TOPICS > Politics

New to Washington, Ohio’s Renacci Aims to Keep Outsider Perspective

January 7, 2011 at 3:54 PM EDT
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In the second in a series of conversations with members of the new Republican House majority, Ray Suarez shadows incoming Rep. Jim Renacci, a former car dealer from Northeastern Ohio, as he and his family travel to Washington to settle him into his new home and office ahead of a busy initiation into the ways of Congress.

JIM LEHRER: Next: the second of our conversations with Republican members of the new House majority. Last week, we talked with several Democrats who lost their seats in November.

Tonight, we profile one of the 87 Republican freshmen.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: Newly-minted Congressman Jim Renacci arrived in Washington earlier this week with his family. Renacci represents a part of Northeast Ohio ravaged by economic decline, as the NewsHour documented during the fall campaign.

A CPA, former mayor of a small city, a former GM car dealer, Renacci has only visited Washington a few times in his life. He hopes to maintain that outsider status, even as he joins an elite group, a freshman class of 96 new representatives, almost all Republicans.

REP. JIM RENACCI (R-OH): I plan on going home every weekend. It’s only a 53-minute flight. It gives me an opportunity to get back in the district and understand their concerns and their problems.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier this week, Renacci and an aide headed to the Capitol.

REP. JIM RENACCI: Is there another level?

MAN: I didn’t see that.

RAY SUAREZ: There was time to unpack a few personal items and settle in before the onslaught of business. With the help of his wife and son, he had to find a place to live close to the Capitol.

REP. JIM RENACCI: The one upstairs is exactly the same, except…

WOMAN: Yes, I will show it to you.

RAY SUAREZ: Short-term lease quickly signed, it was time to run back to the office for briefings.

MAN: I would tend to advise supporting the amendment

RAY SUAREZ: With his new legislative director and chief of staff, Representative Renacci is preparing for the new session. There’s a lot to learn about his new job.

MAN: Congratulations.

RAY SUAREZ: It ranges from the serious, a new seat on the Transportation and Budget Committees, the first meeting of the party conference led by the new speaker, John Boehner, all the way to the silly, finding your face on the cover of a box of macaroni and cheese, courtesy of Kraft Foods.

After a trip to the speaker’s office to get credentials, he had a chance encounter about a sore subject while waiting to cross the street.

REP. JIM RENACCI: I had a Chevy dealership, too. We — he and I talked about it. I mean, I lost…

MAN: You lost yours.

REP. JIM RENACCI: I lost mine.

RAY SUAREZ: He owned a GM dealership for several years.

REP. JIM RENACCI: My name is Jim Renacci. Some of you may remember me as the former mayor of Wadsworth. I have lived and worked in the community for 25 years.

RAY SUAREZ: Renacci says losing his dealership, closed by GM during the federal government-managed restructuring of the auto giant, fueled his desire to run for Congress.

Right after a bipartisan prayer service, Representative Renacci talked about his seat in the enormous freshman class.

You’re part of the largest freshman class in recent memory. One out of every five members is a freshman. So, is this time around going to be different? You guys are not going to wait your turn and sit in the corner.

REP. JIM RENACCI: Well, the interesting thing, it’s going to be tough to get to know everybody’s name. That’s the first big challenge. But we’re doing that little by little. And you’re right. We want to get started. The people have sent us here for a reason. And we’re all looking forward to getting started.

RAY SUAREZ: What is that reason? Why did you do the big task of running, and why are you here now? What did you come to do?

REP. JIM RENACCI: Well, of course, for me, personally, I was unhappy with the direction our country was going. But I also noticed, when I started running, that most people in my 16th — Ohio 16th District were not happy with the way the country was running either.

So, it was easy for me to step up and say, I’m ready to make a difference. I’m concerned for my children. I’m concerned for my grandchildren. We can’t keep spending ourselves into the debt situation we have right now.

RAY SUAREZ: One of the first things out of the gate is an attempted repeal of the recently passed health care plan. Do you think that has any real chance, or is it just sort of almost a demonstration?

REP. JIM RENACCI: Well, you know what? It’s going to be interesting.

I know that the people of the 16th, Ohio 16th District, were not happy with the bill. I know that the majority of the people there were not happy. And, so, I’m going to come down here and make that vote, for sure. But I do think that the majority of America wasn’t happy either.

It’s a job-killing bill. Let’s face it, it’s a job-killing bill. And the problem we have today is, we have got to create jobs, not the government. Entrepreneurship has to create jobs. We got to get the government out of the way from the sense of putting uncertainty and no predictability out there. And the cost situation that has occurred from the Obama health care plan is a problem for business.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the runaway spending part of the campaign caught fire with the public.

But the Congressional Budget Office says that the new health care plan will save $143 billion in the coming years. If you have come here to cut spending, how come you’re also trying to repeal a bill that a bipartisan or nonpartisan scorekeeper says is going to save money?

REP. JIM RENACCI: Well, one thing I have learned — and, again, I’m a CPA, too, so I’m going to be very interested in looking at the numbers and getting a better understanding. I think, sometimes, in government, we — we use the numbers to the benefit of making them look a certain way. So, we will see.

The goal here, though, is job creation. And we’re not — we’re not doing that right now out in the 16th District in Ohio, but also throughout the country. This bill is a job-killing bill. And we have to get jobs back, jobs, jobs, jobs. The number one, two, and three most important things are jobs. We have got to get those back.

RAY SUAREZ: In previous generations, men and women went back and said, look at what I have brought to the district. The government’s spending money, but it’s spending money here, on you.

Is that going to be changed now that a Congress has come to Washington for the express purpose of saying, we don’t want all that spending anymore? Can you run and say, look at what I didn’t do for you?

REP. JIM RENACCI: I think people — I think people in this country understand now we have got to get spending under control. And I think they have given us the task of coming here and get spending under control.

And that includes the earmarks and bringing those dollars back. So, they’re look — I think they’re looking forward to that. I think they’re looking forward — look, in the — in the — whether it’s your personal budget, or business budget, or the United States government, we have got to get spending under control.

RAY SUAREZ: What can Ohio do to compete with newly emerging economies around the world? And what part can you play in making Ohio a job-creator?

REP. JIM RENACCI: We have a lot of entrepreneurs in Ohio. We have a lot of business people in Ohio who have said to me, I will employ more people, I will open up a factory here, I will open up a business here, but I need certainty and predictability.

We have got to bring that back to Ohio.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), speaker of the House: The chair will now administer the oath of office.

RAY SUAREZ: Later that day, it was fellow Ohioan new Speaker John Boehner who swore in Renacci in a group, and then one on one, the two Buckeyes set to govern, one as a seasoned leader and one as a brand-new legislator hoping to make his mark.