What We're Reading Today: Rolling Stone's Political Dispatch from Lima, Ohio

In trying to get a grip on how conservative policy-making has both flung itself to the far right in recent years and altered the social landscape of many corners of the U.S., Janet Reitman traveled to Lima, Ohio, to learn how the Chaffins family is getting along and how an economically depressed town survives in this modern age.

In sum: not great.

This Rolling Stone piece explores how the very hard-working, jobs-loving families held up as idols by the Republican Party have been let down by reform-blocking policies of same. Reitman spends the first few sections building up the family history — dating back to grandpa Dewey's travels to Ohio in the 1950s — and showcasing how life works these days: No more going to the movies or going out to eat, and plenty of struggle to make it from one bill to the next. 

Reitman's reporting soon zeroes in on the likes of U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, whose opposition to any and all government spending has put a hurt on municipalities like Lima. When cities must choose between keeping a fire station open or paving that seemingly bombed-out roadway, the atmosphere at City Hall begins to mirror even the most down-on-their-luck families in town. Like the Chaffins family.

And w/r/t Jordan's politics, Reitman points out that Ohio's redistricting has further entrenched conservative ideology in the core of the state. An excerpt:
Allen county is one of the most consistently red counties in Ohio, and always has been – its residents often boast that it was one of just five Ohio counties to vote for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Until recently, its sole local paper, The Lima News, was owned by the libertarian Freedom Communications, whose management promoted a stringently anti-government,- anti-tax message in its news coverage. In some ways, notes Mayor Berger, who grew up a couple of hours east in Mansfield, ''what the rest of the country has been listening to with the rise of the Tea Party, Lima and Allen County have been listening to for more than a half-century.''

Ohio's Fourth District, which includes all of Allen County, is among the most gerry-mandered in the state. Extending from Urbana and Lima in the west all the way to Toledo and the city of Elyria, on the shores of Lake Erie in the northeast, it spans about 4,500 square miles and ''kind of looks like a deformed salamander,'' as one dispirited Lima Democrat tells me, shaking his head with dismay.

Jim Jordan, who has represented Allen County for a total of 14 years – eight in Congress, and another six in the Ohio Senate – received 59 percent of the vote in his 2012 race and, having won close to 70 percent in previous years, is considered a lock for re-election. His latest opponent, Janet Garrett, is a 61-year-old kindergarten teacher from Oberlin, his district's one liberal stronghold, who got herself on the ballot as a write-in candidate after no other Democrat was willing to throw their hat in the ring. Garrett told me this summer that she's running to give her district's voters ''a choice,'' though having raised just $30,000 – $10,000 short of what she'd need to do a mass mailing – it's hard to tell how effective she'll be. Jordan has nearly $1 million cash on hand, much of it coming from corporate interests and deep-pocketed donors like the Koch Brothers, and seems to draw a blank when I mention Garrett, as if he's not even sure who she is. 
The political angle is well known here in Ohio, but the lessons we derive from gerrymandering and House Speaker John Boehner's oversight are worth remembering. Reitman's on-the-ground personal reporting elevates the piece considerably. Give the whole thing a read today, though do be warned that it's a sad tale.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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