State rep candidates discuss jobs, southern Ohio’s needs
In a little more than a week, voters will head to the polls to vote on who they want representing them at the local state levels.
This week, state representative candidates for Ohio’s 90th and 93rd districts sat down with The Tribune and talked about the issues facing their constituents, including jobs, drug abuse and infrastructure.
They also talked about what voters could expect from them if they are elected as Ohio state representatives.
90th DISTRICT CANDIDATES
Ohio’s 90th District includes all of Scioto and Adams counties and the western portion of Lawrence County, starting roughly at Ironton.
Dr. Terry Johnson
While serving as Scioto County Coroner, Republican Dr. Terry Johnson was elected to serve as state representative to Ohio’s 89th District in 2010. A practicing physician, Johnson, 55, is a retired colonel from the Ohio Army National Guard and was elected Scioto County Coroner in 2002 and served until he was elected as a state representative.
The Portsmouth-area native is a clinical associate professor of family medicine and an assistant dean at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he graduated from as a doctor. He also has a bachelor’s degree in history from Ohio University.
Role as state rep
“The primary role of the state representative is constituent services. And I have a wonderful office with two constituent service aides who respond to the needs of our citizens. They literally handle thousands of cases, emails, contacts and our job is to help a citizen cut through the red tape of Columbus and help solve the problems we can.
“If we need to, we can put people in contact with their federal representatives or federal agencies as well, and we do an awful lot of that.”
What can voters expect?
“My vision is to improve the life and economic prosperity of our citizens in this district. We’ve been in an economic decline for well over 50 years. We have few bright points, most notably the gaseous diffusion plant in Piketon. …But generally speaking we’ve seen brick, shoes, rubber, all different kinds of things that were done in the Portsmouth area go under, move away.
“And, to add insult to injury, we’ve had terrible problems with drugs and crime. And we also have some of the worse health indices in the state. Lawrence County and Scioto County are the bottom of the barrel right now. My vision is to turn all that around and inspire people to work together and head in a new direction.
“Washington isn’t going to solve our problems. Columbus isn’t going to solve our problems. We need to do it ourselves.”
If you look at our prescription drug problem, I was the driving force behind organizing a community effort to start pushing back against our drug problem. I saw holistically, I brought together people from all different walks of life including those who had lost their children and loved ones to the drug problem. Doctors, nurses, judges, attorneys, law enforcement, teachers, clergy. I said, ‘This isn’t a problem just for doctors. It’s not a problem just for judges. We all need to work on this together.’ And we did that.
“As far as our health coalition is concerned, I’ve helped form that. I’ve had two health summits over in Scioto County. … When I was county coroner, I expanded the roll of my office to include more than just determining cause and manner of death. I tracked the drug overdoses and figured out a way to track those and record those and brought those to the attention of the state and the region and the appropriate people.
“And as a state representative. I could just concentrate on constituent services, that’s the main roll, but I’ve also felt I need to expand the roll of this office and be a leader.”
“You don’t legislate jobs. But what you do is you provide an environment in which free enterprise can prosper. A good example of that came with Ohio EPA throwing up some road blocks for the new coke ovens that were going to be built just down the road from here. Kentucky eventually got the project.
“… We need to figure out ways to keep these regulatory agencies from putting so much pressure on industry and job growth that they stamp it out. Yes we need clean air, we need clean water, but we also need balance and sanity. It doesn’t do folks a lot of good to live here if they can’t feed their family.
“I’m doing my best to bring the steel plant. I’m doing my best to talk to my federal representatives and tell them that not only do we need the American Centrifuge project, it’s a smart thing for our national security and for our country.
“We also had a river summit here in Lawrence County over a year ago, John Carey and I, and we had an intermodal summit in which I was a large participant in, where we brought people to talk about expanding our transportation resources and doing more with the river. I have been a huge advocate for coal.
“And anything I can do as a state representative to facilitate getting coal out of the ground, and actually burning it, I’m for. I have been able to vote on everything that we’ve been able to do as far as regulating oil and natural gas. I want to get all the oil and gas out of the ground responsibly and safely, I think that is the next huge boom for Ohio.
“… I’ve done everything I can do as a state representative to facilitate the USEC plant and the American Centrifuge project. One hundred percent in favor of that. And I have availed my office to the New Steel people who are trying to put a brand new steel plant at Haverhill. A lot of folks say that’s a pipe dream, it’s not attainable. I look at it and say, ‘we need to think big.’ And anything I can do to help them, I will do. When they were at a rough point a few months back, and it looked like the project was dead, I was able to arrange a meeting with the director of the public utilities commission of Ohio and that led to some other meetings and the project is still alive.
