Politics & Policy

Exclusive Interview with Steve Stivers, Challenger of OH-15

Ohio’s 15th district, as regular readers of this blog know by now, is represented by freshman Democrat (and veteran socialist) Mary Jo Kilroy, a woman whose ideological bona fides are most notable insofar as they stop just short of Dennis Kucinich territory.

Unfortunately for her, her district is purple, rather than deep blue, and the odds of a crypto-socialist surviving there in a year like this are very, very bad.

Kilroy’s challenger Steve Stivers sat down with his Communications Director John Damschroder for an exclusive one-on-one interview with Battle ‘10. Transcript below.

Battle ‘10: Why did you get into the race?

Stivers: I ran two years ago and, after 2008, I didn’t think I’d get back in the race. But after I watched the first few months of 2009 and all the spending that this Congress and Mary Jo Kilroy was doing — in fact, in the first five months of 2009 they spent a million dollars a minute — it’s really scary when you think about how fast they’re spending money.

I have a one-year-old daughter, and even though she wasn’t born yet, she owes over $45,000 as her share of the national debt. That’s if you give credit for every American, not just taxpayers. They’re mortgaging her future, and I really am worried about the American Dream and our possibility to pass on a better life to our kids if we don’t turn this country around.

We’ve got to stop the spending and we’ve got to get people back to work. It’s that simple. You can raise revenues by getting people back to work, off government programs, and into a job where they’re productive taxpayers again.

B’10: You say “the best social program is a job.” I don’t know how much intel you’ve gotten on the Obama speech, but the President evidently is trying to talk about creating jobs through tax cuts and new infrastructure spending. What’s your take? Do you think the Democrats care about jobs?

Stivers: I think it’s 54 days before an election and I think the Democrats understand polls and I think the sense was, “Oh, I think we need to start talking about jobs.”

No one really believes that these proposals are going to get passed by Congress before election day, and as much as I do like the tax deductibility piece of it, it’s not enough to give businesses more flexibility on how they write things off.

On the spending side, how is $50 billion going to make a difference when $787 billion didn’t make a difference? The other interesting piece of it is that this Congress has not authorized a transportation funding bill. I think they’re 18 months late with the transportation funding bill, which, ironically enough, pays for infrastructure and roads.

Congress should just do its job and pass a transportation-infrastucture bill — a regular bill that doesn’t borrow money and mortgage my future.

B’10: So obviously the issue in the election is jobs. What’s the key vote Mary Jo Kilroy made that illustrates her betrayal of a pro-jobs agenda?

Stivers: The stimulus bill really was the last straw, because they didn’t spend money focused on jobs. It was a list of unfunded priorities that Congress had had for ten or fifteen years. They hadn’t been able to find money for them, and they didn’t evaluate the spending based on jobs.

That really was the tipping point on spending for me. Businesses are sitting on record amounts of capital right now because they’re scared to invest it, and we need to give them a reason to invest their capital in order to get a reward.

It’s what [former Ohio governor] Jim Rhodes used to say: “We can’t let profit be a dirty word.” And, unfortunately, these people in Congress, they think profit’s a dirty word. The advantage of the free market system is that people invest their capital, they create jobs by investing their capital and hopefully they get a return on that investment. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with good old American capitalism.

B’10: And you think that’s a key difference between you and Kilroy?

Stivers: I think the key difference between Kilroy and I is really I put my faith in individuals, including the free market system.

She puts her faith in government and that really is her answer on almost every issue. And in every case she’s gonna want to grow government, and I’m probably gonna want to shrink government.

B’10: So let’s shift away from the policy and to the political ground. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seems to be under the impression Mary Jo Kilroy is doomed. Why is it important to keep fighting? Why shouldn’t your supporters get complacent?

Stivers: The biggest concern I’ve got about that whole line of articles is that I don’t want my base to get complacent and think this race is over.

This district was evenly divided in 2006. Debbie Pryce, the Republican incumbent, won by one thousand votes over Kilroy.

It was close in 2008. I lost to Kilroy by two thousand votes. I don’t think I’m gonna blow out this race by ten points. It’s just not the way this district is made up and so, frankly, I worry when people talk about the race being over.  

I need to keep encouraging my volunteers, my supporters and my staff to know that we need to work all the way to the end, and we’re not gonna take our foot off the accelerator until November 3.

B’10: So you have to keep doing reverse-damage control for Kilroy and telling her opponents that she still has a chance?

Stivers: Frankly, the ways I could lose this race would be if I got complacent or if I made a big mistake.

Obviously, there are other things she could do, she’s had a big inflow of union money. She’s been a big supporter of the Card Check legislation, which again assumes that they know better than people to choose for themselves, so the unions I’m sure will come in with money, so she’ll have some support.

Even if the DCCC were to completely write her off, I think that AFSCME and SEIU, who spent a million dollars each last time, two million total, through a group called Patriot Majority Midwest, I think they’ll be here for her no matter what because when someone votes for you 98.4 percent of the time, why wouldn’t you support them?

