ATHENS – Two Democrats are vying to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District next year. Both spoke out against the incumbent at the Athens County Democratic Party dinner last Wednesday night.
In the U.S. Congress, Stivers represents a far-flung district stretches from Athens and Morgan counties in the east across the state to Clinton and Madison counties in western Ohio, and claws back in and around western Franklin County, including Stivers’ Upper Arlington home.
In the Democratic primary for the nomination to face Stivers in 2018 are Rob Jarvis of Nelsonville, a high-school government teacher, and Rick Neal, of Columbus, a former Peace Corps volunteer and international aid worker.
Wednesday evening, Jarvis spoke first and focused his comments on the current political climate.
Jarvis recalled his 7-year-old son recently asking him about Congress. After Jarvis provided his explanation, he recalled, his son said, “So what you’re saying is that the president is like a kid and Congress is the babysitter.”
“In my classroom, I try to promote this idea of being an informed citizen, an active citizen, because so many of my students come in where what they know of the world they get from Facebook and social media,” Jarvis said. “That gets a little scary, not so much because the information is inaccurate, which a lot of it is, but because they are teaching themselves how to live in an echo chamber.”
Jarvis said that living in a one-sided world is bad, but not unique to his classroom. He said that looking across the state, he sees the same thing: good, reasonable people refusing to face the hard truths about climate change, health care, immigration reform and even constitutional rights.
“I don’t think that’s happening because of misinformation on the internet,” he said. “I think the cause is actually much more simple and at the same time much more powerful. I think that people are aggrieved. I think somewhere along the line, somebody has been embarrassed over politics. I think somebody else has been insulted.”
This isn’t surprising, he said, because in today’s political environment the desire to say “I told you so” seems to outweigh the need to say, “How can I help you?”
In order for a candidate to have a shot at beating Rep. Stivers, he said, reaching out to independent and conservative voters will be necessary, person by person and issue by issue.
“I want to be the person to lead that effort in this district and I think I can be,” Jarvis said. “But more important than whether or not it’s me is whether or not it’s us, us in this room, us in this district, us in this state. Because what we need to do for our country right now is bigger than anything any one of us could do alone.”
Neal spoke about his personal history and criticized Stivers for not doing his job, saying it’s time to do a lot better for the people in the district.
He pointed to his time in the Peace Corps and his activism with his husband after moving to Columbus with their two kids and fighting for marriage equality.
After the November 2016 election, Neal said, he told himself he had to step up and do something.
“My philosophy is that if there’s a problem and I can do something about it then I’m going to get out there and do it,” he said. “Our country is in real trouble, and we’re facing a real crisis and Steve Stivers has been part of it.”
Neal praised the diversity of the 15th District, and said that Stivers hasn’t been doing his job representing it.
“Steve Stivers has left us behind,” he said. “I guess he’s been feeling pretty comfortable as part of a Congress that doesn’t seem to be able to do very much, and when they do try to do something they make it worse.”
He slammed Stivers for his vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act this past May.
“It’s shameful,” he said. “And the vote that he took for the budget that would gut our government and gut the programs that help people every single day. That’s not the way to go.”
Neal said he’s committed to working hard for everyone in the district and not leaving others behind. He advocated working for better-paying jobs, raising the minimum wage, improving workforce development, and building digital infrastructure and broadband to help entrepreneurs and medical facilities.
He said health-insurance markets need to be stabilized and Medicare should be expanded to those aged 55 and older. On the opioid epidemic, with a history in public health, Neal said he is passionate about working to save lives.
He slammed Stivers for taking in excess of $100,000 in campaign donations from three pharmaceutical companies that pushed through legislation supported by Stivers to weaken DEA oversight of painkiller shipments. Neal said he would reject such campaign donations.
“I’m working for the people. I’m not working for them,” he said, referring to the pharmaceutical sector.