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Commentary: View from Toledo

If you ever took a course in Michigan history, you may remember that Toledo was originally supposed to be part of Michigan. We lost it after the infamous Toledo War.

The settlement specified that Ohio ended up with Toledo, and we got the western Upper Peninsula. I first learned about the war back in the 1970s, when I was  a reporter in Toledo. The joke at the time was that since Ohio ended up with Toledo, Michigan must have  won the war. Well, I have had a connection with Toledo ever since. I do a weekly public affairs television show there, and I can tell you that in many ways, Toledo is really part of Michigan.

Its economy is more like ours; in fact, it is an extension of the Detroit manufacturing economy. There are differences; most people in the metro area still live in the city itself.

Toledoans probably do have a stronger sense of community than most people, and few know that better than Marcy Kaptur, who in January will have represented the city in Congress for thirty years.

She was a young White House aide when she came back to run in what seemed like a hopeless race, won by a landslide, and has never had a close election. Toledoan to the core, she still lives in the house in which she grew up. Her politics resemble those of Michigan representatives like John Dingell or Dale Kildee.

She is a fierce defender of jobs and working people and unions, and has fought hardest against unfair trade practices; she was a prominent participant in Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism, a Love Story.” This week I had a long chat with her about her career.

Congress, she told me, is badly broken. Committee chairmanships used to be given out on the basis of seniority.

Now, they go to whoever can raise the most money for the national party committees. Toledo is hardly affluent, and she can’t and won’t try to raise the vast sums she would need to be a major player. Money she believes, is in fact ruining our politics and government, and she knows the Supreme Court has ruled that there is nothing we can do about it. But she thinks there is: A constitutional amendment to limit campaign financing.

That would take time and a lot of work. But so do most things worth doing. And if there is a more worthy cause than saving democracy, I don’t what it could be.

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