What’s Wrong With Bankers?

As UJ notes in his recent post, Democratic Representative Mary Jo Kilroy always notes that her challenger, Republican Steve Stivers, was a “banking lobbyist.”  I assume that means that focus groups are indicating that “banking lobbyist” has sure-fire negative connotations, like “axe murderer” or “convicted felon.”

Representative Kilroy’s negative harping on Stivers’ service as a “banking lobbyist” is weird because lobbyists, of course, routinely interact with legislators — like Kilroy.  If the notion is that lobbying is some intrinsically corrupt job, it is because the legislative process of which Kilroy is a part is corrupt.  What kind of message is that for a Member of Congress to be sending?

Perhaps the negative element of “banking lobbyist” that Kilroy is emphasizing is not the “lobbyist” part, but the “banking” part.  If so, it’s too bad.  Grampa Neal was a banker, and a pretty successful one at that.  Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Grampa helped steer his bank safely through the Great Depression, made lots of very prudent loan (and no-loan) decisions that helped businesses and families, and presided over the bank’s steady growth over a period of several decades.  If Grampa Neal ever used a lobbyist, I am sure it was done properly and for good reason.  I therefore don’t necessarily associate the phrase “banking lobbyist” with something nefarious.

I guess we will find out in November whether voters in the 15th District think “banking lobbyist” has worse connotations than “incumbent Member of Congress.”

A Bellwether Rematch In The 15th District

One of the more interesting congressional races in the nation is happening in Columbus, in Ohio’s 15th District.  Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy narrowly defeated Republican Steve Stivers in 2008 — she won by 2,311 votes out of 304,000 cast — and the two are squaring off again this year.  If there is going to be an electoral tidal wave that lifts the Republicans to a majority in the House of Representatives, as some are predicting, then Republicans are going to have to win in districts like the 15th. Perhaps for that reason, the contest seems to be getting a fair amount of national attention.

Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy

The conventional wisdom is that the Republican candidate has the edge — although the polling data on the race is limited and pretty dated.  That may in fact be the reality, but I’m not so sure.  The district has changed a lot since my old boss, Republican Chalmers Wylie, routinely won big majorities and coasted to reelection.  The 15th district now includes parts of Columbus, the areas south and west of downtown, the northwest suburbs, Marysville, which is home to The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and Honda of America Mfg., Inc., and various rural areas.  The white-collar suburbs like Upper Arlington and Worthington, reliably Republican in years past, have become much more politically diverse and unpredictable in the past decade.  The areas south and west of downtown, on the other hand, has been very hard hit by the recession.  Who knows how these areas will react to the current economic and political climate?

The race also is interesting because Kilroy doesn’t seem to be running away from her liberal voting record.  As a freshman member of the House, Kilroy was a consistent supporter of the “health care reform” legislation and other key Democratic policy initiatives (for which UJ is thankful).  She always refers to Stivers as a “long-time bank lobbyist.”  Stivers, on the other hand, seems to be staking out more of a centrist position.  For example, he talks about “fixing” the “heatlh care reform” legislation rather than repealing it outright.  He criticizes Kilroy for killing jobs and being out of step with the views of the district.

Steve Stivers

Moving to the center normally is good politics, and the 15th District will be a good test on whether that remains the case in 2010.  In many recent primaries, voters have rejected the more centrist candidates in favor of those who are voicing more pointed positions on the issues.  This may not be an election where voters have an appetite for middle-of-the-road responses to very serious problems.  If that is the national mood, then Kilroy’s two-fisted defense of her liberal voting record (she received a perfect 100% rating from Americans for Democratic Action in 2009) may strike a responsive chord with the electorate.  On the other hand, if the voters are fed up with federal spending that has massively increased the federal debt and legislative initiatives that haven’t made a dent in unemployment, then Kilroy’s defense of her liberal record will effectively be making Stiver’s case for his own election.  Either way, the 15th District will be one of the bellwether contests to watch on Election Night.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil

The New York Times has an interesting article about Members of Congress not engaging in “town hall” meetings during this summer’s recess.  Apparently congressional Democrats, at least, are gun shy about appearing at unscripted public meetings after having to face angry voters last year.  So, rather than trying to figure out how to effectively and persuasively answer the likely criticisms of such voters, they have decide to avoid open meetings altogether and instead appear only at controlled functions. 

After reading the article, I checked the official websites of the two Columbus-area representatives, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy of the 15th District and Republican Pat Tiberi of the 12th District, to see if they had any information on upcoming “town hall”-type meetings.  Rep. Kilroy’s website contains several links that allow you to get controlled information about Rep. Kilroy — on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and “Mary Jo TV” — but no apparent information that I could find on any upcoming live appearances that are open to the general public.  (Her website does, however, include a “Recovery Act online quiz” that states that “the evidence is clear — and growing by the day — that the Recovery Act is working to create jobs, prevent a second Great Depression, and lay a new foundation for an economic prosperity shared by all.”  I’m stunned that any politician would be touting the “stimulus bill” at this point, but maybe her website isn’t updated regularly.)  The website of Pat Tiberi, who represents us here in New Albany, also does not seem to provide information on any public appearances in the coming weeks.

Perhaps there is a stronger tradition of public meetings in New England or early primary states like Iowa than there is in Ohio.  In any case, I think it is useful for Members of Congress to interact with the general public in unscripted settings.  It is pathetic and, frankly, craven for Members of Congress to be ducking such interaction simply because they don’t believe they are going to like what they will see and hear when they meet their constituents.