What is perhaps most striking in sitting down for an hour or so with incumbent Congressman Bill Johnson and then, separately, with former Congressman Charlie Wilson is how different their tone is from that of the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of television commercials their campaigns have been running for weeks.
Both are soft-spoken, and while their criticisms of each other can be pointed, it is never shrill. Both have their talking points, but both are perfectly capable of going off script and being articulate advocates for their points of view. (Portions of those interviews can be viewed among the videos posted on Vindy.com.)
In short, Wilson, 69, of St. Clairsville, has served and served well, although obviously not to every voter’s satisfaction. Indeed, not to the satisfaction of a majority of voters in 2010. Johnson, 57, of Marietta, is serving presently, and serving well, if not to the satisfaction of all.
Both of these candidates have proven to be capable representatives, and there is no cause for alarm in the 6th District regardless of who wins Nov. 6.
But voters do have to come to a conclusion of which candidate best matches their criteria, and we have had to do likewise in making our endorsement.
The budget and health
Economic policy took up a large part of the conversations we had with Johnson and Wilson.
Johnson supports — and, indeed, voted for — the Ryan Budget, which takes its name from Paul Ryan, Wisconsin congressman and Republican vice presidential candidate.
The number $716 billion comes up a lot when talking about the budget and health care. Johnson, in his commercials and during his interview, points out that President Barack Obama cuts that amount from Medicare and shifts the money to the Affordable Care Act, or, as it is called, Obamacare.
But Ryan’s budget cuts the exact same amount from Medicare, over the same 10-year period. The only difference is that Ryan and most Republicans say the money would be used to reduce the deficit; Obama and the Democrats say it would be put to more efficient use in providing health care for Americans.
Johnson supports a gradual privatization of Medicare, giving people now under the age of 55 an option of using vouchers to buy their own insurance or participating in Medicare. Wilson says Medicare needs “tweaking,” by, for instance, removing earning caps on the Medicare withholding tax.
We’d say Medicare needs more than tweaking, but on the other hand we don’t believe Medicare would survive under a bifurcated system that would encourage healthier people to negotiate private coverage while others were shunted into traditional Medicare.
The 6th District covers all or parts of Mahoning, Columbiana, Carroll, Jefferson, Harrison, Tuscarawas, Guernsey, Belmont, Muskingum, Noble, Monroe, Washington, Athens, Meigs, Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence and Scioto counties.
In the northern part of the district, the automobile industry is the engine of growth. Through much of the rest of the district along the Ohio River, coal is king. And neither candidate has a bad word to say about coal. When Wilson was in Congress he was one of a minority of Democrats who split with his party over the cap and trade bill that put restrictions on carbon emissions, at the expense, obviously, of the coal industry.
Point of contention
But Wilson and Johnson clearly differ when it comes to the auto industry.
When in Congress, Wilson voted for the bill to bail out General Motors and Chrysler, and he says he has no regrets because it would have been devastating to the area, the state and the nation had General Motors gone under.
Johnson says he wouldn’t have voted for the bailout because he simply does not believe that GM and Chrysler would have failed. “American ingenuity would have prevailed,” he declared.
While we believe in American ingenuity, no amount of ingenuity will save a company when what it needs is cold, hard cash, and the financial markets are not willing to provide it. And that was exactly what GM and Chrysler were facing in 2008 when President George W. Bush began a rescue plan that was pursued when President Obama came to office in 2009.
As we said at the beginning of this editorial, Wilson and Johnson have shown themselves to be capable, and neither is perfect. But a choice must be made.
Their divergent views on the wisdom of saving General Motors from being cannibalized in what would have been a brutal bankruptcy process, is enough to tip the scales.
The Vindicator endorses Charlie Wilson, believing that his return to Congress is in the best interest of voters in the 6th District.