Monday, October 23, 2000

Strickland stumps in lower-profile race

Congressman campaigns for fourth term

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        This is one of several Campaign 2000 stories that examines the record of congressional incumbents.

        WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt have appeared in southern Ohio in the past for Rep. Ted Strickland, whose congressional district has been among the most competitive in the country.

        This year, no political stars have dropped by to campaign. The 6th District winds from Marietta along the Ohio River to the Cincinnati suburbs in Warren County.

        For the first time in eight years, the district is not a national target for Democrats or Republicans, a telling sign that Mr. Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat, has found a rhythm after three terms. The lessons of a 1994 re-election defeat have given Mr. Strickland perspective.

        He endorsed most of President Clinton's tax and economic proposals but has broken with the White House and opposed gun control, so-called partial-birth abortion and expanded trade with China — issues that move rural and conservative voters back home.

        Michael Azinger, a Marietta in surance agent and anti-abortion activist, is challenging Mr. Strickland in the November election.

        “I think Ted Strickland is a likable guy. He's good at photo opportunities, but he'll leave a legacy of lost jobs in southeast Ohio,” said Mr. Azinger, a Republican.

        In an interview with the Enquirer, Mr. Strickland explained his record.

        Enquirer: The nation's economy has surged to record levels while you have been in office, but southern Ohio has not shared in the prosperity. Why has this region been left behind? And what specific things have you tried to do to change things?

        Strickland: I have brokered a deal involving the federal government, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Ohio Department of Transportation that is going to bring over $100 million of highway construction within my congressional district. ... I wish (the projects) had happened decades ago, but they didn't. We're trying to catch up.

        Enquirer: The federal government is now in the unique situation of having a budget surplus. A consensus seems to exist around preserving Social Security and Medicare. What should the next president and Congress do with the rest of the money?

        Strickland: We ought to put a significant majority of the surplus — other than (money already going to) Social Security and Medicare — into Social Security. The president, I think, has suggested something like 62 percent of the surplus, and I support that.

        Then we ought to put another sizable portion of the projected surplus into Medicare that will take it out 25 to 30 years to keep it on track and solvent.

        I think we ought to use that surplus for what is in the best interests of the country. That would involve some moderate, targeted tax cuts, and I support what has been proposed by the administration.

        Enquirer: Texas Gov. George W. Bush and other Republicans want people to be able to invest a portion of their Social Security money into the stock market. Do you favor this approach?

        Strickland: I think that is the first step toward privatizing and ultimately destroying the Social Security system. The Social Security system is an insurance program; it only works when there is broad-based investment and participation.

        Enquirer: Your opponent, Mr. Azinger, said you have done little to attract new jobs to the region and are consistently at odds with voters' conservative values. In particular, he criticized your votes in favor of tax increases on gasoline and higher-income Social Security recipients, and your opposition to eliminating the inheritance tax. How do you respond?

        Strickland: The increase in the Social Security tax probably affected only a handful of people in my district, people who made $34,000 as individuals and couples over $44,000.

        It was not a tax that was used to pay for governmental programs. It was specifically a tax that was to go into expanding, strengthening and maintaining Medicare.

        The gasoline tax — 4.3 cents — is used to build roads in southern Ohio. That's why Sen. (George) Voinovich and I think all of the Republican leadership in Ohio agreed with me on this.


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