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Best-selling author addresses GOP dinner

SOUTH POINT — Approximately 250 people came out Monday to hear a best-selling author and commentator with regional origins address the Lawrence County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner.

The annual fundraising event took place at South Point High School and drew community members and officials from across the region, such as Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless, county commissioners Bill Pratt and Freddie Hayes Jr., South Point council member Mary Cogan and County Auditor Jason Stephens.

Attendees were served dinner in the cafetorium, which was decorated with cardboard cutouts of President Donald Trump, which served as props for people taking selfies.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy led the gathering in the pledge of allegiance, then Ohio Rep. Ryan Smith, whose district covers most of Lawrence County, conducted the opening prayer.

He also focused his remarks on the opioid crisis that has hit the region.

“Everybody here is fighting this drug epidemic and we’re under siege,” he said. “We are really going to make an effort to turn the tide on this.”

Stephens told the crowd what the big draw for the night was.

“A lot of people are here to hear our guest speaker,” he said of J.D. Vance, an author and pundit from the region who has appeared on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC and CNBC.

Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio and Jackson, Ohio and is the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” which topped the New York Time sbestseller list this past year.

The book, a memoir of his upbringing in Appalachia, details his colorful family’s history in low wage jobs, while expounding values of the region and examining problems afflicting the area, such as substance abuse and economic insecurity.

Vance, who served in Iraq and graduated from The Ohio State University and Yale Law School, has become a much-sought out commentator since its publication, with many media outlets citing the book to explain Trump’s popularity with Appalachia voters.

Vance, who recently moved back to Ohio, said this was his first visit to Lawrence County, though he had spent time in Ashland during his time in Kentucky.

While signing copies of his book for the crowd, he said he had two goals for his address, with the first being to get the word out on our Ohio Renewal, a non-profit he launched to address the opioid crisis, family breakdown and workforce problems.

The second, he said, was in the spirit of the political event.

“It is a gathering of the GOP, and I want to encourage them to think about working class and poor people,” he said, stating Republicans should not be merely the party of the rich. “We can be the party of working and middle class people and we need to think in broader terms for the base.”

Vance, who is often called on by networks to speak on Appalachian and rural issues, said there are many misconceptions the media and national leaders have about the region.

“But I do think one jumps out,” he said. “It’s the idea that people in this area are not voting in their own interests.”

Vance, a venture capitalist, said, growing up, his “Maw Maw” was always resentful of the hillbilly stereotype. He said many underestimate the intelligence and political acumen of voters here.

“They are much more sophisticated and knowledgeable,” he said. “They recognize when a given bill or legislation is not good for them. I hate the idea people have that there are a bunch of rubes living in Appalachia. Folks are sophisticated on the issues.”

A major announcement came on the day of Vance’s appearance at the dinner.

Deadline reported on Monday that Imagine Entertainment has acquired the rights to “Hillbilly Elegy” and that Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard is set to adapt it into a feature film.