Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Crowded Field Of Candidates Vie To Succeed John Boehner In Congress


There is a race tomorrow in Ohio that shows just how fragmented and conservative the GOP is these days, and it's not the presidential race. It's the Republican primary to determine who will run to fill the vacancy that Speaker of the House John Boehner created when he retired last fall.


It's in Ohio's 8th Congressional District. It's a safe Republican seat, and this is the first election in the 8th with no incumbent since Boehner first ran in 1990. Not surprisingly, a local state senator, Bill Beagle, who represents part of the district in Columbus, announced for the seat. I caught up with Beagle at K's, a hamburger joint in Troy, Ohio, a prosperous county seat with a domed courthouse that ranks with some state capitols.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Tell me your name again.

BILL BEAGLE: I'm Bill Beagle, like the dog.


BEAGLE: Nice to meet you. I can leave my card here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Bill Beagle. I love beagles.



SIEGEL: In one of his commercials, we get to see Bill Beagle skeet shooting.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Washington has failed to secure our borders and keep us safe from a threat of ISIS, failed to protect our Second Amendment rights, failed to stop out-of-control spending. Let's send Bill Beagle to Congress with a record of results, a record of action.


SIEGEL: Beagle is conservative, pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Obamacare. But then, so is everyone who's running for the Republican nomination which is tantamount to election in the 8th. There's Beagle's fellow state legislator State Representative Tim Derickson.


TIM DERICKSON: I'm Tim Derickson. Faith and family are proof of God's grace, and it's our duty to defend them. That means returning to our nation's Christian heritage, protecting traditional families and fighting for the unborn.

SIEGEL: Derickson has been endorsed by Ohio Right to Life, and he has the support of a new Washington-based nonprofit called Right Way Initiative. It says it supports constructive conservative, which, so far, just means Tim Derickson. The Conservative Club for Growth has endorsed Warren Davidson, a local businessman and West Point graduate. Davidson says he decided to run against a gridlocked, dysfunctional Washington.

WARREN DAVIDSON: If one time on a budget deal, you get kind of snookered, and you either go along with this or you shut the government down, which seemed to be the endless story, you could kind of understand. But you know, six or seven, eight times in a row, you kind of go, stunning lack of creativity.

SIEGEL: Well, the leader of the House Republicans was John Boehner from this district. Did he let down the party and the voters here?

DAVIDSON: I think a lot of people were frustrated with his time as speaker, for sure. In the district, he's still highly regarded. As speaker, I think he'll be remembered for some of the gridlocked status quo that really produced this level of frustration.

SIEGEL: Just Warren Davidson, Tim Derickson and Bill Beagle would make for a primary of varied shades of dark red in a deeply red district, but we're only beginning. Professor John Forren is a political scientist at Miami University's branch in Hamilton, Ohio.

JOHN FORREN: You know, it's been an interesting year. It really is a once-in-a-generation open seat.

SIEGEL: Because for all those years, John Boehner coasted to re-nomination and reelection in this masterpiece of gerrymandering. It rises north of Cincinnati along the western edge of the state, but about midway, there's an offshoot that juts out east, perfectly missing Democratic Dayton. When he quit, Boehner left behind no protege as his political heir, and he made no endorsement. There are no professed insiders here - again, political scientist John Forren.

FORREN: They're all running as outsiders, and so that means you don't get a lot of praise for John Boehner. But you don't get a lot of reference, actually, to the presidential race, either.

SIEGEL: J.D. Winteregg, who's worked both as a French teacher and at a grain elevator, challenged Boehner for the nomination two years ago. In his view, the speaker was enabling President Obama's spending plans. Winteregg lost, but but got 22 percent of the primary vote, and he's back in 2016 with this online commercial.


J.D. WINTEREGG: I wasn't afraid to fight the Boehner-Obama machine. I stood on principle while others sat on the sidelines.

