What do Ohio voters want? More political cooperation despite clashing views

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, now that the president and congressional leaders are getting down to business, we thought it was a good time to check in with voters about what they expect from Washington right now.

We picked a Midwestern state you hear a lot about in presidential election years.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, (R) Ohio: I, John Richard Kasich…

JUDY WOODRUFF: We showed in Ohio on the same day Republican Governor John Kasich was being inaugurated for a second term and, for football fans, arguably an even bigger event, as Ohio State University's beloved Buckeyes were about to face Oregon in the college playoff championship.

Despite this, we still found people across the political spectrum who were willing to talk to us.

JEFF JOHNSON, Romney Volunteer: I don't think the government has to do anything big. I just think they have to do a couple good things well that are small, where people can say, ah, the government is working again.

JASON MOINE, Obama Volunteer: I think it's going to be a lot more butting heads.

REV. Gail DUDLEY, The Church at North Pointe: I'm very pessimistic.


REV. GAIL DUDLEY: I would love to be proven wrong. I just have this sense that there's this: We have arrived now. We're now in control. Nothing is going to happen if we don't want it to happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We came here to Columbus two years ago, just before Election Day, to talk to voters in this crucially important swing state. Now, after the 2014 midterm elections, we have come back to find out what some of those same voters think about what's been going on in Washington, and what their expectations are for the new Republican-controlled Congress.

In 2012, retired Army officer, computer programmer and longtime Republican Jeff Johnson told us he and others were voting for Mitt Romney because they were so unhappy with President Obama.

JEFF JOHNSON: They're worried about taxes. They're worried about the future. They're worried about the deficit.

So, where do you want to eat tonight?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though Romney lost, Johnson says he thought more would get done under the Obama second term, but he blames both parties for that. As for the future, he's hoping for agreement on extending the Keystone oil pipeline and:

JEFF JOHNSON: Well, I would hope that we have a rewrite of the tax laws, so the corporations that have money overseas can bring it back and invest it in the states. We have a whole bunch of people that need jobs, and this would be very helpful to them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two years ago Democrat Gail Dudley, pastor of the nondenominational Church at North Pointe, helped lead a Souls to the Polls caravan for Sunday voting. She too hoped that Washington would address the jobs issue, but she wanted to see the federal minimum wage increased.

REV. GAIL DUDLEY: Can we not give them some sort of assistance to do what they need to do? Let's help them a little bit. Let's get them on their feet. Let's help them with a salary that's going to make a difference. I don't see it as big government. I see it as, if we're just helping someone, what we're really doing is, we're equipping them to move forward.

JASON MOINE: Hi. My name is Jason Moine. And I'm volunteering today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Electrician and  IBEW member Jason Moine told us in 2012 that recent GOP moves to weaken collective bargaining have motivated union members and taken a toll in Ohio.

JASON MOINE: Everybody's kind of had enough, quite frankly, and so we're hoping to get our message out this year and deliver a blow that will sustain and help us to not have to fight these fights continuously year in and year out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, after being laid off as an electrician, Moine works in sales in a grave site memorial company. He blames House Speaker and Ohio native John Boehner for obstructing the president's agenda, but says he's not pleased with Democrats either.

JASON MOINE: In all honesty, I'm not a fan of either political party at this Point, whether it be a Democratic or a Republican Party. It's gone past the common man, and it's gone to, who can help me? And that's the way I feel both parties are. It's, who is going to help me, as opposed to, how can I help them?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Attorney Mike Gonidakis, who is also president of Ohio Right to Life, openly favors the GOP, but agrees with Moine that both parties share responsibility for Washington's dysfunction.

MIKE GONIDAKIS, Ohio Right to Life: It would be very easy just to say, oh, it's all the Democrats' fault or it's all the Republicans' fault, but that's not true. I think it's the collective whole.

I think, unfortunately, in our country now, we're seeing too many people that are focused on their next election or their own political ambition.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We caught up with Ohio's two U.S. senators, one Democrat, one Republican, who concur there is blame to be shared by both parties, but each lays more fault at the door of the other side.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN, (D) Ohio: We have never seen in — that I can think of, in American political history where, from day one, one political party wanted to just insist — insisted that the president not succeed.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R) Ohio: I have worked for two presidents, 41 and 43 Bush. I just have not seen that level of engagement with this White House that you would expect from the executive branch.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown say, despite this, cooperation is possible on several fronts.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: I think the best chances are on taxes that I think Democrats — Republicans will insist on corporate tax cuts and closing some loopholes. I don't want to see corporations pay fewer taxes, but if we're going to do that, we also need to make sure that we continue tax breaks for working families.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN: Judy, divided government is sometimes the best way to get something done. I look back to Ronald Reagan and what he did the last time we reformed the tax code in 1986 with Tip O'Neill and Democrats being in charges of both houses of Congress.

And I heard over the weekend, everybody was on the talk shows very pessimistic, this will never happen. Well, it has to happen, because the American people demand it and because it's time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All the voters we sat down with hold varying degrees of hope that Congress and the president will find a way to work together, but it was striking that on the one issue the president was talking up last week, two free years of community college, opinions were sharply divided.

MIKE GONIDAKIS: It sounds great, you know, to say, we want every American to be able to go to community college for free. But free, it's not free. You know, it's the tune of $68 billion. Now, we live in a country that's trillions and trillions in debt, so what's an extra $68 billion amongst friends, right? But it adds up.

REV. GAIL DUDLEY: Let us go back to — let the people go back to school. Let's get this free education that President Obama has put on the table now, two-year community college. But it's going to be better for the community at large. It's going to be better for the United States of America.

JEFF JOHNSON: I mean, there are more important items to me than some kid getting two years of free community college. What are we doing about ISIS? What are we doing about the Middle East?

I don't think it's the federal government issue to pay for some kid to go to college. Every time the government gets into a market, whether it's college or medicine or you name it, mortgages, it distorts the process, and it ultimately ends — costs the taxpayer more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Every voter we spoke with says they want Congress and the president to work together, but they also have strong views that often clash.

Republican Mike Gonidakis says he expects the leaders they have sent to work to Washington to figure out how to bridge the difference.

MIKE GONIDAKIS: Instead of being obstinate, Mr. President or Mr. Speaker or Senate President, don't be obstinate. Sit down, close the door. And we don't need cameras in there. Just sit down and find out how we can work together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But that sort of private talking makes Ohio voters like Gail Dudley fearful.

REV. GAIL DUDLEY: I'm afraid that people will be on the street, people will be out of jobs, and those are some of the things that I'm afraid of. What are — what are some of the things that are being negotiated behind closed doors?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And given that most of the meetings between the White House and members of Congress and their staffs are behind closed doors, voters in Ohio and elsewhere may want to pay close attention.