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Rep. Ryan: Turning point is upon us

STEUBENVILLE — The way U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan sees it, the United States finds itself at a dramatic turning point.

“We are at a crossroads,” Ryan said Friday. “We’re either going to double down on the future economy and make sure everyone can come along for the ride, or we’re going to double down on the past, on the old economy where there was a lot of income inequality and there were a lot of forgotten communities, and that will make the gap even further because things are moving so fast.”

Ryan, the Howland Democrat who represents the Youngstown and Mahoning Valley areas in the House of Representatives, was speaking during a virtual roundtable on expanding economic opportunity in Appalachia. It marked one of his first appearances since April 26, when he became the first Democrat to say he would seek the party’s nomination for the Senate in 2022.

“This is about cutting the workers in on the deal,” Ryan explained. “I think all of us know people in Ohio, especially in Southeastern Ohio, who are working harder than ever before. They’re showing up for work, doing their job and still struggling to get ahead. I think that’s what this campaign is all about.”

He’ll be looking for a chance to replace Republican Rob Portman, who lives in the Cincinnati suburb of Terrace Park. Portman announced Jan. 25 he would not seek re-election to the seat he has held since 2010.

“I have a pretty good track record of fighting hard and being able to cut these workers in on the deal,” Ryan explained. “I know and understand what’s going on in the Ohio Valley and how we have to get the economy going. We have to get jobs for the communities large and small, and not forget about the communities that have been struggling.”

Participants in the nearly hour-long session, which was moderated by former state Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville, an early supporter of Ryan’s campaign, talked about President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion stimulus plan, which is centered on infrastructure, as well as the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which was unveiled during Wednesday’s address to the nation.

Among the provisions of that proposal is a $200 billion investment in universal preschool. That would help workers and employers in the region, according to Dan Milleson.

“Of the 14 people who work here, 11 of them are women and all 11 are mothers,” the Harrison County-based insurance broker explained. “What I know would affect them would be the early childhood education that the American Families Plan calls for. If we can get kids into school two years earlier, that’s money that the women –and men who are fathers — would not have to pay for daycare. That would be money back in their pockets.

“Look at our staff,” he continued. “For them, it’s either the job or raising kids. Shifting that around would create more opportunity for parents and single parents.”

Improving access to reliable and affordable broadband is critical for Southeastern Ohio, the participants agreed.

“All through Southeastern Ohio, we have known about the issue of being left behind and without broadband,” added Jack Cera. The Bellaire Democrat represented the 96th District in the Ohio House of Representatives, which includes all of Jefferson and Monroe counties and a portion of Belmont County. Term limits kept him from seeking re-election to the seat last fall.

“If there’s one thing that might have come from the pandemic, it was the recognition that there is a whole part of Ohio –not just rural Ohio — that struggles with access and affordability,” he added. “When our schools were shut down, we all heard stories about kids sitting in McDonald’s to get access. Our schools struggle, anyway, with the funding issues, but this really set them back.”

Ann Block, the Monroe County recorder, agreed.

“We have sporadic Internet down here,” she said. “We’re battling every single day in our offices, let alone our homes. There are major areas where cell phones won’t work.”

She added money to help repair roads and bridges in her area also would be important. Without that work, her part of the state could continue to struggle, and that’s frustrating.

“We can’t even have a small manufacturer come here when they can’t use the Internet to access the things they need for people to place orders, for them to order goods and then to ship them out,” she said. “We have the workforce, we have the space and we have the ideal location, but the Internet and the roads are a giant stumbling block.”

Her sentiments were shared by Cera.

“We have to change our thinking as leaders in the region, but we also need Washington and Columbus to understand they need to change their view of us,” he explained. “We have a lot more to offer than they often give us credit for. But that won’t change until we get that connection to the new world of 2021 and have affordable and good access.”

Ryan said the region needs a senator who is willing to work with business owners and help them build companies that will create jobs and hire more workers. That’s important to everyone in the region, including Clint Powell, the business manager of Laborers Local 809 in Steubenville and vice president of the Upper Ohio Valley Building and Construction Trades Council.

“When the infrastructure bill gets passed, it’s going to be huge in terms of getting our guys back to work,” Powell said.

Powell and Ryan agreed it was critical to get the Protecting the Right to Organize Act through Congress. The legislation, which passed the House on a 225-206 vote in March, is awaiting action in the Senate. It would provide protections for workers who are looking to organize.

According to Powell, union membership and paying dues are choices for workers to make. No one, he said, is forced to pay union dues.

“Workers choose to come here because it’s a better way of life,” he said. “We have a pension plan, we have insurance, we negotiate wages. There’s a lot of respect and appreciation for what unions do. I don’t hear any of my members complaining. That’s the argument the other side makes — but they have a choice.”

Ryan added that a 30-year decline in wages is directly related to the decline in unions.

“If we are going to rebuild the middle class, we are going to need more union members,” Ryan explained.

Big investments in public infrastructure will help improve schools, provide better access to health care and help to boost the economy overall.

“This has got to be the focus –how do we revitalize manufacturing so we are making things in Ohio again?” Ryan added. “The industries of the future, including electric vehicles, batteries, charging stations –what can we make, because Ohio always has been at its best when it has been on the cutting edge — making stuff, building stuff.”

Interest in the seat already is heating up, even though the primary is about a year away. Four Republicans already have entered the race — Jane Timken of the Canton area, the former state party chair; Josh Mandel, a former state treasurer; and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons of the Cleveland area.

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