LIMA — The election for Ohio’s 5th Congressional District seat pits a political newcomer in an uphill battle against a sixth-term incumbent.
In a challenge of the status quo, Democratic Candidate Nick Rubando is emphasizing his working class roots and progressive principles. In his defense, Rep. Bob Latta can attest to his experience and legislative accomplishments.
Here’s an overview of each candidate.
At 32, Rubando may be the youngest candidate Latta’s faced since he first took his Congressional seat back in 2007, but despite his youth, Rubando comes with some political experience. He’s fought political battles before.
As a university student back in 2008, Rubando helped flip the state of Indiana for President Barack Obama through some political organizing work, and today, he uses that experience to explain why he’s running for the 5th seat. Due to the 2008 win, Obama eventually went on to push through the Affordable Care Act, and it was that piece of legislation that helped Rubando’s mother get on her feet and start her own business, he said.
“I know that political organization can help make a change. That’s how I got started in politics,” he said.
When he moved back to Toledo to work as a cultural programmer with Metroparks Toledo, he said he wanted to stay politically active. That eventually put him in a position to jump-start an attempt to unseat Latta, who hasn’t had a close race for more than a decade.
As Rubando puts it, Latta is part of a political elite who has accepted thousands of dollars in political donations to write legislation that pushes forward corporate interests. He has also attacked Latta’s records on health care and environmental issues pertaining to Lake Erie and agriculture, and like opponents in the past, he has emphasized the point that Latta doesn’t do enough for his constituents.
“I think when I win it’s because of the people in Ohio’s 5th district. I am going to be accountable to the people of Ohio’s 5th district,” Rubando said. “We’re going to hold town halls and listen to the people who got us elected and legislate and put forward bills that people in the 5th district want to happen.”
As for policy, Rubando supports a more active governmental approach to jump-starting the economy, and he emphasized the need to create an infrastructure bank that will help funnel billions of dollars to invest into projects, such as roads, green transportation systems, new schools and universal broadband. Such an idea is highly aligned with Joe Biden’s Build Back Better economic plans, Rubando said.
Rubando is also leaning heavily on health care to attract voters. Since Republicans now have a chance to overthrow the Affordable Care Act with the installation of yet another conservative Supreme Court justice, Rubando is using the talking point to emphasize that conservative Congressmen like Latta are looking to remove coverage from millions with pre-existing conditions.
“We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and we need to ensure that healthcare is a human right,” he said.
Rubando also offers a shake-up of how Congress should be working, he said. Instead of corporate influence and large donations, Rubando said he’d like to get “big money out of politics” and institute term limits. Due to his stance, he has also been endorsed by Brand New Congress — the political organization who helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez win her seat just two years ago.
“We have had people who have been in office for far too long,” Rubando said.
Out of the $1.16 million that Latta raised in the latest election period, almost three fourths came from industry-centric political action committees. Also, more than one fifth of his total donations this election cycle came directly from the communications/electronics business sector, which Latta regulates directly.
Rep. Bob Latta
Ask for a recap of his policy initiatives, and Latta, 64, has no problem providing them in detail. As a Congressman, Latta often introduces legislation, and he’s sponsored plenty of bills throughout his career that have moved through the House’s subcommittee on communications and technology, of which he is the ranking member.
As of the latest 116th Congress, Latta has introduced 28 bills, but none have yet been signed into law. Of the bills he introduced, only one has passed the house. Known as the Cyber Sense Act of 2020, the bill would create a voluntary program that would test the cybersecurity of technologies to be used in the electric grid.
As for the rest of his introduced bills, many of them deal in one way or another with the Energy & Commerce committee’s work. For example, Latta has introduced bills that would help expand broadband access in rural areas, allow inter-state telehealth and update the over-the-counter drug approval progress.
In an earlier Congressional period, he said he spent a significant amount of time creating the regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles, which ended up not gaining enough momentum to pass the House. If elected again, he said would like to retake up the work and give it another shot.
“We want to make sure that we get back on autonomous vehicles. In the 115th Congress, we worked with all the parties out there,” Latta said. “We had 300 meetings on it alone, and we worked across the aisle to put together a very good piece of legislation.”
Energy policy is also a major part of Latta’s legislative agenda. Along those lines, he’s a proponent of American natural gas, and what that resource allows in the larger geopolitical context. He also emphasized the need for nuclear energy alongside a growth in alternative energies, such as wind and solar.
Outside of introducing bills, Latta reliably votes for Republican initiatives and very rarely breaks with the party line during votes. Like most politicians, he’s also been involved in pushing party messaging by highlighting Republican successes, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the country’s economic gains, and he supports the administration’s efforts in taking on China in a trade war despite the local burden it places on the agricultural industry.
“We have to remember that (the Chinese government) are Communists. They don’t share the same ideals about freedom. It’s important we have trade, but at the same time, it has to be fair,” Latta said. “We want to make sure we have good markets out there for the American farmer. Every third row of soybeans goes to China. In the 5th district, it’s every other row. We have to have trade, but it’s a two-way street.”
That doesn’t mean that Latta ignores bipartisan initiatives as a legislator. Compared to other Republican representatives, 10 of Latta’s 18 bills and resolutions in 2019 had a cosponsor from across the aisle, and out of the 160 bills he cosponsored that year, 40% were introduced by a non-Republican representative.
If Latta were to win this cycle, he would be serving his seventh term.
“I’ve had good success. Only five members in the last Congress have had more bills signed into law than me. I love the legislative process,” Latta said.
The 5th District makes up the majority of northwest Ohio, except for Allen and Auglaize counties. Regional counties included in the 5th are Putnam, Van Wert, Hardin, Hancock and parts of Mercer.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.