Rep. John Boehner (R)
Ohio 8th District
Since the early 20th century, the far west end of Ohio—where U.S. 40, the old National Road, heads straight as an arrow in its last miles across Ohio and into Indiana—has been some of the nation’s prime industrial country. The Great and Little Miami rivers drain south into the Ohio, and U.S. 40 jogs southward twice to go over the Miami and Stillwater river dams, built after the great flood of 1913, which killed 361 people in Dayton and caused $1 billion in damage. After the recession of the early 1980s, Ohioans around Dayton and Cincinnati, in large factory towns like Middletown and Hamilton and smaller factory towns like Troy and Piqua, adapted to new conditions and began to produce exports for Europe, Latin America and Asia as well as for the American market. At the same time, people leaving the central cities of Dayton and Cincinnati moved into new subdivisions amid shopping malls and office parks in Butler County. Hamilton, the Butler County seat founded in 1791, lost jobs when International Paper shut down a plant, but many more were created. Again this decade, the region was hit inordinately hard by a recession because of its reliance on manufacturing. In 2007, AK Steel moved its corporate headquarters and 300 employees from Middletown, the area’s second-largest city, to nearby West Chester Township. And in 2008, Forbes magazine called Middletown one of America’s fastest-dying cities, citing rising poverty and the relatively low percentage of college graduates. In February 2009, the unemployment level in Butler County reached a 25-year high, and Middletown and Hamilton also reported double-digit jobless rates. West Chester Township has been one of the few bright spots in recent years. Its population has steadily increased since 2000, and its business-friendly climate has attracted new economic activity, including a new Amylin Pharmaceuticals facility and a new GE Aviation facility.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 8th Congressional District of Ohio covers much of this territory. It includes all of Butler County, except four lightly populated townships, two counties to the north on the Indiana line and part of a third. It also includes Miami County north of Dayton and the northeastern corner of Montgomery County, including part of Dayton, all of Huber Heights and part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Politically, this is very Republican territory; the district twice gave George W. Bush more than 60% of the vote. It voted 61% for GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008.
Rep. John Boehner (R)
Elected: 1990, 10th term.
Born: Nov. 17, 1949, Cincinnati .
Home: West Chester.
Education: Xavier U., B.S. 1977.
Family: Married (Debbie); 2 children.
Military career: Navy, 1969.
Elected office: Union Township Bd. of Trustees, 1981–85, Pres., 1984; OH House of Reps., 1984–90.
Professional Career: Pres., Nucite Sales Inc., 1976–90.
The congressman from the 8th District is John Boehner, a Republican elected in 1990 and the House Minority Leader. Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner) grew up in Cincinnati, the second-oldest of 12 children in a home with two bedrooms. His father ran Andy’s Café, a neighborhood restaurant and bar. Playing at a much heavier weight than he is now, he was a linebacker for Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School on a team coached by Gerry Faust, before Faust went to Notre Dame. Boehner worked his way through college as a janitor and graduated from Xavier University, the first college graduate in his family. He moved to Butler County, where he went to work for a small business that sold plastics for packaging and eventually took it over and developed it into a highly successful enterprise. He served on the Union Township Board of Trustees and in 1984, at age 34, was elected to the Ohio House. In 1990, he ran against Republican incumbent Rep. Donald (Buz) Lukens, who inexplicably sought re-election after he was convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Also in the GOP primary was Tom Kindness, a former House member who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1986 and then became a lobbyist in Washington. Boehner won the primary with 49%, to 32% for Kindness and 17% for Lukens. The win was tantamount to victory in the heavily Republican district, and Boehner has since been re-elected without difficulty.
|John Boehner (R)||202,063||(68%)||($5,342,022)|
|Nicholas Von Stein (D)||95,510||(32%)||($15,425)|
|John Boehner (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (64%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (71%), 2000 (71%), 1998 (71%), 1996 (70%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (74%), 1990 (61%)
In the House, Boehner has a consistently conservative voting record, though he is also pragmatic and more apt to look for compromise on legislation than his more hard-edged ideological colleagues. In his early years, he was a rabble-rousing reformer. He joined the Gang of Seven, young freshman Republicans who insisted on naming all 355 members who’d had overdrafts at the House bank, a scandal that revealed that members had routinely abused their tax-subsidized banking privileges. He went on to assail Democrats as well as Republicans who supported a congressional pay raise. Boehner’s Gang of Seven infuriated House veterans but struck a chord with the public, and the junior lawmakers earned recognition beyond their years of service. In the process, Boehner became a top ally of Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who was raising money for Republican candidates with the goal of toppling the entrenched Democratic majority in the House. Boehner also managed Gingrich’s campaign for Republican leader, though he later would sour on Gingrich and participate in efforts to curb his power.
