Hopefuls discuss issues

Published 11:35 am Friday, October 17, 2008

They have the power to legislate change either on the state level or the local one. Last night the candidates for Lawrence County Commission, the Ohio Senate’s 14th District and the House of Representatives’ 87th District fielded questions about their goals for the state and/or for Lawrence County, although their goals were addressed to a mostly empty audience at Ohio University Southern’s Bowman Auditorium.

Incumbent State Sen. Tom Niehaus, a Republican, said he is not in favor of scrapping the payday lending industry although he does support some restrictions to it. An issue on the November ballot addresses that issue.

He said he does support Issue 2 that would allot money for the Clean Ohio Fund program and Issue 6 that would allow a casino to be built in Clinton County.

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“I look at the fact it is an opportunity to create 5,000 jobs,” he said. “We currently have Ohioans going to racetracks and casinos to gamble. I would prefer to keep that money in Ohio.”

Niehaus’ opponent, Gregory Napolitano, was unable to attend since his wife had given birth to a baby the day before.

The same issues Neihaus discussed came up again when 87th District State Rep. Clyde Evans, the incumbent Republican, and his opponent, Democrat Shane Meldick, got their chance to speak. Evans said the issue of casino gambling is one he leaves to the people of his district, who, he said, do not appear to be overly fond of the idea.

“I represent an area that has time after time after time voted gambling down,” Evans said.

Meldick pointed to the money that casino builders have said would they would give annually to each county as a good reason to support it.

“Jackson County would get $600,000, for its general fund, and they can spend it however they choose,” Meldick said. Both said they supported the Clean Ohio Funds Issue 2.

Meldick charged that Evans had asked for but did not receive the endorsement of the Ohio Education Association this year and fired off a letter telling the OEA they may not be able to count on his support in the future. Evans responded that he had told the OEA he was disappointed with their decision not to endorse him as it had in the past but that he could not be bought.

Meldick also charged that Evans refused to vote for a bill to divest state retirement funds from Iran. Evans replied he is “for divestiture but only if 10 and a half million people share the losses and not just require state employees to lose that money.”

State Rep. Todd Book, who represents the 89th District and is seeking re-election, was unable to attend the forum.

The four men seeking two seats on the Lawrence County Commission fielded a number of questions about county’s finances and job creations and what they have done and/or would do to improve the county’s future.

When asked what he would do to increase county revenues, incumbent Republican Jason Stephens said the main issue regarding county finances is that officeholders must live within their means and sometimes that requires tough decision about spending—and cutting. His opponent, Democrat Wayne Pennington, said he would look at every aspect of the county’s budget to find ways to save money.

Incumbent Democrat Tanner Heaberlin said the best way to increase revenue is to make the county more attractive to new business and industry and therefore put more sales tax dollars in county coffers. He agreed with Pennington and Stephens that the county needs to live within its means.

Republican Les Boggs, who is running against Heaberlin, said he has a job creation program but did not give specifics.

When asked what cuts they would be willing to make to balance the budget, both Stephens and Heaberlin said they had made cuts to the budget already but were willing to make more if necessary. Stephens pointed to the consolidation of the 911 dressing, floodplain management and soil and water office under one umbrella, a move that not only merged similar services but allowed half the budget for the new entity to be paid for with state money, instead of county funds. Stephens and Heaberlin both said they were in favor of merging emergency dispatching. Pennington said he would look at the sheriff’s office budget when cutting funds.

“If 911 is number one on the list, the sheriff’s office has to be number 2,” Pennington said.

When asked if the county commission job requires a full-time commissioner, Boggs said it did and said he would be a full-time commissioner.

“I will be there. I will be available,” Boggs said. Pennington said he plans to retire next spring, making the issue of juggling two jobs a moot point with him.

Both Stephens and Heaberlin pointed out that being a commissioner is not a 40-hour-a week day job.

“Full-time is 24/7 for a county commissioner,” Stephens said. Heaberlin agreed.

“Time in the office is time well spent but time going out in the county and talking face to face is much more valuable than sitting in the office answering a phone,” Heaberlin said.

The forum was played to a no doubt familiar audience. Most of the people who attended were party faithful who came to support their respective candidates as well as other officeholders.

The forum was at Ohio University Southern. The university and the Greater Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.