B’10: National Journal did a profile of the race and said that if Kilroy wants to have any shot of winning, she has to run against Wall Street. Given how well that’s turned out for Ted Strickland, is she effectively without any clear path to victory?

Stivers: Well, you just never know, and clearly she’s gonna try to run against Wall Street. It’ll be interesting to see how she tries to tie me to Wall Street. I’ve never worked on Wall Street.

Her last mailer focused on Main Street versus Wall Street, and it was paid for by the taxpayers. We won’t know until October 15 how much she spent on that mailer, but I’ve gotten it from literally hundreds of people, so I’m sure that people are outraged that she would continue to spend taxpayer money on her propaganda campaign.

John Damschroder, Communications Director: She’s on Financial Services. She raised money from Financial Services. Businessweek did an article about her fundraising from that committee indicating that she had at least three fundraisers solely targeting the financial-service industry. So who would that be? Wall Street. She’s throwing stones out of a stained glass house.

B’10: Well, one of the groups that bought Kilroy’s anti-Wall Street line is clearly the Huffington Post, because a recent HuffPo article attacked you and quoted you as saying “You can’t take away peoples’ ability to screw up their own finances.” Doesn’t Kilroy’s behavior prove that you can’t stop the government from screwing up other peoples’ finances?

Stivers: I think Ronald Reagan said a long time ago that government is here to protect us from each other and when government tries to protect us from ourselves, we need to really be worried.

In fact, when I said that it was about a payday lending bill that later got amended and became much more palatable. I ultimately ended up voting for the bill, but the way they had it originally, it would’ve banned a product, and then it would’ve gone to the black market and you still would’ve had the product out there. It just would’ve not been a legal product anymore, and that’s what the rest of the quote that they left out was.

B‘10: So who are the major players in the race?

Stivers: I think clearly if Kilroy wins, Nancy Pelosi wins. I think if Kilroy wins, the labor unions win. If Kilroy wins, the trial lawyers win. And I think if I win, the job creators win, that’s why the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the American Society of Certified Public Accountants have all endorsed me. They’re all for me, and I think they will win if I win. And I think that some of the labor and attorney special interests and Democrat special interests will win if Kilroy wins.

B’10: On that note, you’ve come out against Card Check, and Ohio is not a right-to-work state. Would you say there’s any parallel between what Ohio looks like as a non-right-to-work state and what the country would look like if Card Check got passed?

Stivers: I actually think it would be worse, because at that point, if we pass Card Check as a federal law, it’s not Ohio versus South Carolina or Ohio versus Texas, which are right-to-work states. It’s Ohio versus India, Ohio versus China, Ohio versus Canada, Ohio versus Mexico. It’s an international marketplace out there, and if Card Check gets passed, I think you’ll see the largest offshoring of jobs that you’ve seen in American history.

I’m worried about giving up American workers’ right to a secret ballot because I went to Iraq to protect the Iraqi secret ballot and I’ll be darned if I’ll let anyone here take away the American secret ballot. But more importantly, the fundamental business climate thing is if labor unions are able to take over mid-and-small companies all across this country, I think you’ll see a lot of owners and boards of directors moving jobs to where there are less restrictions. You know, capital isn’t patriotic. Capital goes to where it needs to go to get a return.

Damschroder: Can I interject a thought here? The best jobs in manufacturing in Ohio right now are Honda and General Motors. Compare them. General Motors have union workers paying very high union, United Auto Workers dues, and workers make $14 per hour to start. The average wage out of [non-unionized] Honda is almost twice that.

Stivers: The irony is that the greed of some of these labor bosses could actually kill the labor union in America.

Damschroder: The Democrats love it because these workers become walking annuities for their political funds. The state unionized its labor force in 1983, and an awful lot of workers were added solely and distinctly because you could basically get their union dues into Democratic campaign coffers. It’s the same strategy writ large nationally and since that period when they did it in Ohio, we have become less competitive as a state government. Our state government costs were radically affected by that.

B’10: So there’s clearly a philosophical dimension to this race?

Stivers: Absolutely. It’s free market versus government controlled. It’s growth versus redistributionism, it’s all those things.

B’10: Capitalism versus socialism?

Stivers: I’m not going to go that far, but there’s a bright-line philosophical difference and, you know, I’m not gonna go to that brand of name-calling, but clearly her background speaks for itself.

B’10: So final question – what’s the message you plan on sending once you get to Washington?

Stivers: I think we need a check and balance on the excesses in government, and that includes excess spending. It includes excess government growth. It includes excess regulation.

We need to go back and look at every decision we make in Washington and look at every decision we make in Washington through the lens of “Is it good for job creation?” Because if we get job creation, then our tax revenues will come up, our budget will be closer to balanced, and if we can do that at the same time we cut spending, we can look much more responsible.

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