Mike Turner\’s Leading Role

 Mike Turner\’s Leading Role

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner plays a big part in the Dayton region’s Cinderella story.

Peter Bronson

Rep. Mike Turner has some unusual neighbors. Madame Butterfly is next door to Romeo and Juliet. The Lion King shares a room downstairs with the Wicked Witch of the West. And Cinderella will move in next year.

“My daughters say we have Broadway in the basement,” he says.

And they do. When he’s not in Washington playing his part in the political opera, he lives in a high-rise condo in the Schuster Center for the Arts, which plays host to the Dayton Ballet, the Dayton Opera and the Dayton Philharmonic, as well as hosting a Broadway Series and many events presented with the Victoria Theatre Association. 

While others might have their names on a mailbox, his name is etched on a glass panel in the lobby because he helped build the Schuster Center as mayor of Dayton from 1993 to 2001. Although he didn’t swing a hammer, his tool belt was jammed with appointments and meetings. He brought together the people who put it together.

“When I was mayor, you just had to call a meeting and make a decision and get it done,” Turner explains. 

Turner, 55, stays fit and dresses sharp. Standing in the glass-walled entrance at the Schuster Center, he looks like he just stepped off a magazine cover. He gets right to the point—a man who likes to get things done. It also shows in the way he answers questions. Where other politicians may answer yes-or-no questions with three-page paragraphs, Turner needs only a simple sentence or two. 

Apparently, it works. The son of a factory worker and a schoolteacher, he wasted no time earning an MBA at University of Dayton and a law degree at Case Western University. He practiced law, was elected mayor of Dayton and is now serving his seventh term in Congress, representing Ohio’s 10th District. He’s credited as the mayor who built Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons. The Cincinnati Reds’ minor league team has been a homerun for Dayton development and is wildly popular with local fans. 

He also started Rehabarama, a program to rescue historic properties and revitalize the city by attracting more professionals to live downtown, as Rep. Turner does.

So how does an energetic, just-do-it Republican such as Turner adjust to the sun-dial speed of Washington? How does a man who likes to ride a racing bike adjust to the slow D.C. treadmill? Doesn’t politics sometimes resemble the cast of Wicked?

“It can be a frustrating environment,” Turner says. “Things move slower. It takes a lot more people to agree. One bill took me seven years to get done, but it was worth it.”

That bill protected military parents from losing their children in custody battles because they were deployed overseas. Another bill he is proud of prohibited using defense spending to name anything after politicians who are still in office. “That’s not their money it’s ours,” he explains. “Once it is named after them they feel like they have an obligation to keep spending on it.” 

Turner is working to pass a similar bill for all federal spending. It may take years, but he says the “long game” is satisfying, especially when he can serve the people who serve the country.

Dayton is world-famous for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is Ohio’s biggest single-site employer, with 26,270 jobs. Add another 32,384 jobs tied to the base through contractors and support services, and that’s 58,654 workers.

For comparison, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services reports the total number of state employees at about 52,000. 

Since Turner was elected in 2002, he has brought $400 million in new construction and 10,000 jobs to the air base. In a budget battle over automatic sequestration spending restraints this year, Turner recruited 70 signers in Congress to add $20 billion to defense spending.

Previous cuts had pushed defense “to the breaking point,” Turner says. “When you fund a standing army, you need training, services and goods to allow that army to move. That support money had been removed.

“Less than 50 percent of our brigades are combat ready. Pilots are not getting the flight time they need for training. Replacement parts are not available.”

The boilerplate defense policy of readiness to fight two wars at once was damaged, Turner says. “After the first round of cuts, we lost the ability to do two. The second round of cuts would have meant we can’t do even one.”

As a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, Turner has a unique perspective. When he says most of his reading is classified, he doesn’t mean want ads and garage sales. He enjoys reading books about history, but instead his time is spent poring over CIA intelligence on ISIS or Vladimir Putin’s hostile takeover of Ukraine.

What worries him most? “We’re just not taking the threats seriously,” Turner says. “Our adversaries have said in plain language that they are threatening America, plotting to harm our people and challenge our allies.”

The most frequent question Turner hears from voters, however, is about the economy. “It’s the No. 1 concern. They want a future for their children. They want to be able to provide for their families.”

If he could send one message to voters it would be: “We keep hearing how government can create jobs. Government can’t create jobs. There’s no government lever to pull that makes jobs and the economy go up and down. American ingenuity has always driven the American economy. We need to unleash the forces of the market and it will thrive again.”

He’s seen it happen in Dayton, with development of a ballpark and the Schuster Center, and new life downtown. As president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he has also hosted guests from around the world who are amazed at his city. “Dayton is a great place. Everyone I bring here understands this is a world-class city.”

Call it Dayton’s own Cinderella story—and Rep. Mike Turner has a leading role.