Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 25, 2014

The Other Charlie Wilson’s Other War

The death last weekend of a former Democratic House member from Ohio named Charlie Wilson got an outsized share of social media attention — almost certainly because people thought he might have been the over-the-top colorful congressman from Texas.

That Charlie Wilson died three years ago, and his 1980s exploits as a back-channel federal financier of the insurgent rebels in Afghanistan, as well as his unapologetic womanizing and partying on Capitol Hill, were chronicled in a book and a 2007 movie with Tom Hanks in the title role.

The recently deceased Wilson will be less remembered  in Washington, but he played an interesting little role nonetheless — as my colleague Jason Dick noted in this excerpt from a story about his potential comeback:

Despite running in a conservative district, he didn’t shirk from his support for government spending, including the 2009 stimulus package that proved radioactive for many Democrats.

A veteran Ohio public officeholder, Wilson was first elected to the House in the 2006 Democratic wave and was defeated by Republican Bill Johnson in the 2010 Republican wave. He lost a rematch to Johnson last year, 53 percent to 47 percent.

During last year’s campaign, Wilson unabashedly touted the money he’d brought back to the district during his four years  in Congress: $700,000 for the “expansion and resurfacing” of state Route 7 in 2010, for instance, or $37,500 in 2008 for the city of Steubenville’s MLK Recreation Center for At Risk Youth Program. All were listed prominently on his campaign website.

Showing he did not shy away from publicizing one of the more controversial Obama-era initiatives, the 2009 stimulus program, his campaign website also outlined how much money the district’s counties received from the multibillion-dollar program, which Republicans held up as an example of government waste in their 2010 campaign and during the 112th Congress.

Wilson was comfortable arguing that not all government spending is wasteful, particularly in a district such as Ohio’s 6th.

“There is a winnable argument … among people who look at these government programs and say, ‘we need additional funding here,’” said a spokesman for the campaign at the time.

Wilson had stated his defeat two years ago was the result of a “tsunami” against Democrats but that he has always sought to vote the interests of the district, not just hew to the party line.

“I have voted against the president on several things, and the biggest one for our area was against cap and trade,” he told the Wheeling Intelligencer/News-Register, referring to the 2009 Democratic-led legislation to address climate change that would have established a carbon trading system.

Ohio’s 6th is one of the oldest industrial corridors in the United States, stretching along the Ohio River, and has long been economically depressed thanks largely to the decline of the steel industry.

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