Belmont County GOP dinner

DeWine, Vance discuss ‘American dream’

T-L Photo/JANELL HUNTER Bestselling author J.D. Vance talks to local, state and federal GOP representatives about achieving the “American dream” at the Belmont County Lincoln Dinner at Undo’s in St. Clairsville on Wednesday.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Republican Party met for its annual Lincoln Day Dinner Wednesday evening at Undo’s, with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and author J.D. Vance both emphasizing opportunity and the “American dream.”

The room was full of county, state and federal Republican representatives who were in a celebratory mood due to big GOP gains in the November 2016 general election at all levels.

“What a difference a year can make in the life and direction of a community,” said Belmont County GOP Chairman Chris Gagin. “This is a great opportunity to get everybody together. We have two of the leading Republican voices in Ohio speaking tonight. It’s an exciting time to be a Republican in Belmont County.”

Vance is the author of the bestselling book “Hillbilly Elegy,” which he described as part memoir, part social commentary. He began his remarks by describing his childhood, during which his mother became addicted to opioid prescription drugs. At the age of 13, Vance went to live with his working-class grandparents in Middletown, Ohio.

“I knew I wasn’t a happy kid, and anyone who had looked at my circumstances in my life would have known I was struggling,” Vance said. “(My grandmother) had something that I really needed. She had discipline. She was able to provide me with that demanding upbringing and life that ultimately saved me. And she provided me love and stability.”

With the help of his grandparents, he was able to turn his life around and eventually joined the Marine Corps., attended Ohio State University and Yale Law School, and currently serves as a principal at the Silicon Valley firm Mithril Capital.

“I now have all the things I never thought I would ever have — things that I once thought were unattainable for a kid like me,” Vance noted. “If I tried to describe my life to the 13-year-old version of myself, I would talk about the American dream.”

Vance said he is concerned that the American dream is becoming less attainable for people than it once was, and that the Republican Party should be concerned about that. He emphasized equal opportunity, and not equal outcomes, as being the key to unlocking the dream.

“We are living in a radically new time that calls for radically new solutions. … We have challenges that are not even being discussed,” Vance said. “The free-market system is the best tool to eliminate poverty that exists, and it provides incredible opportunity and dynamism to our society. But the free-market system is not just about the businessman. The free-market system is also about people like my grandma. … We can be the party for both sets of Americans.”

DeWine addressed his vision for Ohio’s future as governor, although he has not officially announced his gubernatorial candidacy. He said he sees taxation and regulatory reform as a real need, but that the top complaint he receives from business owners across Ohio is that they cannot find people who can pass a drug test and have requisite skills.

“I think the job of a governor is to create a climate that is conducive to jobs being created. How do you do that? Taxes have to be rational, reasonable and predictable,” DeWine said. “I learned at an early age that unfair regulations on businesses could be a job-killer.”

He said his “No. 1 worry” is the opioid crisis, and that society, especially law enforcement, has had to deal with many things they have never dealt with before because of the epidemic. He commended Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas for the job his department is doing to combat the problem.

DeWine said one of the reasons he plans to run for governor is because as attorney general, he is really only able to “pick up the pieces” after a mess is already made.

“We’ve got to get out in front of this issue. That’s why I’m going to run for governor,” DeWine said.

DeWine said that as governor, he would mandate age-appropriate drug abuse prevention education for all Ohio public school students in every grade.

He stressed education as a top priority, and proposed using a model for some public schools to help at-risk-kids in which the students would attend academic classes four days a week, and then community business partners would employ/mentor the students the on the fifth day.

“Schools can’t do it by themselves. We need to get the business community involved,” DeWine said. “We find that what excites the students most is their job when this model is used. … It gets them out and teaches them that they can actually make it. Their world has been broadened.”

Finally, DeWine stressed he is an optimist and believes Ohio’s “best days are ahead of us,” and that talking about jobs requires discussion about education.

“We want Ohio to be the state of opportunity. We’ve got to change the culture a little bit. We’ve got to expose our kids to every kind of different job, but we want them to have a dream,” DeWine said. “And if your dream is to be a welder, that’s OK. If your dream is to be a machinist, that’s OK. Every kid doesn’t have to go to college. But every kid should be given the opportunity to live out the American dream.”