February 02, 2010

Groundhog day

When I was growing up I always wondered what a groundhog actually was. My hometown had ground squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, rabbits, gophers, moles, and even burrowing snakes, but no groundhogs. As a result, I always thought of them as being similar to badgers: small, mean, and fond of dead trees. Well, here in Ohio I have at least three groundhogs living on my land and I can now say with confidence that they bear no resemblance whatsoever to badgers. Today was groundhog day, but not a single one of the groundhogs on my land poked his hibernating head above ground. Not a one. I guess it was just too darn cold to bother getting out of bed.

On the other hand, something auspicious did happen today, and I was there to witness it. Jim Renacci made the formal announcement of his intent to run for Congress as the Representative of the 16th District, Ohio. Since this is the district where I live, I've been following the build up since last spring, almost a full year. I've met Jim Renacci, Matt Miller, and Paul Schiffer, the three candidates posed to duke it out in the Republican primary this May 4th. I decided last summer that I would be voting for Jim Renacci and nothing has come along to change my mind.

So, today, beneath a grey winter sky, I made my way to the Wayne Center for the Arts in downtown Wooster. The Wayne Center for the Arts is in a converted school building that is around a century old. It is very unusual for a town the size of Wooster to have its own Art Center dedicated to teaching visual arts to both children and adults. This one has been generously supported by both private and public contributions, mostly private. In the basement auditorium, a room one of the participants whimsically referred to as, "my old school gym", a group of around thirty people gathered to hear Jim give his formal public announcement of the intent to run for office.

The tone of the meeting was remarkably somber. The room was cold, and there were no chairs, but not a single complaint was heard. For just a moment, I could have sworn we were meeting in 1810 rather than 2010. The voices were low, respectful, quiet greetings shared between old friends and soft introductions between new friends. It was nothing like a similar meeting I'd attended my senior year of high school. That meeting had held around a hundred people, and I was the only one still in high school. Clusters of people here and there were passing around hand rolled marijuana cigarettes, rock and roll music blared from loudspeakers, and nobody bothered listening as the candidate stood up to make her announcement. I had gone to that meeting expecting to find something like I attended today because even then I assumed politics was a serious business calling for mature, rational adults who were often forced to make hard decisions.

I have to say, today's meeting was refreshing. It is good to see people taking a serious interest in the operation of our government. And yes, it was well worth standing in a cold auditorium.

The local Republican Party Chair got on stage and made a few opening remarks. Behind him were arrayed eight or ten people carrying hand drawn signs in support of Jim Renacci. Then Jim talked about his family (coal miners and day laborers), his arrival in the area as a young man with nothing more to his name than a worn-out Plymouth Champ, $200.00, and a fresh college degree. He talked about how he, the first generation in his family to ever attend college, came into the area looking for opportunity and found it. He spoke of his first few business ventures in retirement homes, his involvement in politics at the city level, and how he reduced an out of control $80 million city budget into a more manageable size without reducing key programs and without raising taxes.

This is the first time I have ever seen Jim speak from a podium and I was struck by how soft-spoken he is. Both Matt Miller and Paul Schiffer are loud, boisterous, highly opinionated men. After awhile, listening to them speak becomes a real torture test of the senses and I start wondering if they are preaching a sermon or running for office. The one thing that most impressed me about Jim Renacci, back when I first met him at the Wayne County Fair and again today, is the quiet confidence of his poise and his voice. There is nothing arrogant about him, nothing defensive, nothing insecure at all. He knows whereof he speaks and he has no need to broadcast it to the yearning masses. Simple, straight-forward honest opinions based on two decades running businesses followed by eight years running a mid-sized American city.

Matt Miller and Paul Schiffer are intense, passionate, loud, and neither one bothers listening, they are too busy thinking of what they can say that might win you over. They are salesman through and through. Both have spent their professional lives selling. Matt Miller selling hardware and Paul Schiffer selling himself. Both have spent their professional lives dependent on other people, Matt Miller on the owners of the store where he works, and Paul Schiffer on the manager of the radio station that hosts his show. Neither has ever made a payroll or doubled down on inventory to keep a business in the black. Neither one has ever taken risks where failure would have an impact on hundreds of employees. Their strident, preachy performances come from not really understanding how the country works while at the same time having a deep need to be a part of it. Both Matt and Paul need the opportunities a Congressional seat will bring them as well as the greater salary they will collect if elected.

Jim Renacci has spent his life making his own opportunities and as a result, has no need for a government paycheck (although I assume he will still collect one if he's elected).

In short, Jim Renacci will go to Washington and defend the interests of his constituents because first and foremost, he is a constituent himself. Matt Miller and Paul Schiffer, on the other hand, desperately need the job and if they win it, their main priority will be keeping it. Keeping it will mean the same thing it has always meant, cultivating contacts in Washington, ignoring the constituents when necessary to please the party bosses, and spending the majority of your time campaigning instead of working on new legislation.

Matt Miller and Paul Schiffer are good men and passionate about their causes, but Jim Renacci is not looking for a new job. Jim Renacci is looking to get Congress focused on balancing the national budget, reducing the deficit, and finding some way to pay for our unfunded liabilities which has surpassed $107 trillion as of this writing and continues growing every minute of every day.

A most auspicious groundhog day, in my never humble opinion. It's too bad the groundhogs slept through it.