Fairs a barometer of Ohio’s political scene

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The county fair circuit is always a good barometer of what is going on in southern Ohio.

I started working at county fairs at a very young age. My father had and still does have the job of collecting trash at the Jackson County Fair. Also, as a legislator, I have had the opportunity to visit fairs across our region.

Through this experience, I have discovered two universal truths about county fairs. First of all, everyone thinks that the weather at their county’s fair is the hottest. I have come to the conclusion that all fairs are hot.

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I have also found that there are usually two or three big issues that people are talking about every year, and this summer was no different.

The first stop on my tour of events in the 17th District was the Ashville Fourth of July celebration. It became evident that mohawks are in style for many kids in southern Ohio. I do not know what sparked the hairstyle’s return, but it’s back.

On a more serious note, the No. 1 issue for folks throughout the district was the cost of fuel. During the open door meetings that I held with our area representatives, as well as one-on-one conversations with constituents, I heard overwhelming support in favor of expanded drilling for oil and natural gas. There was also positive feedback about the development of clean coal technology.

I am neutral on the mohawks, but I do support using Ohio’s and the nation’s natural resources to strengthen our economy and help move the country toward energy independence. Windmills and solar panels are promising alternatives, but it is very unlikely that they will supply more than 5 percent of our energy needs in the near future.

Coal currently provides 87 percent of our electricity, and it is nave to think that we can grow our economy without it. By promoting the development of clean coal technology, we can continue to use this valuable resource, while reducing pollution and improving efficiency.

The same goes for drilling for oil and natural gas. How can we ask Saudi Arabia or other oil producing countries to expand drilling when we are not willing to do more of it in our own country? I believe we can use our natural resources in an environmentally safe manner and still promote economic development.

Broadband access is also an important economic development issue that was discussed. In fact, at last month’s joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee and the House State Government and Elections Committee in Wilmington, representatives from Southern State Community College explained that the quality of broadband access in the region will be important for workforce training should the DHL/UPS deal move forward.

I have been criticized by some for my leadership in securing $80 million in a $1.57 billion economic stimulus package to help communities improve and expand availability of broadband service. I have talked to several counties on this point, and they are mainly frustrated by the federal broadband programs that are in place. I hope the state program will be up and running next year, and Ohioans—especially those living rural Ohio—will see marked progress in this regard.