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Politics




Voters sending Renacci, Sutton a campaign blueprint
Group wants race for the 16th Congressional district to stay positive, focused on the economy
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter
Kabir Bhatia
 
Reclaim November Ohio drew from registered voter rolls to find average folks to represent the thousands of Wayne, Stark, Ashland and Medina County voters in the new 16th district
Courtesy of Kbatia
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In The Region:
Congressional redistricting is pitting two incumbents against each other in the race for 16th District. Voters in Medina, Stark, Ashland and Wayne counties are being deluged with negative ads. But over the weekend, a non-partisan microcosm of the voters Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton are trying to reach drafted a report to the candidates about what matters to them. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia has more.
Voters sending Renacci, Sutton a campaign blueprint

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The 22 people participating in “Reclaim November Ohio” in Fairlawn were selected from a random pool of 20,000 voters to represent the demographics of the 16th district. Among them: a church secretary, a high school senior, a retired autoworker and a financial planner.

Varying ages and political opinions were checked at the door for what wound up as three days of intensive, civil discourse... not on HOW to fix Ohio's problems, but how to tell Republican Jim Renacci and Democrat Betty Sutton to focus their campaigns on three issues: cutting the federal deficit, lowering unemployment and boosting economic growth.

No bickering
Retired truck driver Ernest Thacker didn't know what to expect when the project started on Friday.

“I thought there'd be a lot of bickering, but we're trying to work out a consensus between the whole group that the politicians should be doing... sitting down and working things out, instead of doing absolutely nothing. You've gotta have people in office that care about their constituents, and will quit the fighting and be more in line with what the people want.”

Issues may not be addressed
Same goes for Donna Curnoe of Medina.
“I've always voted, I always sent back questionnaires. I have written my congressman, I have written my senators. They read these handwritten letters. I thought, 'Well, I'll go to this and see what I can do to help.' I want them to know, I have issues that maybe they have not addressed, and I want to make sure they address them.  Maybe I'm a representation of what everyone should be.”

Microcosm of the 16th
State lawmakers redrew the 16th District to stretch further north and west than the district that was dominated by Stark County for a century. And the participants were a surprise to church secretary Erica Penick.

“I came in with a perception, because of how it's redistricted, that they would be suburbanites who were affluent and who were mostly conservatives. And I found that to be quite the opposite. So I was surprised, pleasantly so.”

Watching Ohio from Minnesota
The Fairlawn gathering was sponsored by the Minnesota-based Jefferson Action, a think tank formed in 1974 by civic leaders. It has hosted similar forums nationally since 1984, designed to let citizens tell candidates exactly what they want to hear discussed during election season. The group wants candidates to sling ideas at the public, not mud at each other.

Executive Director Jim Meffert says Ohio voters are most concerned about the economy, but are hearing the least about it from candidates. The group chose Ohio's 16th district for this year's first forum due to the unusual nature of the race.

“You've got two incumbents running against each other. We've got some polling data that shows it's a pretty even race. The candidates are not particularly well-known in the district. There's a whole lot of new area to the district also. Everyone's paying attention to Ohio this election cycle, so we want to see how we can get the voice of the people out in a place where people are really watching, and in a congressional race that the nation is watching, frankly.”

Unemployment down, but not out
The nation's woes are usually echoed or amplified in Ohio. But in the past year, the state's unemployment rate has consistently been running lower than the national average. Those glimmers of hope are encouraging, but Robert Dodaro of Wooster wants to make sure his representative does more.

“I think that we have incorporated the fact that Ohio is doing statistically better in certain areas. But we also recognize that 7.8 percent unemployment does not incorporate the people who have stopped looking for work. And the problem is actually bigger than what that number represents. Not to discredit what's been done, but just to say that more needs to be done.”

Dodaro is a financial planner. When people don't have jobs or money, they don't invest.

It's about jobs
And jobs seemed to be the underlying catalyst for many participants, like high school senior Cory Auvil from Uniontown.

“I believe in the saying, ‘It takes money to make money.’ And I disagree with things like outsourcing, which is extremely common. We need to bring back all of our major industries back into the United States. I'm hoping maybe this group, if anything, will also start to get people more involved and to start learning the issues so that we can make educated decisions when we vote. And once we start doing that, politicians will stop saying things that aren't really relevant to the situations that are going on.”

Sitting nearby, Charles Peck of Strongsville agreed. After retiring, he saw his former workplace – the Ford foundry -- demolished, and the jobs shipped overseas. 

“This is getting ridiculous. These people want to talk about anything except what is wrong with the country. And if somebody doesn't fix it, we ain't gonna have one. That's pretty simple.”

That's why he's here -- to put together a simple report that will get the attention of Renacci and Sutton, complete with bullet points, colorful graphs and requests for a quarterly report card for those in office.
The consensus is that candidates’ ads should focus on policies, not opponents. 

Just the beginning
Reclaim November will hold two more meetings in September and October with different panels discussing how Renacci and Sutton responded to the document drawn up this weekend. Both candidates have been invited to speak at the October event, as well. Interested observers are welcome to attend the meetings, which are being live-streamed online.
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