CINCINNATI -- Speaker of the House John Boehner wasn’t known for earmarks and pork-barrel projects. There aren’t any bridges named after him or enormous projects that he steered toward Southwest Ohio.
So when the 13-term Ohio Republican announced his resignation on Friday, local politicians and experts said the greatest loss to this region will be his status as a protector and shield.
“I think you lose a guardian,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven. “It’s not so much that he could, in this climate, get bridges built or massive things done. But he was there to stop anything that would adversely affect Ohio.”
Former Gov. Bob Taft agreed that Boehner used his influence in subtle ways. Taft is a distinguished research associate at the University of Dayton, where he teaches a course on U.S. Congress.
“This is obviously not the best news for Ohio or for southwestern Ohio,” Taft said. “He was not a believer of earmarks but he understood the needs of southwestern Ohio. Whenever push came to shove he was obviously battling for Ohio.”
Taft added that “the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has held up very well under Boehners’s leadership … and its ties with GE engines.”
In January, General Electric Co. won a $325 million Air Force contract to build turbine-propulsion engines at its Evendale plant near Cincinnati.
“He understands policies that are very good for the economy,” Taft said. “That will certainly be a loss that he will no longer be speaker.”
Boehner also brought a prestige to Ohio. The state was once the cradle of eight presidents, but hasn’t sent anyone to the White House in decades.
“It is always a rare and cherished thing to have one of the central seats of government power belong to our state,” Niven said. “You don’t get that seat all that often.”
Alex Triantafilou, chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party, said that Boehner helped campaign for local party races and presidential candidates who visited here.
Boehner used that stature to help local U.S. Representative races, including Steve Chabot’s 2014 re-election campaign. He also kicked off a rally for 45,000 people in Butler County to support Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run, Triantafilou said.
“I think it’s a loss for us,” he said. “His closeness to the region helped us.”
He also noted that it could have been helpful to have Boehner as an ally with the Brent Spent Bridge project moving forward.
“To have a friend in high places has been a real positive for our region,” he said.
While Boehner could not single-handedly guarantee the success of a new Brent Spence bridge, he could guard against its failure, experts said.
“With Boehner as speaker, it’s hard to see that the project (Brent Spence) would ever come completely off rails,” said Dan Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer.
“His stature as speaker brought greater attention here .. even it didn’t funnel a lot of money and projects,” Birdsong said. “But that’s not to say that his connection to Ohio didn’t help others trying to get their projects through.”
Whoever replaces Boehner may not carry the same political clout, said UC political science professor Steve Mockabee.
“Anytime a representative with lots of experience leaves and is replaced by someone without that seniority, there is a potential they won’t be as successful in bringing back federal dollars to that district,” Mockabee said.
Some experts believe the impact of Boehner’s resignation will have less effect on Ohio projects, and more on the future of the Republican party and who is elected to replace him.
“The kind of candidates who step forward and whoever replaces him … will come from an even narrower band of Republican Party,” Niven said.
“It really is emblematic of the difference between governing and representing your political beliefs,” Niven said. “To govern occasionally requires putting your political beliefs aside and there is precious little room for that right now in the Republican Party.”
Taft agreed, saying he was amazed that Boehner “hung in for as long as he has.”
“This really highlights the split in Republican Party between a governing faction … and the so-called Tea Party, strongly conservative faction that wants to change the status quo with issues like defunding Planned Parenthood”
“This shows the split the party is facing going into presidential race next year,” Taft said.
But Triantafilou disagreed.
“I’m not worried about that. … The divide that exists I frankly think it’s overblown sometimes,” he said.
“What does unite Republicans is opposition to the policies of the left,” Trianafilou said, predicting a strong, united turnout to defeat the Democratic presidential nominee next year.