In times of tumult, it’s wise to consult with people who, like the insurance commercial, know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two. Marcy Kaptur is one of those people. She knows a thing or two as the Toledo Democrat who has served longer than any woman — ever — in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The congresswoman has gone to bat for her 9th District constituents through six presidents and eight speakers of the House. She begins her 19th term in office as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and the first woman to chair the influential House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development.

Recently, I caught up with the 72-year-old dean of the Ohio congressional delegation to chat about everything from voter suppression to shutdowns.

She decried the latest effort by Ohio Republicans to delay litigation in a gerrymandering lawsuit — which could mean fairer congressional districts won’t be redrawn in time for the 2020 election. “Voters’ interests are being suppressed.” She met with GM executives about keeping plants open in her state. She pushed the automaker and Trump administration to help secure alternative production at the Lordstown facility, set to stop making the Chevy Cruze next month and cutting thousands of jobs.

Kaptur: “There are contradictory messages. GM officials did not say Lordstown could be completely shuttered permanently. I don’t think the [Trump] administration is even relatively aware of what is happening. But look back at what Trump promised before his election, about not letting any plants close in the Mahoning Valley, vote for me and you’re not going to lose any plants. Well, here’s the biggest one.”

With another shutdown looming in days — if Trump doesn’t get funding for the border wall he promised Mexico would pay for — the senior lawmaker has a better solution.

Kaptur: “We do not believe that [his wall] brings us operational border security. And to believe that the southern border is the nub of all the challenges we face is simply naïve. If you recall the 9/11 terrorists came through a northern border. The largest port of call is in Michigan. The drug lords on trial in Brooklyn were bringing contraband cargo in submarines on the west coast ports. If 90 percent of the illegal narcotics are coming through legal ports of entry, then you need to do something at the legal ports of entry. We need more border personnel, more imaging technology, more movable security, at every border, as opposed to a fixed wall.”

Meanwhile, there is the actual business of government.

Kaptur: “He [Trump] has not sent us a budget and that is what we expect right after the State of the Union. Our job is to keep the government of the United States open across every department. But to do that we must have a budget. The president needs to get back to regular order for the sake of the country. Not disorder, not emergencies, not more chaos.”

Passionate discord doesn’t have to preclude progress, said Kaptur.

Kaptur: “When I first got to Congress the speaker was Tip O’Neill and the Republican leader was Bob Michel. They disagreed, but they never shut down the government. At Christmas, they would call President Reagan and sing him holiday songs to let him know that the business of the country was complete for that year. You have someone now [in the White House] who’s not easily able to meet with leaders of the Congress and enjoy that interchange. I don’t think he [Trump] has fully accommodated what being a public servant really is … and it's a much more humbling role than being head of a major real estate firm.”

As the country lurches through the presidency of its discontent (dismay?), Kaptur is confident the world will see that the American people are going to handle it well.

Kaptur: “In the recent election there were enough people around the country who knew that the ship of state was off course and they used their power to correct course and check excesses. Republicans voted to elect Democrats — even in Orange County, California! The air traffic controllers used their power in the shutdown, in my opinion, when they said they were going to pick New York to take a stand. I was cheering. I thought the American people are doing their job.”

While Kaptur is greatly worried about the damage Trump is doing domestically and abroad — “I’ve never seen a president humiliate our closest allies the way he has … borders on treasonous, to me personally” — she believes in the resilience of our form of government, the rule of law, and ordinary citizens stepping up to say enough. Trust her take. She knows a thing or two. After over 35 years on Capitol Hill, she’s seen a thing or two.

 

Johanek is a veteran print and broadcast journalist.