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Nice guys don’t finish last. They take a job with the Ohio Chamber

Steve Stivers reflects on his time as a House Republican

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, greets Phoenix, a service dog, during a news conference last week highlighting House passage of the PAWS Act, his bill to pair service dogs with veterans with PTSD.
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, greets Phoenix, a service dog, during a news conference last week highlighting House passage of the PAWS Act, his bill to pair service dogs with veterans with PTSD. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

No one would mistake Steve Stivers for a RINO. The Ohio Republican, who retired on Sunday after 10 years representing suburban Columbus, chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee. Yet Stivers’ unfailing politeness and willingness to work with Democrats when they saw eye to eye meant he was one of the better liked politicians on the Hill. 

Stivers thought about running for Ohio’s open Senate seat but, despite raising a ton of money, ultimately decided against it. Instead, he’s heading to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Heard on the Hill asked him about that, whether nice guys finish last in today’s hyperpartisan politics, and where the Republican Party should go from here. This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Q: Who are you going to miss most in Congress?

A: Joyce Beatty and Troy Balderson are two of my closest colleagues. I talked to them almost every day. 

Q: And who will you miss least?

A: I’m not sure I even know.

Q: It’s hard to get the co-founder of the Civility Caucus to talk smack about anyone. But tell me, why leave now?

A: The job I’m taking at the Ohio Chamber hasn’t been open for 38 years. So, if I wait again, I’ll be 80-some years old. I don’t think I want to wait that long.

Q: Do you think this is a trend? Serious GOP lawmakers jumping ship because they feel they can get more done outside D.C.? 

A: I don’t leave bitter in any way. I’ve been in the Army National Guard for 35 years, and I believe in the Cincinnatus model of military and political life. You come in, you make a difference, and you go back to your farm, your life, your hometown. It shouldn’t be forever. 

Q: You’re known as being a civil guy. Did that persona ever work against you on the Hill?

A: You know, people say nice guys finish last. But when you try to do the right thing, and you work hard, you can usually do OK. I’ve gotten 21 things turned into law or regulation in my time here in 10 years. I feel really good about that. 

Q: Despite your work with Beatty on the Civility Caucus, it seems Congress has only gotten less civil the last couple of years.

A: Congress represents America pretty well, and the members of Congress represent their districts, and sadly America’s social fabric has been ripped apart. It’s not just here in the halls of Congress, it’s at home during the Thanksgiving dinners or Mother’s Day dinners. 

Q: But what can political leaders do to lessen the tension a little bit?

A: The first thing we can do is lead by example. Not trash talk each other, not run each other down, not assume bad motives. Some issues are so divisive, we may never find common ground. We have to start with smaller issues first.

Q: What is your take on the state of the GOP, especially after House Republicans ousted Liz Cheney from leadership for standing up to Donald Trump’s claims about the 2020 election?

A: Obviously, I’d like to see the Republican Party united and moving forward. But I will tell you, if elections are important and the integrity of elections is important, there’s a solution. 

We need to be auditing our elections. There are millions of Americans today who don’t believe the 2020 election had integrity. Now, I don’t happen to be one of those. However, I think what they believe matters, and I want to fill the void with facts and not with conjecture. I don’t want to fight this on social media. I’d like to fight it in all of America by auditing every state’s presidential election returns. We could choose to go back to the 2020 election, or we could not. 

Every corporation audits their financials every year because it’s important to our shareholders and our economy. I think our presidential election, which happens once every four years, is equally important. 

You’d have real accounting firms do it, and test the integrity of cyber connections to some of these machines, and the internal workings of the machines, and all the vendors. That’s the real answer. Going forward, how do we prove to all 320 million Americans that the American election system has integrity? I’d rather focus on that than looking backward and pointing fingers.

Q: Speaking of moving forward, does the Republican Party need to move past Trump to have a better future?

A: Do I think it’s time for a new figure in American politics? Yes. But the voters get to decide that.

Q: You raised quite a bit of money eyeing a Senate bid but didn’t end up running. Why was that?

A: My kids are eight and 11, and I decided it made more sense to go back home and spend more time with them while they’re young, and then someday I may run for office again. Or I may never run for office again. I’m refunding a lot of that money. I’m sending it back to the friends and supporters who sent it to me.

Q: Since you aren’t a culture warrior type, were you worried about winning the GOP primary? Was that a factor in your decision? 

A: I’m convinced I could have won. That’s not worth anything, because we’ll never know, but I believe I could have won if I would have gotten in the race. 

I feel like I had a really clear lane. Everybody else was from Northeastern Ohio, so I had geography on my side, I had a solid military record on my side, I had legislative experience on my side. I raised more money in 60 days than the declared candidates did. But it has to make sense for your family.

Q: What was the best party or event you ever went to in Washington?

A:  I’m not a big party guy.

Q: What about your most memorable moment?

A: I was really honored to go to the 100th anniversary of World War I. My grandfather fought in World War I — we tend to have babies late in our family — so that was really cool. 

And then I got a chance to pass a lot of bills that make a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s the National Veterans Memorial and Museum or the Small Business Credit Availability Act or helping women in the military get equipment and uniforms that fit. 

There are two reasons to run for office — you either want to be somebody or do something. I ran for office to do something, and I got 21 things done, and I’m proud of it.

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