Do you know who Betty Sutton is? Sutton has been the congresswoman for parts of Summit, Lorain, Cuyohoga and Medina counties for six years. But due to redistricting, the Democrat is running for re-election in the new 16th Congressional District against Republican incumbent Jim Renacci, who’s more well known in Stark County.
U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, is a three-term congresswoman who authored the Cash for Clunkers bill in 2009 that allowed consumers to trade in their gas-guzzling cars to get a $4,500 rebate on a fuel-efficient vehicle.
But while many Summit County voters are familiar with her, Sutton is running for re-election as the Democratic candidate for the new 16th Congressional District. It now includes northwestern Stark County, where many people don’t know her and are better acquainted with her Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, who has represented Stark County for nearly two years.
Needing to reach out to new voters, Sutton’s campaign is trying to connect with them through her simple slogan, “A fighter for the middle class.”
“People in Northeast Ohio, a lot of families are struggling and they need someone who not only understands their challenges but is going to fight everyday for them,” said Sutton, 49. “I’m somebody who has stood up to clean up Washington to protect jobs ... and I’ve also stood up for our veterans and of course to protect Medicare. ... or people, if they want, may choose Jim Renacci ... who has voted to end Medicare as we know it. I think that that agenda is one people will reject in November.”
She and her campaign say:
• Sutton opposes the Ryan plan that “turns Medicare into a voucher program.” Provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which Sutton supported so all families can get affordable health insurance, seek to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in health care. That also would help cut costs in Medicare, lengthening its life, said her spokesman Anthony DeAngelo. Sutton said she would seek to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices for seniors.
• The best way to deal with the budget deficit is “ensuring that people at the very top are paying their fair share, so you aren’t placing the burdens of those deficits on working people” and to increase employment, DeAngelo said. He added, “her focus first and foremost is to put people back to work.” Sutton says she favors the president’s plan to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for those earning more than $250,000 a year.
• Sutton got language passed in which troops that had their deployments extended due to stop-loss would get an additional $500 a month and the Food and Drug Administration would have the authority to issue mandatory recalls of tainted food.
• Sutton supports raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes to strengthen the program.
As for the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program, Sutton said the idea was based on a similar project in Germany to revive the slumping auto industry.
Page 2 of 3 - Renacci, who has owned dealerships, says Cash for Clunkers took so many used vehicles out of the market, it resulted in higher prices for used cars, hurting the working poor. While the program led to a surge of car sales in the summer of 2009, Renacci and some economists said it merely accelerated the sales that would have happened anyway.
Sutton says the legislation resulted in the creation of 60,000 jobs in the auto industry.
Former Democratic Congressman John Boccieri of Alliance, who served with Sutton before Renacci defeated him in 2010, said, “she helped save the auto industry. ... one out of every eight jobs in Ohio are related to the auto industry.”
Renacci also said the Cap and Trade bill backed by Sutton, which would restrict carbon emissions in hopes of slowing global warming, would have resulted in lost jobs in the Ohio coal industry.
“She believes in bigger government,” he said. “She believes in government being the solution.”
Sutton said it’s possible to have both jobs growth and a cleaner environment, and that while the bill wasn’t perfect, she worked to get protections in the bill for local manufacturers against companies in foreign countries with weaker carbon emission standards. She said the bill also had protections for consumers from price spikes. She said the clean technology required by the bill would have led to the creation of “green” jobs.
In 1990, Sutton was elected to council in her native Barberton. She served on the Summit County council and was elected to four terms in the Ohio House, where she sponsored domestic violence legislation. Sutton said she had been the survivor of domestic violence during her prior marriage.
According to the Dayton Daily News, the Ohio House in 1993 passed Sutton’s bill that would require police arriving at a scene to make an arrest if the officer had a reasonable suspicion of domestic violence. But the Ohio Senate held no hearings on the bill until 1994, when the O.J. Simpson case made domestic violence a high-profile issue. Due to concerns about taking discretion away from police, the Senate passed a compromise bill that designated an arrest in a domestic violence case as the preferred action, but if officers chose not to make an arrest, they would have to explain why in writing. Arguing it was weak, Sutton voted against it.
“She was very passionate about what she believed in,” said former local Democratic state Rep. Johnnie Maier. “She championed the little guy, the people who needed the hand up.”
State Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, a Renacci supporter who served with Sutton, said while he disagrees with her politically, she is a “tenacious fighter for whatever cause she chose to champion.”
Sutton sponsored about a dozen bills, but Republicans controlled the House her last three terms, making it harder for her to get legislation passed. Due to term limits, she left the House at the end of 2000, married a firefighter who is now a federal mediator and became a lawyer representing unions. The Center for Responsive Politics says as of 2010 her net worth was between $328,000 and $899,000.
Page 3 of 3 - In 2006, after winning an eight-candidate Democratic primary, she won the 13th Congressional District seat vacated by Sherrod Brown as Democrats won control of the U.S. House. Sutton has won re-election twice, beating auto dealership owner Tom Ganley in 2010. Now, she faces perhaps the most difficult opponent of her career. Renacci is also a dealership owner and self-made millionaire. But he also has the advantage of incumbency as well as a base of support in Stark, Wayne and Medina counties.