Politics

Ryan, DePizzo Debate Days Before Election Day

LEAVITTSBURG, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan says his efforts while in office have been focused on positioning the Mahoning Valley to draw in economic development projects, while his Republican opponent in Tuesday’s election countered that Ryan isn’t the same congressman who arrived in Washington, D.C., nearly 16 years ago.

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and attorney Chris DePizzo clashed Thursday night on issues ranging from economic development efforts to Ryan’s support for legalizing recreational marijuana during a debate sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle at the LaBrae High School Auditorium.

The candidates found common ground only a few times, once regarding which professional football team they support.

Both also emphasized their working-class roots; Ryan grew up in Niles and DePizzo on Youngstown’s South Side.

Ryan, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, pointed to his efforts to bring in development projects “to set us up for success in the future,” including about $20 million in site-preparation funds that helped attract Vallourec’s $1 billion pipe mill, $120 million for America Makes and $2.5 million for the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center in Warren.

Additive manufacturing, the focus of America Makes’ research efforts, is projected to grow by 25% annually and create as many as five million jobs in the next 10 years, and any of those jobs will go “where the intellectual firepower is happening,” Ryan said. Alternative energy sources like wind and solar energy are also projected to grow at 25% annually, he said.

The incumbent cited his work with Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill to help bring a $1 billion natural gas-powered power plant to the village with a second on the way, and more recently his involvement to encourage TJX Companies Inc. to select the village for a HomeGoods regional distribution center.

DePizzo, an attorney who has practiced in Cleveland and New York City and lives in Cuyahoga Falls, said he has advised entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. As a congressman, his job would be to serve as a community liaison to Washington and with businesses to get them to come to the area.

“I understand what businesses need so they can prosper and grow, and more importantly what people need so that they can do the same,” he said. “They need a government that provides the opportunity of good-paying jobs and they need a congressman who represents them in their communities.”

DePizzo argued that Ryan’s voting record discourages business and criticized him for not getting involved with TJX until a week after the project appeared to be in peril. “When the project went on life support, he was in South Carolina campaigning,” he said. “That’s not the way it works. That does not look good to business.”

Ryan said he was on the phone with TJX’s CEO three to five times daily for two or three weeks. “I’m not here to get credit. I’m here to get jobs back to the community,” he said. “Just because I don’t call a press conference and tell everybody what I’m doing doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything.”

For much of the debate, DePizzo’s focus was on casting Ryan as too aligned with his party rather than the interests of his constituents and too occupied with political activities outside his district, at least partially with the intent of raising his national profile for a potential run for president.

Ryan, DePizzo said, has voted with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 95% of the time.

The Democratic nominee was unapologetic about his efforts to help elect party members elsewhere who would advance his policy agenda. Ryan said he’s interested in raising his ability to accomplish things, “whether it’s in House leadership or beyond.

“I’m focused on trying to take back the House in the next few days and then we’ll see where things go. But I’m very interested in having a bigger voice within the Democratic Party and nationally,” Ryan acknowledged.

Ryan also defended his support for nationally legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, arguing that the $7 billion spent each year on marijuana crimes would be better used for law enforcement and treatment that addresses more lethal drugs.

“I didn’t come to this lightly,” he said. “But if you have a dollar and you’re spending 50 cents on the drug that’s killing people and 50 cents on the drugs that aren’t killing anybody at all, to me it makes sense to spend the whole dollar on the people who are dying and trying to prevent it.”

DePizzo disagreed, saying bipartisan solutions are available, such as legislation that would protect states from federal penalties if local marijuana reforms, along with other nondrug related issues, conflict with national law. That would allow for further testing and study of the issue in the states where marijuana is legal.

“Too often, the choice that gets you in the newspaper, the sound bite that’s sexy, that attracts the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire at the college campuses, isn’t necessarily the right decision,” DePizzo said.

Ryan is a co-sponsor of the legislation DePizzo referenced.

DePizzo pointed to collaboration by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman – a Democrat and a Republican — on “a giant opioid recovery bill” to further illustrate bipartisan collaboration on the issue. “So there are bipartisan solutions in Congress. They just don’t get you a Time magazine story,” he said

Ryan criticized tax cuts passed by the GOP that cost $2.3 trillion, with 83% of the benefits going to the wealthiest 1% of the country. Taxpayers were told the money would go into reinvestment in businesses, but instead many companies have used the funds to buy back stock.

Senate leaders have said entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security might have to be examined because of the growing budget deficit.

DePizzo responded that blaming the tax cuts was “just the next piece of ‘blue’ meat.”

In response to a question on immigration, Ryan said he has a “long record” of voting to support border security including additional fencing, technology and personnel. At the same time, he called for a process “as a compassionate country” to figure out how to assimilate undocumented immigrants already here after they are identified, pass background checks and pay any necessary back taxes or fines.

“It is not mutually exclusive. We are a country of immigrants,” he said.

President Donald Trump has seized on a caravan of migrants from Central America headed to the U.S. southern border to scare people, he said.

Ryan voted against Kate’s Law, DePizzo said, legislation to increase penalties on those who cross the borer illegally repeatedly and are arrested for felonies. The Republican nominee also pointed to Ryan’s vote against withholding funds for so-called sanctuary cities and pushes against e-check for employers to ensure workers are in the United States legally.

Ryan, in response, stressed that he opposed calls within his party to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “If you’re selling heroin that’s killing our citizens, I want some law enforcement agent to be able to get that person and get them out of the country,” he said.

In regard to Trump’s proposed border wall, which he said Republican senators in Texas don’t want, he reminded that Trump first said Mexico was going to pay for it and now is asking American taxpayers to foot the bill.

The incumbent also called on focusing drug enforcement efforts on ports of entry, where 90% of illegal drugs come though, The $30 billion to $50 billion proposed for the “crazy wall” should instead be spent on “building roads and bridges in Warren, Ohio,” he said.

Ryan, who challenged Pelosi for her leadership post two years ago,  emphasized his independence. He pointed to his track record of collaborating with Republican colleagues and his willingness to take on the most powerful members of both parties when local interests were at stake.

Before closing statements, each candidate was given the chance to pose a question to his opponent.

Ryan took the opportunity to ask DePizzo a question he hasn’t answered throughout this campaign: Browns or Steelers?

“Well, you know I’m a Republican running in the Mahoning Valley so you know I’m a lovable loser,” DePizzo joked before declaring his allegiance to the Cleveland Browns.

He in turn asked the same of Ryan.

“I have the emotional wounds of a Browns fan,” Ryan answered. “To make matters worse, our son and daughter are Steelers fans.”

Pictured: U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican Chris DePizzo debate Thursday night.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.