‘You’re going to get tired of seeing me.’ U.S. Rep Bill Johnson gets to know Stark County

‘You’re going to get tired of seeing me.’ U.S. Rep Bill Johnson gets to know Stark County

Canton Repository, December 29, 2022; By Robert Wang

After easily winning re-election in November, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, officially begins his representation of much of Stark County on Tuesday.

Johnson, who is beginning his seventh congressional term, already has begun getting acquainted with his new constituents.

“We knew right off the bat that we needed to spend a lot of time in Stark County,” Johnson said in a phone interview with The Canton Repository. “You’re going to get tired of seeing me. Because I don’t work behind a desk. I’m out where the people are.”

Johnson estimates that about 135,000 Stark County residents – mostly in the southern and eastern portions of the county – live in the new 6th Congressional District, making the Stark County portion of the district the second most populous to Mahoning County. The prior 6th District had all or parts of 18 Ohio counties in eastern and southeastern Ohio. The new 6th has all or parts of 11 counties spanning from Mahoning County to the north and to Washington County in the south.

When asked how he could attend to Stark County as well as the other 10 counties in the district, he said, “We don’t sleep. … You can’t be everywhere all the time. But trust me, we’ll try.”

A list released by Johnson’s office shows that he has visited Stark County at least 30 times since early April.

The visits include meetings with officials like State Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, and Stark County Prosecutor Kyle Stone, a Republican, as well as business executives. Johnson made the rounds at meetings of business groups, chambers of commerce, a tour provided by the Hall of Fame Village, parades, veterans’ events and the Hall of Fame Game.

From Alliance to Louisville and stops in between

On April 18, Johnson appeared at an Alliance council meeting to introduce himself. He followed up that visit months later with a meeting at the Alliance Senior Center with Mayor Alan Andreani and other elected Alliance officers.

Andreani, a Republican, said Johnson gave them his biographical information and asked for input from both the administration and council.

“He was very approachable and I was impressed with him giving the elected officials in Alliance direct contact information,” Andreani wrote in an emailed response.

Louisville Mayor Pat Fallot, a Republican, said Johnson accepted her invitation to be a speaker at the Mayor’s Breakfast on Sept. 12 at Christ Methodist Church during the city’s Constitution Week. The congressman and city officials then toured the facilities of the city’s two largest private employers: H-P Products, which makes tubular products and central vacuum systems, and Midlake Products, a custom metal fabrication company.

Fallot said she asked Johnson for his assistance in getting federal funding to mitigate flooding and for economic development grants to help attract employers to a local business park.

Johnson indicated he would do what he could, she said.

“We won’t let him forget us,” Fallot said.

Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula, a Republican, said Johnson called him soon after the unveiling of the redistricting map in March to reconnect.

The two had met about eight years ago for the 90th birthday party for Regula’s father, Stark County’s longtime Congressman Ralph Regula, who died in 2017. Commissioner Regula recalled seeing Johnson at the St. Clement Festival in Navarre in early June. They both ate a sausage and pepper sandwich.

“He gets constituent services,” Regula said. “I’m really happy at least for the people in the southern part of the county. If I have a guy who has Social Security problems or veterans problems, I know whom to call. … He’ll get back to me and his people will follow up with the constituent. … I’m very confident Congressman Johnson is going to do a good job for us.”

Regula, who also has met with Stark County’s other congressional representative Emilia Sykes, said Johnson has become familiar with Regula’s and business leaders’ push for federal and state funding for an eastward extension of the U.S. 30 expressway. Johnson had for many years represented Columbiana County, one of the three counties pushing for the expressway extension. A representative from Johnson’s staff regularly attends meetings of the Regional Transportation Improvement Project, a joint effort by Stark, Carroll and Columbiana counties that is seeking financing for the U.S. 30 extension.

In late September, Congress passed a continuing resolution to extend funding of the federal government at current levels until December. The resolution included a provision that extended the deadlines by a year to spend $18 million on the construction of a U.S. Route 30 extension. Before the vote, Johnson called Regula to tell him that while he favored the Route 30 provision, he was going to vote against the continuing resolution because he believed Congress should pass full appropriations legislation instead.

A for effort’

Johnson’s most recent meeting in Stark County took place on Nov. 3, days before his re-election.

That’s when Johnson had lunch at Bender’s with Bob DeHoff, local real estate developer.

DeHoff said Johnson set up the lunch, wishing to find out more about how local foundations, such as the Canton Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Timken Foundation, the Hoover Foundation, the Stark Community Foundation and George H. Deuble Foundation, had invested in two local industrial parks.

“I found him to be frankly earnest in his desire to learn about Stark County. What challenges we have. What opportunities we have. And how, as a congressman, how he might assist in helping Stark County be a better community,” said DeHoff, who lives in Jackson Township and has an office in North Canton, both in the 13th District. “I know he’s been over to Stark County several times because I’ve heard other people mention Bill Johnson. Right now, I give him an A for effort. … We have had some others who have lived a lot closer who have not been as responsive as he has (been).”

Johnson also has added Stark County residents to his staff. Heidi Matthews, a North Canton resident who was the district director for former Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, and Jeff King, who was a Republican candidate for Canton auditor in 2019, are both now part of Johnson’s staff.

Johnson, who will have an office in Mahoning County, said he won’t consider setting up an office in Stark County until all the litigation surrounding the new congressional map is resolved.

Johnson’s legislative priorities

Johnson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said his major priorities are economic development and counteracting inflation so it doesn’t trickle down to working families by limiting the federal government’s spending, which he says devalues the dollar. He also wants to curtail rising energy costs.

“People in Stark County shouldn’t be making a choice between putting gas in their car or buying groceries or putting clothes on the kids to go to school,” the congressman said, adding that access to health care is another important issue for Stark County residents.

Johnson, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, believes that expanding pipelines to transport oil and gas, makes it easier for companies to get drilling permits and that returning to extracting oil and gas from public lands will bring down energy costs.

The congressman said he’s supported Medicare covering telehealth services where patients talk with health care professionals via remote video.

And Johnson said he’s developed a relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address flooding issues.

As for expanding the U.S. 30 expressway east, Johnson said, “Route 30 is on my priority list. How we’re going to do that. That’s a complicated question and that remains to be seen. … It’s going to be tough because it’s an expensive process.”

But, “I favor the concept of an economic driving route from the current (U.S.) 30 corridor to Pittsburgh.”