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Boehner's Constituents In Ohio Reflect His Struggle With The GOP


When House Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation yesterday, it came as a big surprise in Washington. Boehner had been caught in a prolonged tug-of-war between different poles of a sharply divided Republican Party. And back in Boehner's conservative house district in Ohio, reactions to his resignation show some of that same polarization. Lewis Wallace of member station WYSO reports.

LEWIS WALLACE, BYLINE: Ohio's eighth Congressional District circles in a loopy shape from the southwest to the northeast outskirts of Dayton and includes suburbs, lots of farm fields and the small city of Springfield. Walking through downtown Springfield at lunchtime, more than a few people say they don't know who John Boehner is. The 2014 midterm saw almost record low voter turnout here. But maybe a more representative view of likely voters comes from Lisa Behr, a Republican.

LISA BEHR: I'm very sorry because I really liked him.

WALLACE: She thought he was representing the district well on issues like abortion and the Iran deal.

BEHR: He stands his ground, and that's what we need - people that are going to stand up and be the voice of the people, and I think he does that.

WALLACE: This district is heavily conservative. Boehner was first elected in 1990, and he has had little meaningful opposition in primary or general elections. But where there is opposition, a lot of it comes from others in his party - particularly conservatives. In a cafe in a smaller town called New Carlisle, some people have this reaction to Boehner's departure.




WALLACE: Stephen Sumner is excited.

STEPHEN SUMNER: I'm a conservative, not a liberal. And as far as I'm concerned, that's what he is - he's a RINO.

WALLACE: Meaning a Republican in name only. He thinks the speaker should have stood up more to President Obama on issues like the debt ceiling. Boehner was reelected House speaker in January, but he's faced growing and increasingly vocal opposition from Tea Party Republicans. And then there are the constituents who echo that dissatisfaction with the speaker and, well, with everyone in Congress.

SCOTT WISEMAN: They're bickering back and forth so much; they're not getting much done.

BRENDA KEITH: Always the constant bickering.

WALLACE: That's Scott Wiseman and Brenda Keith, neither of whom voted for Boehner.

And Springfield resident Josh Koster feels like the speaker's been too concerned with appearances and not concerned enough with solving difficult problems. He's cynical about the whole process.

JOSH KOSTER: It's politics - it's a show. So he's another actor in the show.

WALLACE: Still, some of Boehner's supporters say he did his best trying to deal with the extremes in the House.

Rita Cook, who's headed into Springfield City Hall wearing an American flag T-shirt, says she'd vote for him again.

RITA COOK: Well, I don't think he did a bad job. I think he just had a lot of challenges because of all the infighting between the parties and everything. I don't know if anybody could do a good job now-a-days (laughter). It would take a saint.

WALLACE: While clearly not a saint, Boehner did have a private meeting with the pope this week. He says he woke up Friday morning inspired and ready to move on. He plans to leave Congress at the end of October. A special election will be scheduled to fill his seat through 2016, and the field is wide open. For NPR News, I'm Lewis Wallace in Springfield, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lewis Wallace comes to WYSO from the Pritzker Journalism Fellowship at WBEZ in Chicago, where he reported on the environment, technology, science and economics. Prior to going down the public radio rabbit hole, he was a community organizer and producer for a multimedia project about youth and policing in Chicago. Originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., Lewis spent many years as a freelance writer, anti-oppression trainer, barista and sex educator in Chicago and in Oakland. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Northwestern University, and he has expanded his journalism training through the 2013 Metcalf Fellowship for Environmental Journalism and the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources.
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