Political coverage continues in Ohio despite strange silences

By Ashley Bunton - Staff columnist

When Ohio Congressman Steve Stivers was recently asked what he thinks is the most important issue for Ohioans, he couldn’t give an answer.

As a part of the Your Voice Ohio media project, reporters across the state collaborated on a congressional survey and asked political representatives to answer a handful of questions.

Our number one questions was, “What do you think is the most important issue for Ohioans?”

We also had a couple of questions probing for answers to the Russia allegations: “On the controversy regarding the Trump campaign, Trump administration, Russia and published leaks, what about this matter do you believe needs explored, and by whom?” and, “What do you want to say to your Ohio constituents about Vladimir Putin and our relations with Russia?”

My assignment was to interview Congressmen Steve Stivers, the Republican House representative for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.

The first time I called Congressman Stivers’ office, in February, someone picked up the phone and promptly hung up on me without saying a word. When I called back, the phone rang continuously but no one answered.

I then called the Washington office directly and explained what had happened.

The person who received the call in Washington said that Stivers’ office in Hilliard, near Columbus, was relocating across the street and that’s why they had hung up on me.

I explained my reason for calling. The person who answered the phone told me the press secretary, Tim Alford, would be the person to talk to, but he was busy in a meeting. I left a message with my information and asked for Alford to call me back.

Alford sent an email the following day and said he wanted to follow up and see what story I was working on. I emailed him back and sent a copy of the questions. I said I would like to speak with Congressman Stivers and to let me know if there is a date and time we can speak. I never got a response.

After a week went by, I called the Washington office again. I left a message, but I did not get a call back. Another week went by. I called again. I didn’t get a response.

Tired of political hooky, I finally drove to Stivers’ office in Clinton County. It turned out that the aide working in Stivers’ Wilmington office at that time was Chase Enochs. Enochs said he attends Bible Christian College in Circleville and grew up in Washington Court House. I felt reassured and explained my situation and Enochs said it was strange I couldn’t get an answer to my questions.

He picked up the phone and called Washington and explained that I was now in the office. When he hung up the phone, our conversation went like this:

He said, “They’ve been forwarding calls to Wilmington, there’s been a lot going on.”

With what?

“They’re swamped. We’ve been getting a lot of calls.”

On what?

“Everything that’s been going on with the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, because of that we’ve been really busy.”

Oh, really?

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls for a lot of things besides that.”

Like what?

“We’ve had several calls today because of the vote on the Free Speech Fairness Act HR781.”

Still, he said, I should have gotten a response. I asked how long it typically takes for a person to receive a response to questions. He said that generally folks get a response within a week.

I got the feeling that the Washington office is not working closely with the aides in the Ohio offices. We want answers. Instead of the local office working on the front lines with the public and press to answer concerns and questions, they are being directed by the Washington office to run something like a call center in the basement of a political corporation.

Enochs was apologetic about the Hilliard office hanging up on me, and also about the fact that Washington refused to answer my questions, to which neither he was at fault for. He wrote down my contact information and also said he would send an email to Alford immediately. He said that someone should be getting in touch with me within a few days.

Additionally, calls and emails seem to be recorded and noted in a computer system of some sort, one that each location has access to, so they do have a way of tracking calls and emails.

It’s been about four months now since I first reached out to Congressman Stivers and I have never received a response from anyone in any office.

I feel that the situation could not be handled more improperly unless I were to show up at the office and be body slammed.

The entire communication staff’s paychecks are funded by taxpayers.

Congressman Stivers and his staff in Washington dodge our questions but continue to send us columns each week to be published in the newspaper. (Along with a stock photo — which, I mean, has anyone in Ohio actually ever seen Congressman Stivers in person?)

His column submissions are sent to us as if to say, “We only want you to publish what we want you to know.”

Those words aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

We’ll continue to update our website at www.yourvoiceohio.org as we learn more and develop stories. You can head to the website now to read current news about Ohio jobs, economy, and elections — along other things your well-paid congressman is being quiet about. (And seriously, if you see him in Ohio, take a photo and tweet it to me @ashbunton).


By Ashley Bunton

Staff columnist

Ashley may be contacted by email at abunton@civitasmedia.com, by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter.

Ashley may be contacted by email at abunton@civitasmedia.com, by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter.