Sunday, January 09, 2000

Q&A with Tristate congressmen

        Editor's note: Recently, we invited four U.S. House members from the Tristate — Democrats Ken Lucas and Ted Strickland and Republicans Steve Chabot and Rob Portman — to sit down with the Enquirer editorial board and take a look at the year ahead. Here are excerpts of their responses:

        Q. If you had to vote today, who would be your choice for president?

        Ted Strickland: The honest answer is I don't know. I assume I will support a Democrat. There are two good, decent, talented, experienced human beings. But also I have some serious problems with each. It's the first time I have felt a kind of inner conflict about whom I will support. My prediction is that if George Bush is nominated, a Democrat will be elected. But John McCain will be the winner if he is nominated.

        Steve Chabot: I haven't made my choice. I won't vote for Gore or Bradley. All six of the Republicans are attractive in their own individual ways. My guess is it will be Bush or McCain. Alan Keyes, who doesn't get much ink, is quite impressive and articulate.

        Ken Lucas: My standard line is I'm just paddling my own canoe. I am among the top five Democrats for being against President Clinton on the issues, so I have established myself as an independent voter. Al Gore is decent, high-type folks. He has trained and groomed for the presidency, but Clinton fatigue will be a major detriment to him.

        Rob Portman: I'm a strong supporter of George Bush. He is great for our country because he is a unifier, not a divider and he has reached out to Democrats in ways Clinton never tried with Republicans. I think he's willing to take a fresh look without partisan blinders. People like him when they see him, unlike any crowds I've ever seen. I don't think it will be easy, though. Some Republicans are already measuring drapes in the White House. The polls will get closer.


        Q. Some people say the two parties are the same. Explain to voters the major differences between Democrats and Republicans:

        Mr. Chabot: The Democrats' philosophy is to help more people by government programs and actions. That takes higher and higher taxes and spending. Republicans help people by letting them keep more of what they have earned, so they can help themselves and be more self-reliant. That means less government and lower taxes.

        Mr. Lucas: For 32 years I was in finance and banking and I was around successful people. Nine out of 10 were Republican, and I share some of those philosophies. Where I differ is that I do see a role for government. It's easy for people with two loving parents and a good start in life to say, “Go out and get for yourself.” But there is a place for government to help the underserved and underprivileged.

        Mr. Portman: Smaller and more responsive government is the glue that holds our (Republican) party together. We also differ on social, cultural and military issues. I see a role for government, but when it becomes too large it loses touch with the people. Creeping socialism is a real danger.

        Mr. Strickland: Representing the kind of district I do, I don't see the private sector doing it. Some things only can be done through collective action and the will of the people. I think we get something from taxes, we see results. Our nation is the envy of the world, and a good part of the reason is our collective action and decision to have government involved.


        Q. Why should voters care about the 2000 election? What's at stake?

Mr. Portman: It will be one of the most important elections in my lifetime. The House and Senate both are in play. Whether Democrats or Republicans win a majority in Congress and the White House will make a difference in our quality of life and in our position in the world. I'm on the House Ways and Means Committee. It would make a big difference who's chairman. (Current chairman) Bill Archer (Republican) and Charles Rangel (senior Democrat) have very different ideas about taxation. It's not just the difference between reduced taxes versus higher rates of taxation. They have different views of regulatory policies. Federal rules impose a heavy burden on small business. New federal air standards for power plants could hurt our region. There are other ways to clean the environment that are more reasonable.

        The next president will appoint two or three Supreme Court justices. On a court with so many 5-4 decisions, the new justices could make a difference in our daily lives — on abortion, church-state relations, Internet taxes, privacy and First Amendment rights. People who don't exercise their right to vote lose the chance to affect those decisions.

        Mr. Lucas: I see everybody moving more to the political center. Democratic leader Richard Gephardt has been branded as really liberal, but I see him moving to the center, just as George W. Bush has moved to the center. The Democrats have a reasonable chance to take over the House with so many open seats. We will survive the acrimony and lack of communication between the leadership of both parties, but I wish for more collegiality in Congress. I am pro-life. That decision would be up for grabs as much as any, if a Democrat won the White House. The American people like counterbalances with a different party in control of Congress and the White House.

        Mr. Chabot: An awful lot is at stake in this election fiscally and socially. If Republicans are elected, there will be substantial tax relief that will help all Americans. This good economy is more likely to continue for a longer time. Republicans have caved in on holding the line on spending because they are afraid the president will shut down the government.

        If Republicans hold Congress and win the presidency, they can restrain government growth, reduce taxes and help the economy. Only Republicans will stop this terrible practice of partial birth abortions.

        Mr. Strickland: I think there are important choices for voters to make and stark differences between the parties. The American people look for common sense. They reject extremes in either direction. They are pragmatically — not ideologically — driven. New environmental standards are a big issue. I'm not in synch with the leadership of my party on this issue. No one has been more upfront in opposing the EPA on new, tougher particulate standards.

        Q. What were your top accomplishments in 1999, and what do you hope to accomplish next year?

Mr. Lucas: Helping constituents with their problems is important to me. Constituents also have said they want a representative who makes his own decisions rather than blindly following the party line. As a freshman representative, I'm proud of my record as an independent voter. Colleagues say, “He's not an automatic vote on one thing or another.”

        For the future, my primary interest is in promoting education. Also important: preserving Social Security and giving people the gift of lower interest rates by keeping a handle on government debt.

        Mr. Portman: Congress didn't accomplish enough last year. We did draw a line in the sand to prevent government from raiding the Social Security trust fund in the future. We made sure that Medicare would fund an important therapy for prostate cancer. I helped obtain funding for the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and for hospice care. Working with former Ohio. Gov. George Voinovich in the Senate, we simplified the process for charities seeking government grants.

        Mr. Strickland: I've spent personal time and energy trying to help my district. In Ironton, Ohio, a plant employing 619 people is closing, and 400 jobs already have been lost. Another county is losing 600 jobs with unemployment at 10 percent already. I'm on the commerce committee, and I spend my time trying to garner resources, grants, retraining, empowerment zones.

        Mr. Chabot: I'm a budget hawk, and this budget process left a lot to be desired. There were too many gimmicks, such as declaring the Census an emergency so it could be funded. If you (taxpayers) send it, Congress will spend it. Members of both parties were like pigs at a trough. Recently, I and 13 other budget hawks got together in Chicago to talk about reforming the system. This might involve fighting our own party leadership. There's a bias toward spending. It's tough to cut, but easy to spend.

        I'm also proud of my role as one of 13 house managers in the impeachment of President Clinton. We didn't worry about politics. We did what we thought was right. He deserved to be impeached. Some will like that, some will not, but it certainly was an accomplishment I was involved in this year.

        Locally, I helped obtain funding for the cleanup of Mill Creek and for the Medical Research Center at the University of Cincinnati. Some funding requests are legitimate.


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