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.