Boehner was one of the architects of the 10-point Contract With America, the policy manifesto that Republicans ran on in their successful 1994 drive to win a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. After the election, he ran for chairman of the Republican Conference, and with the backing of Gingrich, the new speaker of the House, he beat California’s Duncan Hunter 122-102. That made Boehner the fourth-most-powerful member of the new Republican leadership, with the responsibility of preparing the party’s message and enforcing discipline.
The Gingrich years were a turbulent time for Boehner. An ethics investigation of Gingrich instigated by the Democrats placed Boehner in the middle of a legal altercation after a Florida couple taped one of Boehner’s cell-phone conversations with Republican leaders while he was driving through the state. The tape eventually reached Jim McDermott of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, who made the contents available to the New York Times. In 1998, Boehner sued McDermott in federal court for invasion of privacy. Despite attempts to settle the case, the two could not agree on terms, and the case wound its way through the court system over the course of several years, finally reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2008, the high court denied further review, and a federal district court judge ordered McDermott to pay Boehner more than $1 million in legal fees.
By 1997, many rank-and-file House Republicans had lost confidence in the leadership team, especially the brilliant but erratic Gingrich. Boehner and other high-level members of the leadership team held secret discussions about whether to try to force Gingrich out as speaker. When their plotting was made public, the plan backfired, and the plotters took most of the heat for appearing to be disloyal and self-serving. GOP Whip Tom DeLay of Texas admitted his role and was forgiven. Dick Armey of Texas retained his majority leadership post even though he had misled members by saying he had nothing to do with the plotting. Boehner did not survive. After the 1998 elections, during which Republicans lost five seats, Gingrich lost power and Boehner also lost the conference chairmanship to J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, who argued that the GOP needed a more diversified leadership. Watts was backed by DeLay.
Boehner’s ejection from the leadership was humiliating. But he quickly set about rebuilding his reputation as a leader. He plunged into his role as a subcommittee chairman on what was then called the Education and the Workforce Committee. In six months, the subcommittee passed eight bills restructuring employer-run health-insurance plans. Pleased by Boehner’s initiative and dismayed that other committees had not been as effective, Speaker Hastert adopted many of the subcommittee’s bills as the Republican health-care agenda. After the 2000 election, Boehner secured the chairmanship of the full committee.
When President George W. Bush assumed office in 2001, he made an overhaul of education policy a top priority, putting Boehner in the driver’s seat of the new administration’s chief domestic initiative. Early on, the chairman established a working relationship with the chief Democrat on the panel, George Miller of California. Miller had been teaching school dropouts and believed that current programs weren’t helping disadvantaged children keep up with their peers, and Boehner shared his concern. While other committees dissolved into partisan stalemate, Boehner and Miller worked together on the House version of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which included the president’s mandates for annual testing and increased accountability. It passed the committee and was later overwhelmingly approved by the House, 384-45. Boehner and Miller then worked with their Senate counterparts, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, on a compromise final draft that would be acceptable to both chambers. The House passed the final bill 381-41, with most of the no votes coming from Republicans, and it passed the Senate, 87-10. As a sign of Boehner's enduring partnership with Kennedy, the two sponsored an annual dinner in Washington, D.C., that raised more than $1 million for underfunded Roman Catholic schools in the city and featured motivational speakers, including First Lady Laura Bush, and good-natured ribbing between the two hosts.
In 2003 and 2004, Boehner worked successfully on the reauthorization of the special-education act, again making it a bipartisan undertaking. The final bill contained a provision sought by teachers’ unions that disabilities be taken into account when students are disciplined. It also provided stronger certification requirements and withholding of state funds if local districts fail to comply with the act. Waivers on paperwork requirements were authorized for 15 states, and Boehner agreed to annual increases in funding for special-education programs. The committee also tackled the complex issue of pensions.
In January 2005, as bankrupt airlines began ceding their pension obligations to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, Boehner said, “We have a huge pension underfunding problem.” Once again with bipartisan support, he pushed for a comprehensive solution to pension problems around the country and then played a leading role in months of painstaking House-Senate negotiations. The legislation, passed in summer 2006, represented a major change in pension law. It closed loopholes that had permitted many companies to underfund their plans by an estimated $450 billion, set deadlines for them to make payments, and created automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans for many workers.
In the fall of 2005, the House Republican leadership was again in turmoil. DeLay, by then the majority leader, was forced to step down after being indicted for alleged campaign fundraising irregularities. Speaker Hastert tapped Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri to serve as acting leader. Boehner had been quietly planning for a return to the leadership. In January 2006, he announced that he would run against Blunt for majority leader, although Blunt, in his capacity as acting leader, had styled himself the heir apparent. Boehner believed that restiveness among House Republicans would support an alternative to Hastert’s hand-chosen candidate, and he offered a 37-page campaign manifesto that called for “one big, bold goal” each year and more reliance on the committees to generate legislation. When leadership elections were held, Boehner was in a three-way race with Blunt and conservative Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona. Shadegg was forced out on the first ballot, getting only 40 votes to 110 for Blunt and 79 for Boehner. On the second ballot, Boehner got most of the Shadegg’s supporters as well as a few defectors from Blunt. He won 122-109.
In contrast to the reserved Hastert, Boehner was sociable and adept at the glad-handing side of politics. He regularly held court just off the House floor with reporters and fellow members, puffing on ever-present Barclay cigarettes and sporting the year-round tan he maintains through his devotion to golf. (His Ohio home backs onto the tenth green of a golf course, though chronic back problems, which often cause him acute pain, have reduced his time on the green.) In his early days as majority leader, Boehner focused on lobbying reform and a crackdown on spending earmarks, which had exploded under Republican control and diminished the party’s message of fiscal responsibility. In October 2006, he visited the districts of many endangered House Republicans and made numerous national-media appearances, largely in a bid to turn out the Republican vote. The efforts were for naught. Fed up with scandal and the party’s unpopular president, voters delivered a strong rebuke to Republicans, who lost control of Congress. Hastert announced that he was stepping down from the leadership, leaving it to Boehner to vie for minority leader against only a relatively weak challenger, conservative Mike Pence of Indiana. Boehner won, 168-27. “To earn our majority back, House Republicans must rededicate ourselves to the spirit of reform, and we must regain our confidence and courage to tackle the big issues the American people care about,” Boehner said following his selection.
Adapting to life in the minority, Boehner has occasionally cooperated with Democratic leaders, notably on the February 2008 economic-stimulus bill and the handling of Iraq War funding. He also helped deliver votes for the $700 billion rescue of the financial-services industry, despite dubbing it a “crap sandwich.” But mostly he has been outspoken in leading the opposition to their policies. He led the charge, unsuccessfully, to oust House Ways and Means Committee Charles Rangel of New York after questions were raised about Rangel’s ethics and financial dealings. On immigration reform, he dropped his earlier advocacy of a middle ground and joined Republican hard-liners who emphasized border security and opposed a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. He remained an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq.
A low moment for Boehner came in the spring of 2008 with the loss of three longtime Republican-held seats in special elections. Having privately told his members to get off their “dead asses,” Boehner had little alternative other than to buck up his party with assurances that November was “not going to be as bad as people think.” He turned the focus to the soaring price of oil to spotlight policy differences between the two parties. Then in November, Republicans lost 21 more House seats—including three in Ohio, an abysmal showing and a setback for Boehner, whose only words of encouragement were that it could have been worse, given the party’s low public approval and Bush’s unpopularity. With Bush gone, Boehner entered the Obama presidency with his best opportunity to try to guide House Republicans back to victory in November 2010.
Boehner’s first major political strategy of the 111th Congress (2009-10) was persuading the Republican conference to unanimously vote against Obama’s $787 billion economic-stimulus bill. He derided it as wasteful government spending, and while he couldn’t block its passage, he created a clear distinction between Democratic and Republican approaches to the recession. He characterized the House Republicans as an “entrepreneurial insurgency” that would oppose Democratic policies through all means at their disposal. In May 2009, he harshly criticized Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she claimed that in 2002 the Central Intelligence Agency failed to inform her about the use of a form of coercion called water boarding on suspected terrorists. Pelosi’s unfavorable ratings with voters increased during that time.