By Bertram de Souza
There was a collective sigh of relief in the Mahoning Valley, especially within the ranks of the business community, when U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, made it known that he had changed his mind about giving up his congressional seat. Ryan had toyed with the idea of seeking statewide election next year as Gov. Ted Strickland’s running mate.
Strickland will be seeking a second four-year term and his chances of winning another term are good. Ryan believed that campaigning statewide and then serving as lieutenant governor — and perhaps state development director — would pave the way for his gubernatorial bid in 2014.
National, state and local press coverage served to fuel the congressman’s political passions — until he took a step back and conducted an objective analysis. He talked to family and friends; business, union and community leaders; veteran politicos; and even members of the press. He weighed giving up a sure thing — re-election to Congress — against a political endeavor fraught with uncertainty.
And, more importantly, he thought about what his leaving Congress after eight years and a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee would do the Mahoning Valley.
Ryan’s conclusion: This region’s economic revitalization efforts will not succeed without the active involvement of the federal government, and such involvement can only come by having a member of Congress who serves on the committee that controls the federal government’s purse-strings.
Indeed, Ryan’s subcommittee memberships are just as important: Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, which oversees discretionary spending of $151.8 billion; and, Energy and Water Development, with $33.3 billion to dole out.
The keyword in the spending of these billions is discretionary, which means that members of the House Appropriations Committee and subcommittees like Labor, HHS, Education have the ability to wheel and deal with their colleagues.
It is no secret that committee membership has its privileges.
Ryan’s ability to direct huge sums of money to the 17th District is well documented.
But there’s more to it. He is in the unique position of being able to help chart the Valley’s economic course.
For instance, he secured $2 million in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill to create a Center for Renewable Energy Systems at Youngstown State University and $1.5 million for an advance energy program at the University of Akron.
In addition, he funneled $500,000 for a materials science program at YSU.
Viewed in the context of President Obama’s energy policy that moves the nation away from foreign oil and toward renewable sources, such as wind and solar, this region could well become an important player.
Likewise, when General Motors Corp.’s reorganization is complete, the Lordstown assembly plant will play a major role in the company’s future success. That’s because its new compact car, the Chevrolet Cruze, will be produced at Lordstown.
Congressman Ryan is well positioned on Capitol Hill to ensure that there are no financial impediments to the Cruze’s success. He can also play an active role in guiding the development of the second generation of the car — with emphasis on technological advancements.
Indeed, Youngstown State, as the lead four-year institution in the Mahoning Valley, should establish a research and development department dedicated to General Motors.
The goal would be to ensure that the Lordstown plant is inextricably tied to the automaker’s future.
Ryan, as a member of the Appropriations Committee and a rising star in the House, has the ability to bring his various initiatives, such as the creation of a technology belt between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, to fruition.
His decision to remain in Congress deserves public acknowledgement.
On April 12, this writer urged Ryan not to give up his seat to pursue the lieutenant governor’s position. Here’s what was written:
“For purely selfish reasons, the people of the Mahoning Valley need Ryan to remain in the House.”
The congressman has shown true political leadership by forgoing a sure thing as the governor’s running mate.