WEST CHESTER, Ohio » People in the Ohio district that House Speaker John Boehner has represented for decades were stunned Friday by his decision to step down, nearly 35 years after he first won election there as township trustee.
Some said they understood why he was ready to leave Congress, although the timing caught them off guard.
"It’s the end of a great run of leadership, from the time when he was first elected," said Harry Prestanski, a veterans’ issues advocate in Boehner’s hometown, West Chester Township. "These last few years, he’s come under a great deal of attacks … He’s shown remarkable resilience over these years."
Cincinnati Tea Party leader Ann Becker, also of West Chester, has criticized Boehner over such issues as national debt and the federal role in education. She looks forward "to a new future and a new representative for the district."
She expects many politicians in the Republican-dominated western Ohio district, which stretches across six counties north of Cincinnati, to jump at the opportunity after Boehner leaves at October’s end.
"They wanted to run, but they didn’t want to primary him," Becker said.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, a Republican who flirted in the past with challenging Boehner, said he was getting phone calls from potential supporters.
"I’m weighing out my options," said Jones, who has praised billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s strong talk against illegal immigration.
Boehner won the seat in 1990 after a primary that ousted the late scandal-marred GOP Rep. Donald "Buz" Lukens, and handily won re-election every race since. He drew tea party opposition in 2014 before winning the primary with more than 71 percent, then the general election with 67 percent.
Gov. John Kasich has a responsibility for setting the date of a special election, which couldn’t happen this fall because ballots have already begun going out. The state’s elections chief says both primary and general contests are required. The winner would serve pending the 2016 general election for a full term.
GOP state Sens. Bill Beagle and Bill Coley are among legislators who live in Boehner’s district, and a local sheriff and Senate President Keith Faber are also considered to be eyeing the seat. Candidates must live in Ohio but not necessarily the district.
Miami University political scientist Bryan Marshall said the 8th district will miss Boehner’s clout.
"It’s still a safe Republican district, so there’s not any kind of uncertainty about the Republicans holding it," he said. "The difference would be in terms of what a speaker of the House means for the district compared to having a rank-and-file member."
Supporters noted the announcement came after a high point for Boehner, who attended a Catholic high school and Xavier University. He met with Pope Francis before the historic papal address Thursday to Congress, which Boehner had invited him to make.
Boehner indicated in January he was unsettled by disclosure that a Cincinnati-area man was charged with plotting a terrorist attack against the U.S. Capitol. It was the same week a former bartender at the country club in Boehner’s golf course community was charged with threatening to kill him, possibly by poisoning his drink. That man was found not guilty by reason of insanity; the Capitol attack case is pending.
Proud of blue-collar roots, Boehner called himself "just a regular guy with a big job." A commercial in his last campaign showed him mowing his lawn and mingling with local folks.
"I respect his decision to resign, but it’s a sad day for Butler County," said William Keck, an attorney who said he first met Boehner at a church festival during his initial congressional campaign. "I think he’ll always be a superstar around here."