Rep. Steve Austria (R)
Ohio 7th District
The hills and plains of central Ohio are dotted with towns and small cities that have been manufacturing centers almost since they were settled in the early 19th century, when the dominant technologies were the waterwheel and the open forge. In the decades after, new technologies—the automobile and the airplane—arrived, and the local manufacturing economy, sometimes in uncomfortable fits and starts, adjusted and advanced. This has been the story of Springfield, often studied as a typical American city. In the early 1980s, International Harvester, the city’s largest employer, went bankrupt, downsized dramatically and was renamed Navistar. In 1996, the company cut 3,000 jobs from its Springfield plant, and by 2002, the workforce had been pared down to 2,800. Navistar was on the rebound in 2008 after securing a deal to assemble General Motors medium-duty trucks, but that prospect went up in smoke in 2009 when GM went bankrupt. But amid these highly publicized and visible examples of capitalism’s creative destruction, there have been less-noticed examples of its creativity. Small manufacturing businesses have grown up in empty factory spaces, and service employment has grown.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 7th Congressional District of Ohio is made up of a portion of south-central Ohio. It includes Springfield and Clark County and, just to the south, the growing Greene County suburbs of Dayton around Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Although Wright Patterson gained a few hundred jobs in the base-closing review of 2005, Springfield’s Air National Guard station lost its F-16 training unit. Other population centers are in Fairfield County, southeast of Columbus, and a slice of Franklin County, including part of the east side of Columbus. Fairfield is home to the 5,200-seat World Harvest Church, where politically active Pastor Rod Parsley is one of the nation’s leading evangelicals and a prominent opponent of abortion rights and gay marriage. Early in the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain referred to Parsley as “a spiritual guide,” but he denounced the pastor’s endorsement of his candidacy after Parsley made derogatory comments about the religion of Islam.
Farther east in Perry County, coal mining has revived as the price of oil skyrocketed. The district has always been Republican territory. It backed the policies of Ohio Republican President William McKinley (tariff protection, railroad regulation, antitrust suits against monopolies, discouragement of labor unions) and of Republican Gov. James Rhodes (low taxes, promotion of new businesses and jobs). It is culturally conservative as well. In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain won the district, 54% to 45%.
Rep. Steve Austria (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Oct. 12, 1958, Cincinnati .
Education: Marquette U., B.A. 1981.
Family: Married (Eileen); 3 children.
Elected office: OH House, 1998-2000; OH Senate, 2000-08, Majority whip, 2004-08.
Professional Career: Financial advisor
The new congressman from the 7th district is Steve Austria, a protégé of Republican Rep. Dave Hobson, the longtime incumbent whose retirement paved the way for Austria’s ascension to the U.S. House. His father, Dr. Clement Austria, was born in the Philippines but moved to Cincinnati to attend medical school. Austria was born in Cincinnati and grew up in Xenia, Ohio, with eight younger siblings. He graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in political science, then returned home and founded his own financial-planning business. He worked for the local GOP, and his wife, Eileen, worked for Hobson when Hobson was a state senator. She was Hobson’s U.S. House district director from 1990 to 2007.
|Steve Austria (R)||174,915||(58%)||($1,196,189)|
|Sharen Swartz Neuhardt (D)||125,547||(42%)||($855,332)|
|Steve Austria (R)||42,499||(55%)|
|Ron Hood (R)||25,984||(34%)|
|Dan Harkins (R)||4,817||(6%)|
|John Mitchel (R)||4,030||(5%)|
In 1998, Austria launched his political career by challenging incumbent state Rep. Marilyn Reid, a fellow Republican embroiled in an ethics scandal. Austria upset Reid in the GOP primary and easily defeated the Democratic candidate in the general election. Two years later, he was elected to the state Senate, where he served two terms as majority whip. In the Legislature, Austria focused on law and order issues. He sponsored a bill that stiffened penalties for soliciting sex from minors over the Internet. He also sponsored a bill that toughened penalties for child rapists. In 2003, he won praise for helping to broker a deal on a bill that allowed Ohioans to carry concealed handguns.
When Hobson announced his retirement in October 2007, Austria got into the contest for the seat as the front-runner. Democrats hoped that Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly would enter the race, but he opted against it saying, “I don’t know of a Democrat out there that can take on Steve Austria.” Still, Austria had primary competition. Former state Rep. Ron Hood and Clark County Republican Party Chairman Dan Harkins also vied for the Republican nomination. Austria was not helped by the Dayton Daily News, which editorialized: “What he’s most likely to do is settle into a long, long career of keeping people back home happy, while remaining on the congressional back benches.” Nevertheless, Austria won, with 55% to Hood’s 34% and Harkins’s 6%. In the general election, Austria faced attorney Sharen Neuhardt. Democrats claimed Neuhardt could run a competitive race, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not put her on their top-rated Red to Blue list until early September. The powerhouse fundraising group EMILY’s List also endorsed her. But Austria still outraised her $1.2 million to $900,000.
A couple months before the election, Austria’s campaign had a setback when political blogger Jeff Coryell revealed that sections of a column Austria wrote for the Xenia Gazette closely resembled text from a U.S. Department of Labor website. Neuhardt accused Austria of plagiarism, but the attention the incident got paled in comparison to the flak Neuhardt took a few weeks later, when the Dayton Daily News revealed that for six years she had housed a Rwandan refugee who was not legally in the United States for part of that period. The National Republican Congressional Committee criticized Neuhardt for harboring an illegal immigrant. The Rwandan man also had been arrested for disorderly conduct and cited for driving without a license. In the campaign’s final stretch, Neuhardt blamed the Republican Party for the job losses in the district, but the message failed to resonate. Austria defeated her 58% to 42%, carrying every county in the district except Franklin.
In the House, Austria got seats on the Budget Committee and the Homeland Security Committee. During a February 2009 interview with the Columbus Dispatch’s editorial board, Austria compared President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus bill to former President Franklin Roosevelt’s economic policies and claimed government spending under Roosevelt caused the Great Depression. A week later, liberal MSNBC news commentator Keith Olbermann ridiculed Austria’s take on American history.