Rep. Tim Ryan (D)
Ohio 17th District
For nearly a century, the Mahoning Valley, between the Lake Erie docks that unload iron ore from Great Lakes freighters and the coalfields of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, was one of the steel capitals of the United States. The first coal mine opened in 1826, canals followed, and in 1892 the first steel mill was built in Youngstown. The valley soon filled up with mills, converters, and furnaces. Now the steel mills stand empty, smokeless and silent—except those that have been dynamited or torn down. Big-steel management allowed foreign producers to gain a technological edge in the 1950s and 1960s, and worldwide overcapacity in steel grew as almost every developing country decided it needed its own steel mills. Meanwhile, an agreement between the United Steelworkers and management after a 119-day strike in 1959 boosted wages and fringe benefits to levels that helped price domestic steel out of the market. Import restrictions kept the furnaces hot for a while, but the oil shock of the 1970s produced sharply higher energy prices and a collapse in the U.S. auto and steel markets. Every plant in the Mahoning Valley closed, with a loss of 40,000 jobs. In the early 1980s, Youngstown had one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. From 1990 to 2004, the population of Youngstown’s Mahoning County declined by 6% and next-door Trumbull County’s by 3%. Steel has since revived, but not here. The high-wage living standard has vanished. Several aluminum plants opened in nearby Warren, but young people looking for opportunities routinely leave. In 2007, Youngstown’s population was 74,000, less than half its size in the 1950s. That same year the Census Bureau reported that Youngstown had the lowest median household income in the nation among cities with 65,000 to 250,000 people. Organized crime infiltrated local government, and a federal investigation in the late 1990s led to more than 70 convictions; among those sentenced were a prosecutor, a sheriff and a congressman. Today, Youngstown is struggling to rebound, though it has managed to attract a few high-tech firms, including the fast-growing Turning Technologies software company.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 17th Congressional District of Ohio encompasses most of the Mahoning Valley industrial area—Youngstown (though not its southern Mahoning County suburbs), Warren, and most of Trumbull County. It includes nearly all of Portage County to the west and part of eastern Summit County and Akron. It contains two loci of 1970s protest—Kent State University, where four war-protesting students were killed by National Guardsmen, and Lordstown, site of the General Motors plant where workers purposely built shoddy cars to protest the tedium of the assembly line. This is a Democratic district. It voted 63% for John Kerry in 2004, his second-best district in Ohio. In 2008, Democratic nominee Barack Obama did not fare quite as well among the district’s mostly white working-class voters, but his 62%-36% victory was comfortable enough.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: July 16, 1973, Niles .
Education: Bowling Green St. U., B.A. 1995, Franklin Pierce Law Ctr., J.D. 2000.
Elected office: OH Senate, 2000-02.
Professional Career: Aide, U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant, 1995-97.
The congressman from the 17th District is Tim Ryan, a Democrat elected in 2002 at age 29. Ryan grew up in Niles, was a star quarterback before a knee injury ended his career, and graduated from Bowling Green State University. His first job was with 17th District Rep. James Traficant, a Democrat later convicted of racketeering and bribery. In 2000, after graduating from Franklin Pierce Law Center, Ryan was elected to the state Senate. His opening to run for Congress came when Traficant was forced to resign in disgrace after his conviction in 2002. For years, Traficant had been a colorful if coarse figure in the House, whose ranting orations (“Beam me up, Scottie” was his expression of incredulity at hearing an opposing viewpoint) and retro haircut (“I do my hair with a weed whacker”) were a regular source of fascination for C-SPAN viewers.
|Tim Ryan (D)||218,896||(78%)||($1,151,775)|
|Duane Grassell (R)||61,216||(22%)||($850)|
|Tim Ryan (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (80%), 2004 (77%), 2002 (51%)
Most 17th District insiders thought Akron-based Rep. Tom Sawyer, a Democrat who had been thrown into the district by reapportionment based on the 2000 census, had the inside track to succeed Traficant. And by standard measures, Sawyer should have won easily: He outspent Ryan nearly 6-to-1. But his record on issues gave Ryan an opening. Sawyer had voted for the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, and he was one of the few Rust Belt Democrats to vote for normalizing trade relations with China. Ryan hammered on these votes in the Mahoning Valley, where it is gospel that free trade drove the region’s high-paying jobs abroad. Ryan also got the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in a district with many hunters. He beat Sawyer 41%-27%. The Republican nominee was state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin. Ryan slammed her and the Ohio Republican Legislature for votes that had led to higher tuition at state universities. Republicans fired back with ads highlighting several disorderly conduct charges lodged against Ryan while he was in college. The district’s Democratic leanings and Ryan’s labor support proved decisive. He won 51% of the vote to 34% for Womer Benjamin and 15% for Traficant, who ran as an independent even though he’d been carted off to jail.
Ryan has leaned to the left on economic and foreign policy, while his splits with Democrats on abortion rights and gun control have placed him closer to the center on social issues. With abortion-rights advocate Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., he sponsored the “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” with federal dollars to fight teen pregnancy, while increasing aid for women who become pregnant; Democratic activists depicted this as a move toward party consensus on a difficult issue. Worried about the loss of local call-center jobs, Ryan was one of just seven House members who voted against the national do-not-call list. For several years, he sponsored the Chinese Currency Act, which sought to counter China’s alleged manipulation and undervaluation of its currency.
With the encouragement of then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Ryan and other young Democratic newcomers to the House created the “30-Something Working Group” as a partisan device to reach young C-SPAN viewers with their late-night House speeches. After challenging the Republicans’ advocacy of the partial privatization of Social Security in 2005, Ryan said the group noticed that poll numbers were changing among young people. However, Ryan sided with Republicans on some issues, such as repeal of the estate tax and the construction of a security fence along the border with Mexico.
He was a vocal backer of the powerful Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha in his unsuccessful bid against Maryland’s Steny Hoyer for majority leader in 2006, which endeared him to Murtha-backer Pelosi and earned Ryan a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee. He immediately went to work securing earmarked projects for his hard-pressed district, including more than $26 million in 2007 alone.
Ryan has not faced serious re-election problems. He considered a run for the Senate in 2006 but decided against it. Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland discussed a shared ticket with Ryan in 2010, but Ryan decided to remain in the House, largely because of his new assignment on Appropriations.