Life As We Know It: October 14, 2013

        All politics is local. One of Washington’s most skilled politicians, the late Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, is credited with coining the phrase. But Mr. O’Neill, long-time speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, acknowledged in his 1987 biography, “Man of the House,” that his father really deserved the credit for it.

        The younger Mr. O’Neill lost only one election in his life, a race for a seat on the Cambridge, Mass., City Council. Analyzing the election returns later, his father pointed out the young man’s mistake. While he had piled up impressive vote totals in other parts of the city, he had taken his own neighborhood for granted.

        “He was right,” Tip wrote of his father. “I hadn’t worked hard enough in my own backyard.” O’Neill the elder scolded his son: “Let me tell you something I learned years ago,” he said. “All politics is local.”

        Indeed, Mr. O’Neill’s observation explains why Americans often complain bitterly about their “do-nothing” Congress but routinely re-elect their own congressman. Ohio’s 9th congressional district is a perfect case in point.

        Marcy Kaptur’s re-election to the House of Representatives is as close to automatic as it gets in Washington. Consider how she got there. Back in the day, Rep. Thomas Ludlow Ashley was another sure thing in Washington, serving 13 terms as Toledo’s Democratic Congressman from 1955 to 1981. But while Mr. Ashley became a power player on Capitol Hill, he tended less and less to the home district, figuring seniority and influence would be enough to keep him in office.

        However, he badly miscalculated. A Republican challenger named Ed Weber did the unthinkable, knocking Mr. Ashley off his perch and out of Congress by winning a stunning 58 percent of the votes in the 1980 congressional election.

        Was it Mr. Weber the citizens of the 9th district wanted, or was it Mr. Ashley they were simply tired of? The answer came two years later when Ms. Kaptur, a young urban planner with ambition and a keen mind, determined it was time to take the seat back for the Democrats. Suddenly Mr. Weber the giant killer was a one-term ex-congressman.

        Here in Toledo and Lucas County, partisan politics means party politics. You’re either a Democrat or a Republican.  Yes, some do wear other labels -- Libertarian, independent, Green -- but let’s face it, the great majority of voters align with one or the other of the two major parties.

        There is another side to this “all politics is local” thing. Let me tell you about partisanship in a part of the country about as unlike Toledo politically as you’ll find, the Central Coast of California.

        For many years I was editor of the Monterey Peninsula Herald, which was owned at the time by Block Communications, Inc. Elected officials there wore party labels, too, but you had to look for them. Politics in Monterey County was not party-oriented, it was issue-oriented.

        Folks were either for off-shore drilling or they were opposed. They either supported economic development of the Pacific coastline or they hated the idea. They either wanted the whales protected or they didn’t care. The point is, Republicans and Democrats were often on the same side, and a political party was something they all had when they wanted to get together over wine and cheese. They argued not over labels but issues. I liked that.