Sunday, October 14, 2012


Jefferson Action (a 501c4 non-profit civic education organization) provided citizens of the 16th congressional district a splendid public service in selecting the district to be a focal point of a citizen inquiry into candidates Jim Renacci's (R - Wadsworth) and Betty Sutton's (D - Copley) view on various economic issues at play in their match up against one another to see which of the two will remain in Congress.

Renacci and Sutton (both currently in Congress [Renacci - the 16th], [Sutton - the 13th]) were forced to run against one another because U.S. Constitution required decennial redistricting required a reallocation of congressional seats across America with population losing states [Ohio was one of them, losing two seats due to population loss] ceding seats to states gaining population.

The Jefferson Action process (a seven day one spread out over three months:  July, September & October) involved:
  • In July,  getting a 24 member randomly chosen 16th District citizen group (which actually ended up being 23 number) and identifying the boilerplate issues, to wit:
    • Weak Economic growth,
    • Unemployment, and
    • the Federal Deficit and Debt
  • In September, preparing the citizens group to acquire a depth of information about the issues with which to frame specific questions of each Renacci and Sutton bounded by the generalized issues of weak economic growth, unemployment and the federal deficit and debt,
  • In October, (the SCPR was present and videotaped both candidate interviews) meeting each of the candidates face-to-face (The Report being one of the media present), but separate from each other, for about 75 minutes of a back and forth on pre-framed question with spontaneous follow up.
While The Report applauds the project having been put together and implemented, it is important to the integrity of the process that Jefferson Action, the citizen-participants and the candidates performance be reviewed and critiqued.

Such is the focus of this blog.

Prior blogs have honed in:
  • on the organization of the project with an SCPR evaluation on whether or not Jefferson Action put together a "sustainable" model for other civic involvement organizations to follow (LINK),
  • on the preparation of the citizens group in terms of whether or not the members were adequately prepared to frame meaningful questions, both prepared and spontaneous follow up, to pose to the question and designed to compel the candidates to be responsive to the questions asked (LINK to a prior blog which dealt somewhat with the preparation phase.  
As previously stated, this blog is an analysis of how effectively Jefferson Action, the citizen group members, and the candidates themselves responded to the challenge.

A wealth of materials covering the entire seven days is available at Jefferson Action's website (LINK).

In hindsight, looking at what appears to be a consistently "skewed" citizen evaluation in Renacci's favor, the SCPR believes that the "random" selection process was not thoroughly thought out and resulted in a group composition predisposed to the congressman's viewpoint.

In reviewing the citizen-group's "votes" on the candidates' responses to the questions presented to them on weak economic growth, unemployment and the federal debt, the SCPR's take is that the result was not as much as thoughtful analysis of the candidate responses as Jefferson Action would undoubtedly preferred, but appears to have been laced with underlying political preference.

Moreover, it appears (again, in hindsight, seeing the groups' findings - LINK) that the stronger personalities within the group were Republican "right-of-center" types (one person, in particular, stood out) who prevailed in terms of getting their views accepted by the more neutral members of the group.

A solution?

Jefferson Action should have put more effort in ensuring that the group participants were eight solid Republicans, eight solid Democrats, and eight solid independents. 

It is very easy to check historical voting records in primaries.  Determining who has voted consistently and which political party ballot they have taken or that they have taken no party ballot at all is a walk in the park.

Also, pre-selection interviews from a pool of potential selectees should resulted in the ferreting out of overpowering personalities.

It was obvious to The Report that one personality in particular was driving the engine of JA selected group and possibly was a key factor in slanting the vote of the group as a whole towards Renacci.

The SCPR's take on the Renacci/Sutton answers was that the quality of  their answers was pretty much of a draw. 

It seems to yours truly that the citizen-participant follow ups were not strong/persistent enough to have any hope of driving the candidates off their talking points.

And consequently seasoned political observers would be hard pressed to say that one candidate was more effectively responsive that the other.

Here is an example.

One of Renacci's bromides at the forum, which is a well-known universal talking point among many Republican candidates, is the insistence that lower taxes produce jobs.

Well, there is another point-of-view.

Democrats (and, of course Congresswoman Sutton) rightly or wrongly, are fond of saying "we have tried that and where did it lead us?"

Democrats in Congress (including Sutton) and President Obama favor massive infrastructure investment a la President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal."

But the follow up questions, failed:
  • to draw out distinct clarity on the differences between the candidates,  and
  • to press for evidence that one answer was more right for the country than the other.
The citizens could easily have asked Renacci to provide data that the tax cut approach has worked.

And anticipating what clearly was going to be a main tenet of what Sutton was going to say, why wouldn't "inquiring minds" want to ask him what part a "spending for infrastructure" might play in job recovery and economic recovery.

Sutton should have been asked for economic studies that are evidence that the tax cut scenario does not pan out.

And Sutton should have been pressed on her infrastructure argument.  For beginners: what was good for the 1930s and 1940s might will work in 2012, no?  The candidates should have been pressed to provide evidence for his/her point-of-view.

To be fair to the citizens, the SCPR believes the structure of the separate interviews was inadequate to the task at hand and greatly hampered the type of vetting of the candidates that might have been more enlightening as to which view offered solutions to what ails the country on the economic front.

A more beneficial format would have been for it to have been a townhall-esque setting like the one that Romney and Obama will be having Tuesday night.

Jefferson Action's 16th congressional district citizens forum project was a noble enterprise.

But it could have been so much more!

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