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Miami professor runs for Congress

By Lauren Oliver, For The Miami Student

It is not every day students can say their professor is running for the United States Congress, but at Miami University, they can.

Tom Poetter, a professor in the College of Education, Health and Society, is running for Congress against Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Poetter said he has always had an interest in politics, but the Carter and Reagan administrations sparked his enthusiasm.

However, he never had the intent to run for any political positions, and soon after graduating from college, he married and started his own family. He then became the Director of Partnerships - a program focused on bringing different organizations together - at Miami in 2005.

In 2013, when the 2014 Congressional race commenced, Poetter felt it was time to do something, especially with no one declaring to run against Boehner for the second time in a row.

After mulling the decision over with his family - and taking into consideration any attacks that might come their way - Poetter made the jump.

One of the core concerns he wanted to address from the beginning was what he called, Boehner's lack of leadership, particularly during the government shutdown in October 2013.

"He could've led on the floor of the house by taking a clean vote on a budget bill - the first day - because nobody wanted to shut down the government," Poetter said.

He said Boehner followed the tactics of the extreme right wing, and the shutdown was really due to the arguments over the Affordable Care Act. Boehner thought the threat of the shutdown would force President Barack Obama to make changes, Poetter said.

"It was a really bad idea," he said. "And to me it showed a lack of real grounding in what this nation is about - working together, compromise, negotiation [and] consensus building. His tactics lacked vision [and] lacked any sort of connection to deep ideas about what is really at stake, and I can deliver those things."

Daniel Otto, the campaign's field director, focused on the bigger picture of Boehner's decision to use the government shutdown as leverage for the Affordable Care Act.

"Trying to repeal a bill over and over again at the expense of the taxpayers is not leadership," Otto said. "It's just costing the taxpayers money for political points."

Ellyn Needel, a junior intern on Poetter's campaign, said Poetter is also more in tune with what the community desires from a representative.

"I don't think John Boehner has had the interest of his constituents in mind when voting on policies," Needel said. "I think Poetter's main goal is to bring the people's voice back into politics for District Eight."

The second matter Poetter is focused on improving is congressional presence in the district. After meeting with residents, Poetter said he found many were unsatisfied with Boehner's ongoing absence.

Poetter said although Boehner has achieved a high rank as Speaker of the House, he has lost focus on being present and properly representing the people in his district.

"He's not in the district very often, and citizens don't have a chance to access him and we don't get a sense that there are a lot of things coming back to Ohio that are a result of his work," Poetter said.

Otto said he can attest to the scarcity of Boehner's visits and his lack of involvement in the community. Otto was born and raised in Oxford and said he has never seen Boehner. He said he has written to his office on several occasions, but received only courtesy cards, never a personal response from Boehner himself.

"I've talked to a lot of people in this district who have never met him. He's very rarely here, except for maybe a closed fundraiser, but that's not open to the public," he said. "He's a very inaccessible representative."

Poetter said, in many ways, he correlates his campaign to that of David Brat's, a republican nominee who beat former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Brat, who is also a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, spent the same amount of money on his campaign as Poetter - $160,000 - and shocked Washington after edging out Cantor, who had spent around five million. Boehner has spent around seven million on his campaign.

Despite differences in spending, Poetter said his campaign is holding its own.

"We know we're not ahead, but we know that we're close," he said. "[T]he poll that we've taken shows the Speaker polling at less than 50 percent, and people should be talking about that. This race isn't over, and I'm right there."

Even though Poetter is confident, running for Congress opposite Boehner is a daunting task.

To date, Boehner has successfully remained in Congress for 24 years and when not running unopposed - he has twice - he has dominated the competition, commanding more than 60 percent of the vote.

"I didn't go into this thinking that we were going to win for sure, but I thought we could win," he said. "You always have a chance."

Win or lose, Poetter said the most significant point was to run in the first place, especially in a heavily Republican district that has voted for Boehner 12 consecutive times. In 2012, no one campaigned against Boehner and neither party had alternative candidates - Poetter said he believes that is not how democracy should work.

After the election, regardless of whether Poetter comes out the winner, he said he will remain true to who he is.

"I've always told people I'm a candidate. I'm not really a politician," he said. "I've learned political language and how to present myself, but I'm a college professor - that's who I am."

However, as the election is one week away, Poetter still wants to make an appeal to voters.

"[I]f people walk into the polling place on Nov. 4 and they vote for me, they're not throwing their vote away. They're not throwing their vote away -they're really casting a vote for democracy," Poetter said. "They're speaking truth to power when they go into the polling place and they make a choice that is different from the one that has led to stagnation, gridlock, conflict and a lack of progress."