Job Creation, Economy At Center Of Ohio's 13th Congressional District Race

Thousands of jobs were lost in the Mahoning Valley as the General Motors plant in Lordstown declined in recent years, eventually closing in 2019. Building up the area's economy is at the center of the race for Ohio's 13th Congressional district, where the plant is located. [ideastream]
Thousands of jobs were lost in the Mahoning Valley as the General Motors plant in Lordstown declined in recent years, eventually closing in 2019. Building up the area's economy is at the center of the race for Ohio's 13th Congressional district, where the plant is located. [ideastream]
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The race for Ohio’s 13th Congressional district has been coined by local policy analysts as one to watch.

The area is historically Democratic but had a strong turnout of Trump voters in 2016. This has some wondering if Republican candidate Christina Hagan, who has been endorsed by the President, could unseat incumbent Tim Ryan, who has already been re-elected three times.

The issue at the center of the race is job creation, as the district includes a large portion of the Mahoning Valley, which has faced an economic decline in recent years after the closure of the General Motors plant in Lordstown.

Ryan has held the seat since 2013 but has served in the U.S. Congress since 2003. He was previously the representative for Ohio’s 17th Congressional District, after defeating Democrat Rep. Jim Traficant, until the lines were redrawn.

Ryan has touted his experience working with businesses such as chemical company LG Chem, which will open a facility adjacent to the former GM plant in Lordstown to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles. Ryan’s top priority if re-elected, he said, is to build up emerging industries, like engineering and technology companies, to transform the area’s economy.

“That industry is growing so much, and we want to do the research around that,” Ryan said. “So, you’re getting both the high-end STEM jobs, engineering jobs, research jobs, but you’re also getting the manufacturing jobs.”

Ryan can use his seniority in Congress to secure funds for these projects, he said.

Youngstown State students watching debate

Youngstown State University students watch the debate between the 13th Congressional district candidates in Youngstown on Oct. 12, 2020. Pictured L to R: Danny Naples, Dylan King, Dylan Rendes and Grayson Guber. [Jacob Winters]

Youngstown State University student Dan Naples watched the Oct. 12 debate between Ryan and Hagan with a small group of friends and was impressed by Ryan, he said. Naples grew up in Youngstown and hopes to get a job there after he graduates. He likes Ryan’s plan to build back the economy, he said.

“Factories aren’t the answer anymore. We need more technological jobs, like LG and the Workhorse factory,” Naples said. “Those are the kind of jobs that really are more so the future … I want to see more push and investment for that, and I’ve seen that with Tim already.”

Ryan’s Republican challenger is former State Rep. Christina Hagan, who served in the Ohio Statehouse from 2011 to 2018.

Hagan credits President Trump for the new economic development in the area, as Trump has frequently met with Steve Burns, CEO of Lordstown Motors. Lordstown Motors will use the former GM plant to manufacture electric pickup trucks, which they said will create more than 1,000 jobs.

Hagan said local business owners and workers feel Ryan has left his constituents behind. If elected, she’ll focus on small businesses and job creation, she said.

“I’ve met with the heads of several trucking companies, several steel companies, private industry leaders who recognize and will tell me exactly what is needed to have the right size fit,” Hagan said. “So, as we work on things that are so important, like infrastructure, we’re also advocating for the right things that make it conducive to grow our supply chains here.”

She has also promised to work with President Trump to secure pensions for about 1,500 former Delphi Packard employees, who lost some of their pensions when Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation took over after the company's bankruptcy.

Doris Layfield, an Austintown resident and Delphi retiree, said she plans to vote for Hagan because of this promise. Some of her former coworkers have not received any money, she said.

Hagan’s conservative platform aligns with the issues she is most concerned about, Layfield said.

“[Hagan] is pro-life, and that’s a very big thing,” she said. “She’s pro-gun, [Ryan] is not.”

When she served as a state legislator from 2011 to 2018, Hagan was a staunch supporter of the “heartbeat bill,” a six-week abortion ban. The law was eventually signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019 but is on hold due to a court challenge.

Also running for the 13th district seat is Libertarian Party candidate Michael Fricke, a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry. Fricke said he entered the race to give voters an alternative to Ryan and Hagan, whom he calls career politicians.

“Their position is, ‘if you don’t elect me, you’ll get her, or you’ll get him,’” he said. “That’s basically a campaign based on fear. I’m offering a vision and I’m offering hope to the voters.”

Fricke feels he better represents the working-class voters in the area, and he has a different view on job creation, he said.

“I don’t believe it’s the role of the government to provide jobs for people,” Fricke said. “I think it’s the role of the government to provide the infrastructure and the community upgrades to be able to have businesses.”

Michael Fricke, Christina Hagan, Tim Ryan

Candidates for Ohio's 13th Congressional District Michael Fricke, Christina Hagan, and Tim Ryan engage in a debate at Stambaugh Auditorium in Youngstown on October 12, 2020. [WFMJ]

His biggest priority if elected is to return troops from overseas.

He and Ryan have both criticized Hagan for living outside of the 13th district. Hagan lives in Alliance in Stark County, which borders the 13th district.

“I get a little irked that someone who doesn’t live around here, [and] didn’t care about this community six months ago, is now coming in like she has some magic wand that she’s going to wave,” Ryan said.

Ryan has also pointed out that Hagan previously tried to serve in the bordering 16th Congressional district, which encompasses all of Wayne County and parts of Cuyahoga, Medina, Portage, Stark, and Summit counties. She lost in the 2018 Republican primary to current Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.

Hagan said she lives less than a mile from the 13th district line, and has served some of the district’s constituents as a state representative previously. 

“Nobody in Alliance knows who Tim Ryan is. When I was throwing pizza pies at Pisanello’s in Alliance, and I was waiting tables and working my tail off for my community, and serving our community, and knowing our community, he was nowhere to be found,” Hagan said. “So, the reality is, I’m actually positioned better than these two guys to serve the full five counties of this district.”

Naples, the Youngstown State student, is put off by the fact that Hagan does not live in the district, he said.

“For many people in this area, it’s not about your party or anything like that, it’s really the content of your character that’s gonna win you votes,” he said. “I feel like that’s one of the big things that’s being lacked by her – and that, kind of, disregard for this area and the culture of this area. It’s almost, in a way, it feels disrespectful," Naples said.

The district includes Mahoning, Portage, and Trumbull counties, as well as small sections of Stark and Summit counties.


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