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Politics is big in these parts, and we’ve got it covered. John Arthur Hutchison and other staff writers will offer their inside information on the events, big news and little moments of the local political scene in Lake, Geauga and eastern Cuyahoga counties.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Was health care vote motivated by politics?

Associated Press White House reporter Philip Elliott posted on his Twitter page the other day that he was getting ready for midterm elections -- and he's not the only one.

U.S. Rep. Zack Space, D-Dover, was the only Ohio Democrat in the House to vote against the health care overhaul when it passed Sunday night. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law Tuesday. (View the full roll call vote here.)

From The Associated Press:
COLUMBUS — Two unions representing tens of thousands of Ohio workers said Monday they would no longer support the state's only Democratic congressman to oppose President Barack Obama’s health care bill.
U.S. Rep. Zack Space betrayed union members who campaigned for him in 2006 and 2008, said the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
"A no vote on health care is an anti-worker vote," said Allison Petonic, spokeswoman for Columbus-based UFCW Local 1059, which has 18,000 members working in food retailing and processing in Ohio. That includes 1,500 people living in Space’s district, she said.
Space was among 34 Democrats who voted against the landmark legislation Sunday. It passed 219-212 with no Republican support.
Space said over the weekend that he had serious reservations about the measure and that he feared it might financially burden the working class by "opening the door to taxing employee benefits as income."
The Democrat, who represents a conservative, Appalachian district, said a version of the bill he supported last year taxed wealthy Americans, not the middle class, to help pay some health care costs for the working poor.
The unions were unconvinced.
"Working class, middle income people who live in the congressman's district really need help to obtain their health care. While this bill isn't perfect, it's step in the right direction," said Anthony Caldwell, spokesman for SEIU District 1199, which represents about 25,000 hospital, nursing home, state and other workers in Ohio.
Space was elected in 2006 with 62 percent of the vote after six-term Republican Bob Ney pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
In 2008, 60 percent of the district got behind Space, despite all but one county choosing Republican John McCain over Obama.

The year 2006 was a good one for Democrats across Ohio, when the GOP lost the governorship and the conservative 18th District seat. But 2010 will be a tougher year for Space (and Gov. Ted Strickland, who was first elected in 2006 and could easily lose re-election in November). Democrats across the country will have a harder time getting elected, with many residents angry at Obama and frustrated with Congress. The tea party movement is gaining a lot of steam and may very well unseat current representatives and senators.

So why did Space go against his party and vote for the health care bill?

On one hand, he is a Democrat, and Democrats tried to band together as a party to pass the bill. He may lose support from his party, or maybe even get less funding in the race to hold onto his seat -- likely to be as hot of a contest as when he was first elected to the House. Additionally, he will not have the support of the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers union, whose members may have supported Space financially this year.

On the other hand, Space represents a conservative district in a bellwether state that could very well elect a Republican to replace Strickland, and that could keep a Republican in the Senate when U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, retires at the end of this session.

So was it politics that made Space do it? Did he vote against the bill because he wants to get re-elected? Or, did he vote against the bill because he is representing his constituents?

Maybe Space did what people would like to see more often out of their representatives. Maybe he made the decision based on what he thinks would be best for the people who elected him to serve in Congress, to put their priorities front and center instead of party politics.

--Cheryl Sadler

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