By Joe Hallet
Just when you thought Washington couldn’t get more hopeless, it got more hopeless.
The Benghazi brouhaha, the IRS targeting of tea party groups and the Justice Department secretly seizing Associated Press phone records all portend another summer of discontent, and perhaps the crippling of Barack Obama’s remaining presidency.
We’ve become used to nothing productive getting done on a Capitol Hill paralyzed by incessant partisan back-biting. But if you look closely, you can find hidden in Washington’s macro mess a microcosmic model of bipartisanship and friendship to restore hope that government can work.
Central Ohio’s three members of Congress — Republicans Pat Tiberi of Genoa Township and Steve Stivers of Upper Arlington, and Democrat Joyce Beatty of Jefferson Township — are longtime friends who formed strong working relationships while members of the Ohio House.
Now they are in Congress — Tiberi in his 12th year, Stivers in his third and Beatty in her first — and it might be hard to find a more compatible group of representatives among the 435 U.S. House districts.
“We work together, we have a pleasant relationship, and we like each other,” Tiberi said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “We might disagree on things, but we have a working, likable relationship that is, unfortunately, not too common around here.”
Beatty agreed: “We are three people who like each other and who understand that you can disagree without being disagreeable.”
While congressional Republicans and Democrats tend to run with their own partisan ilk, central Ohio’s three representatives made a show of solidarity by being photographed together on the Capitol’s steps after last year’s election. And all three had planned to sit together for Obama’s State of the Union speech but Tiberi arrived a little late and, unlike Stivers, was not alongside Beatty when TV cameras caught her wiping lipstick off Obama’s cheek.
The Columbus-area representatives are part of an Ohio delegation that was pared from 18 members to 16 after the GOP-controlled state legislature last year gerrymandered new congressional districts, effectively making 12 safe for Republicans and four safe for Democrats.
While that process drew disdain, it turned out well for central Ohio. A Democrat-dominated 3rd District was created, encompassing most of Columbus and contained in Franklin County, and Beatty joined Rep. Marcia Fudge of Cleveland as the state’s first African-American female duo in Congress.
Meanwhile, Tiberi’s 12th District and Stivers’ 15th District were extended into rural counties to make them more Republican, but both continue to represent portions of Columbus and Franklin County.
“The way redistricting played out, we were, as a community, a big winner — and not only a big winner in how the seats shook out, but an even bigger winner with the personalities that are in each of those seats,” said Alex Fischer, chief executive officer of the Columbus Partnership, which represents Columbus business leaders.
The three reps are well-positioned to help the region and Columbus. Tiberi is a ranking member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is the right-hand man to House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester. Stivers, already well-respected on both sides of the aisle, and Beatty, who has become a favorite of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both serve on the important Financial Services Committee.
“I feel like now we have both parties covered, but more importantly, we have a team that cares first about our constituents, second about central Ohio, and then third about politics,” Stivers said.
Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman said he has a strong working relationship with the three reps and credits Tiberi and Beatty for providing him with ready access to Boehner and Pelosi, respectively, to advocate for the city.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with,” Coleman said. “Each of them, in their own right, has leverage and power and ability. It’s kind of like a dream team for me.”
Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.