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Rep. Jim Renacci Debates Challenger Pete Crossland at the City Club

Photo: Donn Nottage / City Club of Cleveland
Photo: Donn Nottage / City Club of Cleveland

Republican Jim Renacci is relatively new to politics. The nursing home operator and car dealer won his seat in Congress in 2010 by ousting incumbent Democrat John Boccieri, an Iraq war veteran. Renacci then defeated incumbent Betty Sutton in a new district in 2012.

Democrat Pete Crossland is a political veteran, first elected as a state representative back in 1973. He also served 22 years on Summit County Council and taught government at Kent State. The 77-year-old believes in government's ability to make life better for its citizens. Renacci? Not so much.

"This election is about whether you want a bigger federal government," Renacci said. "One that spends too much and hands down job-crushing regulations to small businesses. As a CPA and former business owner, I know Washington doesn't always have the answers. In fact, many times they create the problems."

Crossland said It was Renacci's vote against ending the government shutdown last autumn, that angered him enough to get into this race.

"Who was against it? Well, the Tea Party was against it and our good friend Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas led that opposition. When I learned that my congressman voted with these extremists it was disbelief. Really, here in northeastern Ohio?"

One of Congressman's Renacci's biggest irritations with government is the Affordable Care Act. He joined House Republicans who voted more than 50 times to repeal or restrict Obamacare, saying it has forced businesses to cut workers' hours and caused employees to lose health coverage.

"You either have to replace it or repeal it or fix it but you can't do nothing. The problem with the Affordable Care Act is it's hurting job creators, it's hurting those people in the middle class that are working hard, that are barely making ends meet and they are the ones that are going to end up paying in the end."

Crossland questioned the number of employees that have been hurt by the act. He says 14 million more Americans now have health care coverage.

"In the 16th District, there are 12,000 people who now have access to healthcare, have health insurance that didn't have it before...That's a group that's about the size of the city of Medina voters, and you're going to say 'Hey, I'm gonna take that away.' That's wrong, that hurts not only those individuals but hurts the economy and hurts our country."

The pair did agree on some issues. Both said tax reform is needed, at least to keep American businesses from abandoning the U-S to set up foreign headquarters. They both agreed the federal gas tax, which has not been raised in decades, should be hiked to pay for roads and bridges.

But on the environment, Democrat Crossland said more needs to be done to reduce carbon in the atmosphere -- and he pointed at coal..

"So we have to find ways to reduce the carbon and we have to find ways to slow global warming. And it may be tough for the coal industry and we have to find ways to help make those transitions just like we found ways to make a transition away from so much production of tobacco."

Republican Renacci rejected targeting coal, saying the state depends on it.

"Ohio, almost 80 percent, relies on coal. When we have clean coal, they rely on that energy source. So what my opponent is saying is, 'You know, we don't have an all of the above strategy because we are going to eliminate coal.' I'm a believer in the all of the above strategy. The all of the above strategy includes coal. "

Most analysts and polls don't anticipate an upset in the 16th Congressional District; nor do many Democratic donors. Jim Renacci has already won the money battle with a million dollars still on hand for his campaign. Pete Crossland has $6,000.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.