Wife of Sherrod Brown visits commissioners

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 30, 2006

Ask a Lawrence Countian for an opinion and you’ll likely get one; extend a Lawrence County officeholder the opportunity to give opinions on a range of subjects and you just might be sitting for a while.

Connie Schultz, wife of U.S. Congressman and Democratic senatorial candidate Sherrod Brown, paid a visit to the Lawrence County Commission meeting Thursday as part of her cross-state “hometown tour.”

Schultz extended an invitation to commissioners to speak their minds about what is important to their constituents.

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“Tell me what you want me to tell Sherrod,” she said.

They took her up on her offer. Commissioner George Patterson told Schultz he thought southern Ohio had been forgotten in the past by the government officials in Columbus and that the region has suffered for it.

“I don’t think Columbus understands us,” he told her.

Not only do those elected officials fail to understand what is important to this part of the state, they usually fall short in passing along funding for economic development and basics such as infrastructure. Patterson pointed to the Chesapeake Bypass as one instance where Columbus made promises, cooled its governmental heels and eventually came through with only a portion of its promise some 40 years late.

Patterson recalled he was in a meeting with state officials once to discuss the bypass and one state official fell asleep during the county’s presentation.

“That’s significant, that’s shameful,” Schultz said. She pledged Brown, if elected to represent all of the state, would not forget parts of it.

Asked to name the three most important issues that concerned Lawrence Countians, both Patterson and Stephens listed the economy in first place. While unemployment has decreased over the last few years, many people are trapped in low-paying jobs that do not support a middle-class quality of life.

“The good jobs are gone. On paper it doesn’t look bad but the wages are 6 and 7 dollars. The man and the woman both have to work to keep things going,” Patterson said.

Commissioners said they thought the other two most important issues are health care and social issues.

“Abortion is a big issue, gun control is a huge issue,” Stephens said. Patterson agreed Lawrence Countians tend to take a more conservative stance on issues such as gay rights and abortion.

“If folks disagree on issues like gays in the military and abortion but agree on issues such as jobs, would they still get support?” Schultz asked.

“Not down here,” Patterson replied. “If my wife thought someone was for abortion, she wouldn’t vote for them.”

Stephens told Schultz that since Lawrence County has no hospital of its own, it is, more than ever before, at the mercy of malpractice issues and other conditions in neighboring states where residents go to receive their health care, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Commissioners also said the lack of water service for some rural areas of the county is a concern.

Not only is it a hindrance to economic development, it affects the quality of life for those who must think about where their water comes from — and if they will run out before they get another supply hauled in, they said.

With cuts in federal Community Development Block Grant monies, a financially struggling county has little means to help extend water lines to unserved households, they said.

Patterson said it made no sense to him that the federal government cuts aid to its own people while funding projects in other countries.

“We send money overseas to help people they get water and we have people here that don’t have it,” Patterson protested. “We need to take care of our own people.”

Stephens estimated that 1,000 houses in the county do not have water service. Many rely on water haulers, others cisterns and wells.

Commissioners also decried unfunded mandates such as the Storm Water Runoff plan, orders from the state and federal levels that are never accompanied by the funding to enact all those new rules.

Schultz, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, also made stops in Scioto, Jackson, Gallia and Washington counties during her “hometown tour.” Her husband is challenging incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine for one of the state’s two senate seats.