Forum brings candidates, citizens together

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

A forum Thursday evening at Ohio University Southern allowed candidates running for Lawrence County Commissioner, state representative and state senate to share their concerns, their vision for the future and field questions from the audience.

Lawrence County Commission

Two seats on the Lawrence County Commission are up for grabs in November. In one race, Republican Kenneth Ater is challenging incumbent Democrat George Patterson while in the second race, Democrat Mark Malone is challenging incumbent Republican Jason Stephens.

Email newsletter signup

Patterson said his vision for Lawrence County includes the "preservation of its natural beauty and heritage, providing a climate that is good for families and encourages young people to stay here, providing for orderly growth, good jobs, strong public schools, training programs, a good tax structure and the elimination of waste."

Patterson said he was proud that every year for the last 20 years, the county has had a balanced budget. "The most important thing is the people I represent and I do all I can to benefit them," he said.

His opponent, Ater, said he would concentrate on

an "endless list of problems" that have not been dealt with in the past, such as code enforcement community planning in regards to storm drains, roads, housing development and other public necessities."Leadership has ignored or has been slow to understand the necessity of providing proactive planning," he said.

Stephens said he has made good on his pledge four years ago to concentrate on sound fiscal management, commitment to community and economic development.

"Lawrence County has seen positive change. We have a new $600 million power plant, the Union-Rome Sewer District has a balanced budget, Liebert has expanded and we have an ambulance service that is second to none," he said. "Coal Grove is improving its water system, Rock Hill Schools are paid for and the county debt has been refinanced." He stressed his background in financial planning and economics as his greatest assets.

Malone, his opponent, stressed his experience as both a former county commissioner and as a former state representative as his greatest assets. Malone said his greatest concerns were the large numbers of young people who leave Lawrence County to find good jobs. "We are educating our children just to see them move away," he said. "We need to do more to bring jobs to the county. We have infrastructure, we have a tremendous labor force. I hate to see young people move out of the county." He also pledged to monitor the budget and work with other officeholders to keep county spending in line.

All four men said they supported the idea of having a new hospital in Lawrence County. Patterson said he was pleased with the progress being made on the matter. A study was completed this summer on community need and consensus.

"Its unfortunate that one of the largest counties in Ohio doesn't have a hospital," Malone said. Ater said he supported the idea as long as the people responsible for the demise of the Old River Valley Hospital were not left in charge of the new facility. "I have concerns of the same governing groups taking control we could end up with the same problems," he said. Stephens agreed that a new facility should be free of political strings.

All four men agreed the Tri-State Metro Outerbelt is an economic development tool and pledged to work to get full funding for it is one of their top priorities.

State Senate, 14th district

In the 14th district state senate race, Republican Tom Niehaus, currently a state representative, pledged to use his skills as a state lawmaker to effectively serve the people of Southern Ohio. Niehaus touted himself as a consensus builder who works well with people on both sides of the aisle.

Paul Schweitering countered that change was needed in Columbus, and that more than 10 years of Republican rule has left the state bleeding in terms of jobs, tax base and talented young people. "Ohio has had a rough four years," he said. "The state has lost 275,000 jobs, 164,000 of those were high-paying manufacturing jobs…. Ohio is second in the nation in mortgage foreclosures. School funding continues to be an issue. …"

On the issue of school funding, both men said they agreed the current system of funding education was unfair. "School funding is broken and it needs to be fixed," Niehaus said. "We've been through 10 years and four Supreme Court decisions on this." Schweitering blamed Republicans in Columbus, whom he said have controlled state government but have done nothing to heed the four state supreme court declarations on the issue.

On State Issue 1, both candidates said their personal belief was that marriage "was between a man and a woman," as Schweitering said. But said he did not favor the constitutional amendment because it may affect elderly people who are living together for various reasons and he did not favor frivolous constitutional amendments. Neihaus said he favored the constitutional amendment. "No, I don't think homosexuals should have the right to marry. I am proud that I co-sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act," he said. On the issue of abortion, both men said there were pro-life.

One person in the audience asked how the two men would make health care accessible and affordable for all people. Schweitering said anything done at the state level would be a "Band-Aid" since the problem of health care and health insurance is national in scope.

Neihaus said the legislature can and has taken action to alleviate the situation, such as medical malpractice reform for physicians who practice in the state.

State Representative, 87th and 89th districts

Although the rules of the forum stipulated that candidates refrain from making comments about their opponent, Richard Holt, Republican candidate for 89th district state representative took several shots at incumbent Democrat Todd Book, particularly on the issue of school funding.

When asked his thoughts on whether school funding in Ohio was unfair, Book agreed it was and expressed disappointment that the subject did not come up during the most recent session of the legislature. Holt agreed but took the opportunity to bash Book over it.

"Yes, it is a shame it didn't come up and I'm dismayed he (Book) didn't bring it up," Holt said.

Book and Holt, and the two men running for the seat in the 87th district, incumbent Republican Clyde Evans and Democrat challenger Philip Roberts, fielded questions together.

Evans stressed his experience in the state legislature, as well as his service on several key committees, such as committees dealing with local governments, finance and natural resources.


also said he has worked well not only with people in Columbus but with local people to meet the needs of Southern Ohioans

His challenger, Democrat Philip Roberts, said he was concerned about the loss of jobs in the state over the last 10 years, the number of Ohioans who are uninsured and the inequity in school funding. If elected, he promised to work to close tax loopholes that allow some corporations to not pay their fair share. He also said Lawrence Countians need a government that will work for the people.

Like Evans, Book stressed his experience as a sitting state representative, his education as an attorney and his ability to work with both sides as his greatest assets.

"I represent 120,000 people when I go to Columbus," he said. "This is serious business. I'm effective, I am in the middle of several important issues and I am not there by accident."

Holt stressed that he would be a full-time representative, unlike Book, who still maintains his law practice in Portsmouth. "I will work full-time. There is a lot of work we can do." Holt said he believed that by and large, Southern Ohioans constitute a skilled labor force and his top priority would be to market the area's labor force to outside business and industry.

Like Book and Holt, both Evans and Roberts agreed that something must be done immediately to correct the inequity issue. Evans said he did not think the issue was one of Democrats versus Republicans "But poor (districts) fighting wealthy ones."

"The state legislature and the governor have failed us," Roberts said. New schools don't provide good education. We need a good educational system. Some schools are using books that are more than 10 years old."

One person in the audience asked the four men their thoughts on riverboat gambling. Roberts, Evans and Book said they would bow to the wishes of their constituents and would want to see such an issue put before the voters for approval or rejection.

"I don't think the people of my district would want organized gambling," Evans said. "And I've been lobbied hard on this."

Holt said if riverboat gambling ever became reality, the tax money from it should be used to pay for the additional law enforcement that would be a necessity because of it.

When asked about their thoughts on the states' failure to immediately fund future phases of the Tri-State Metro Outerbelt, Evans said the project would be his top priority in the next two years, and was pleased that Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the Greater Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce had been appointed to the State Transportation Review Advisory Committee (TRAC).

Roberts said he was aware the project was not "taken seriously" by state transportation officials

and said until there is new leadership in Columbus, it was unlikely it ever would be.

Book also pledged to work to ensure bypass funding, as did

Holt. All four men said they agreed

with the concept of "marriage between a man and a woman." Holt, Roberts and Evans said they were "pro-life," while Book said he doesn't like the idea of abortion but he would not push his views on anyone. "I don't support the idea but I realize someone's right to it," he said.