdown’s impact has gone well beyond government workers’ lost wages and tourists irked by the temporary closure of war memorials, national parks, and other landmarks.
“If you’re a business thinking about making a $10 million investment, are you going to do it now, not knowing what’s going to happen in January? Of course not,” Ms. Clark said.
Regarding Mr. Latta’s vote, she said: “I know he’s adamantly opposed to Obamacare. But I don’t think he understands the impact this uncertainty has on the industrial sector.”
Some people question what the lingering anxiety will mean for retail sales during the Christmas shopping season.
“I’m really leery of it now,” said Kay Miesle, a 73-year-old Bowling Green Republican.
Earlene Kilpatrick, executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, said she is aware of the U.S. chamber’s position but declined to make a public statement about Mr. Latta’s vote. She said, however, that citizens are “tired of the entire situation.”
Floyd Craft, 77, who owns the Ben Franklin store and others in downtown Bowling Green, also declined to address Mr. Latta’s vote but agreed that the uncertainty in Washington affects the business community.
“There’s no way you can plan when you don’t know what your future’s going to hold,” Mr. Craft said.
In the 5th
Mr. Latta’s 5th District sprawls west to the Indiana state line, north to the Michigan border, and as far south as Mercer and Wyandot counties.
But its pulse is largely felt in Bowling Green, Mr. Latta’s hometown and that of his father, former U.S. Rep. Delbert Latta (R., Bowling Green), who served in Congress from 1959 to 1989.
Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards, who said he knows the Latta family well, admits he is puzzled by Mr. Latta’s vote.
Like other officials, he balked at creating hard feelings with criticism but said the only conclusion he can draw is that Mr. Latta may feel he is not conservative enough for the far right.
Coffee shop buzz
Patrons of two downtown Bowling Green coffee shops — Panera and Grounds for Thought — have buzzed over the votes. The former is perceived as a conservative hangout; the latter is seen as one for liberals.
Retired Bowling Green Police Chief Galen Ash, who considers himself a conservative, said he “doesn’t want to talk bad about Bob Latta.”
But Mr. Ash said he’s become dismayed by the Republican Party in general.
“I think the Republican Party has left me, and I think I’m pretty conservative,” the retired chief said. “... I think they’ve gone too far to the right.”
Mr. Ash said the congressman’s vote “just stymies me.”
Retired Bowling Green High School Principal Neal E. Allen, 74, said he is frustrated with the tone of Washington politics.
But he also said he is “very upset with Bob Latta” and plans to vote against him when he’s up for re-election next year.
“I’ve been a Republican, and I’ve just had it with them,” Mr. Allen said.
Ms. Miesle’s husband, Mike Miesle, 73, said he doesn’t know if he’ll vote for Mr. Latta.
Ms. Miesle said she will because Mr. Latta opposes abortion. She said she isn’t bothered by his vote on the shutdown. “He voted the way he felt he had to vote,” she said.
Van Robison, 60, a trigger-point therapist who considers himself politically independent, also backed Mr. Latta. He said Americans should not lose sight of the spiraling national debt.
“The crux of the issue is we have to rise up and do things differently,” Mr. Robison said.
He said he has no problem with Mr. Latta’s vote, even if it meant thrusting the country into a credit default.
Claudia Schmidt, a 54-year-old substitute teacher from Findlay, said she was raised a fiscally conservative West Virginia Democrat and feels more in touch with Republicans today, even though she is still registered as a Democrat.
“We have to do something. We can’t just keep spending and spending. I believe in having a budget and sticking to it,” she said, applauding Mr. Latta for holding his ground. “Our government is not showing our children accountability or how to live within your means."
Rich Douglas, 67, a retired economist from Bowling Green, said he believes Mr. Latta and Mr. Jordan voted against ending the stalemate because they knew they were in the minority and, thus, could cast “inconsequential” votes to appease the Tea Party.
“I’m conservative, but I’m not a fan of Latta,” Mr. Douglas said. “They wouldn’t have voted that way if it had made the difference.”
Bob Bashore, 87, of Bowling Green, a retired BGSU English teacher and a founder of the university’s honors program, agreed with Mr. Douglas.
“It strikes me that Latta’s a real political animal,” Mr. Bashore said.
In the 4th
In Mr. Jordan’s 4th District, which spans from rural areas west of Columbus to parts of Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie counties, constituents weren’t as surprised because of Mr. Jordan’s strong association with the Tea Party.
Rob Duncan, the Huron County Republican Party chairman in Norwalk, home to one of Mr. Jordan’s two district offices, said those who voted against ending the shutdown were standing up to the deficit.
Keith Cheney, the Allen County GOP chairman in Lima where Mr. Jordan’s other congressional office is located, said those who voted in opposition also were against a multitude of earmarks that were inserted into the final bill.
“He’s holding true to his values,” Mr. Cheney said.
Al Evans, Champaign County Republican chairman in Urbana, where Mr. Jordan lives, said Mr. Jordan was representing his constituents by trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Father David Beck, 72, a former Lima resident and a priest in the Toledo Diocese who now lives in Carthagena, Ohio, shook his head while sitting at a table inside the Meeting Place on Market, a popular coffee shop, deli, and bakery in downtown Lima.
“Shame and stupidity,” he said, referring to Washington’s gridlock. “It’s embarrassing.”
Bill Hanz, 64, a retired Lima resident who describes himself as ’60s-era liberal, said Mr. Jordan seems interested only in opposing Mr. Obama.
“Jim Jordan can do whatever he wants because he’ll always get re-elected,” Mr. Hanz said, referring to how the district was redrawn to give rural conservatives the majority. “I just don’t think there’s going to be any blowback for Jordan.”
Eugene Hays, 77, of Lima said that despite being political rivals during the 1980s, former President Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O’Neill found enough common ground to compromise and respect each other.
“Obamacare was passed by the House and the Senate, it was signed into law, and it was upheld by the Supreme Court. So then the GOP shut government down and held it hostage,” Mr. Hays said. “Why don’t they leave it alone and let it take its course?”
Hints of racism?
Three African-Americans in the Meeting Place said they believe Washington politics have escalated because of Mr. Obama’s skin color. They said they don’t recall another president getting such disrespect.
“We are the people. It’s time for us as Americans to stop arguing and act like a country,” Annie Hughes, a 73-year-old retired housekeeper from Lima, said.
She said she has seen institutional racism since moving to Ohio from the South when she was 15.
“To me, it’s a sad world,” Ms. Hughes said.
Her son, Pastor Daniel Hughes, 40, preaches at The Future Church of Tomorrow and Community United Methodist Church in Lima.
“I’ve just lost so much faith in the government,” Pastor Hughes said.
He said he believes the problems in Washington are “deeply rooted in racism that’s in our souls.”
Jimmy Wilkerson, 55, of Lima, who helps run a Christian-based food, shelter, and job training program for homeless people, compared hatred and bigotry to the wind. You can’t see them, but you can feel them, he said.
Mr. Obama leads the world’s most powerful nation, yet doesn’t get the respect he deserves from members of Congress, Mr. Wilkerson said.
More of the same?
Nearly everyone interviewed predicted the stalemate would continue into January. They said Congress is more than likely just kicking a proverbial can down the road, likely to end up in a similar dilemma early next year.
Nobody had any reason to believe that wouldn’t happen.
“We’re going to find ourselves back in a recession because the government can’t get along,” Ms. Clark said.
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6079.