SIEGEL: It costs just $85 to file as a candidate, and you need the signatures of just 50 registered Republican voters. The result - 15 candidates. Only 14 of them show up in candidate forums like the one I watched at Miami University. Here's a montage drawn from their short answers to a question prompted by a terrible event in the district one week earlier. It was a school shooting by a 14-year-old gunman. Four students were injured. What ought to be done about gun violence? They answered in alphabetical order, so we start with candidates Beagle, Derickson and Davidson.


BEAGLE: I don't think the answer is to keep law-abiding citizens from their guns.

DERICKSON: The gun isn't the actor here. It's the person.

DAVIDSON: Taking guns away from our citizens is not the answer.

SCOTT GEORGE: I would start with support of our law enforcement.

ERIC HAEMMERLE: The problem is that whenever there's a shooting in this nation, that we reflexively want more gun control.

TERRI KING: I would look to having the teachers learn the firearms and carry them in the school.

JOSEPH MATVEY: Guns are not the problem. The problem is that we need to have adequate resources for our law enforcement officials so that they can do their jobs and do them effectively.

EDWARD MEER: People need to go and actually lock their firearms up and keep their kids from getting at their firearms.

JOHN ROBBINS: The parents are not teaching personal responsibility.

MICHAEL SMITH: I'm a constitutionalist, and I don't feel that our Second Amendment rights should ever be infringed.

JIM SPURLINO: Responsible gun ownership is certainly at the core of this.

KEVIN WHITE: Encourage active shooter training for the schools and the pupils.

SIEGEL: That was candidate Kevin White - more from him in a moment. We also heard from businessman and proud non-politician Scott George, teacher Eric Haemmerle and lawyer Terri King, the only woman in the race - also CPA Joseph Matvey, Edward Meer, who's out to fix the problems made by the career politicians, John Robbins, an Army veteran and retired chief sewer inspector for Butler County, Michael Smith, a veterans activist and former mortgage banker and Jim Spurlino, who owns a successful concrete business. That's 12 candidates. Here are two more - J.D. Winteregg...


WINTEREGG: The root of the problem is a breakdown in the family.

SIEGEL: ...And finally, businessman and Air Force veteran George Wooley.


GEORGE WOOLEY: The easy answer is to take the guns away from the mentally ill. The trouble is, the medical community has been co-opted by liberals who say that if you don't agree with abortion and homosexuality, there's something wrong with you. It's not hard to imagine that they could also declare people that are Republicans and conservatives as mentally unfit as well. So until we get this political correctness swept away with the truth, I say we keep the Second Amendment as it is.


SIEGEL: The next morning to Studebaker's restaurant, I met Kevin White in his hometown of New Carlisle. Several of his neighbors and supporters were there. White flies for United Airlines. He flew C-130s for the Air Force. Before that, he was a Navy pilot. He and his wife are both Annapolis graduates. I was curious about the sense of greatness lost, the feeling that Donald Trump connects with. Well, Kevin White described for me a sense of an economy, a work ethic, a global national posture all diminished by weakness and dependency, a condition that he says goes against the American grain.

WHITE: When you hear Trump talk about making America great again, when do Americans like sports so much? If they really bought into the liberal progressive ideology and rhetoric, we wouldn't be the sports fans that we are. We eat, drink and breathe sports because it's raw, unbridled American competition. The best team wins. It's out there. The rules are fair. Both sides get onto the playing field, and they tear each other up. Americans eat that stuff up. If you give Americans a level playing field and opportunity, they will outcompete, out-win and outperform any other country in the world because the strength of our country is the fabric of our melting pot.

SIEGEL: That may be a mixed metaphor, but Kevin White expresses a disappointed verging on a sense of betrayal that animates many Republican voters in the 8th Congressional District of Ohio. So do his many rivals to succeed Speaker John Boehner, who, incidentally, a couple of night ago, announced his endorsement of Ohio Governor John Kasich for president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.