“The Ironton-Russell Bridge: I used my office in a very closely, cooperative nature with city and county and state government to make sure that project stayed on track. It came very close to being diverted and it almost didn’t happen. Would it be happening six months or a year later? I didn’t care about that. I wanted to make sure it stayed on track and we did everything we could do to facilitate that and were successful.”
“I have a pseudoephedrine tracking bill that will pass in the lame duck (session). The attorney general is in favor of it. The governor is in favor of it and it is set up in some committees so it can move as soon as the senate gets back in lame duck. That’s House Bill 334. If we didn’t have a prescription drug problem, then you would certainly see the meth problem we have.
“It’s there, it’s constant and it’s a terrible thing. 334 is a bill that allows law enforcement to immediately know when pseudoephedrine is purchased and if it is purchased legally its fine. … If you are a bad guy and you are trying to use too much of that stuff, law enforcement knows about it immediately. It is point-of-sale tracking. That is going to happen.
“Another thing that is going to happen is automatic reciprocity for concealed carry. That is my House Bill 495. We’ll get that passed unless some terrible thing happens and that would make it so that, most notably, Ohioans will be able to carry their concealed carry all the way to Florida and back. Right now, Georgia stands out as a road block because we don’t have a reciprocity agreement with Georgia.
“There are three naming bills that I have pending. One will name a huge section of Route 23 after Branch Ricky, our baseball hero from this region. It will go from Lucasville to the Portsmouth boundary. It will be the Branch Ricky Memorial Highway.
“We will also have a section of highway named after Boone Coleman, who was a hugely influential construction person in Scioto County.
“Then we will have another section of highway just a little bit east of Portsmouth named after Lance Corporal Jonathan Etterling, who lost his life in the Iraq War.
“The other is the military sacrifice license plate. … My license plate bill would allow someone who died in any non-combat theater or training accident, their families can get a license plate that way.”
Democratic candidate John Haas, 47, is a Portsmouth-based attorney who graduated from Capital University School of Law and the Boston University School of Law and has a master’s degree in law. He has his own law practice in Portsmouth.
Haas also earned a political science bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University. Haas was appointed to the Portsmouth City Council in 2008 to fill a vacant seat and was reelected in 2009 and is the council president.
Role as state rep
“To represent the constituents in the district, and really, I see it as a job to make sure government performs its necessary functions and assists the constituents and their needs. Be it personal matters with respect to issues with their government services, or small businesses and their issues with government service, trying to attract jobs to the area, make sure that the infrastructure we have in place is taken care of, maintained, if not improved.
“And really, I think the biggest part of it for me is to be available to the local governments, be it county commissioners, city council, township trustees, civic organizations. Just to be there to listen to them to see what issues they have or suggestions they have as to how things might be improved. Making sure everyone feels like their voice is heard.”
What can voters expect?
“I think they can expect someone who will represent their interests, that will be there for them when they call or want to meet. Someone who will always keep the district first, and not about party leaders. I think they’ll have somebody who cares a lot about this area. They can expect me to be their fulltime state representative. I’m not going to try to maintain a practice or some other job while I’m doing what I know, for this district anyway, should be a fulltime job.”
“What I did on city council was we passed an ordinance in Portsmouth. We were the first city in Ohio to ban pill clinics from within the city. We did that before the state passed their legislation. Then we had to go back and tone ours down a little bit because it was stricter that what the state did… We choose to roll ours back to mimic the state legislation.”
“The other issues I see with respect to prescription drugs is I think that the legislation that was passed, that banned pain clinics and made them tougher to stay open, was I think it fell a little short, or it was a good start. It did not address what I think is a big glaring problem, which is the doctors that are prescribing the pain pills.
“… I would look at the makeup of the medical board. Right now they are political appointees, and perhaps they need to be elected like state board of education members, But I think if they don’t have the tools they need to suspend (the doctors) or have them stop doing what they are doing sooner or quicker than what they do, they need to have those tools.
“I don’t know if they have them at this point or if they are willing to use them. Practicing medicine, in my view, is a privilege in Ohio, it’s not a right, and if you abuse the privilege, it should be taken away from you. That’s something that really needs to be dealt with if we are going to put a stop to legalized drug dealers.”
“Jobs are important. We need to focus on funding our local governments. We need to restore local government funding so we can keep police and fire and city services at the levels they were previously. I think we need to focus on adequate funding for public education both k-12 and at the college level.
“The budget cut $2.9 billion out of the education budget. I don’t think that’s going in the right direction. I would like to reverse that. If we are going to have companies want to come into this area, or into this state for that matter, they are going to want to make sure our high school graduates or college graduates can actually perform the work they need done. That’s a big part of my agenda.”
“The first thing I’d like to do is see the state set up a small business working capital program. And what that would do is, it would provide funding or credit for small businesses that need it. Right now credit is tight. Until the economy turns around, it’s going to remain tight. That is one thing I think would help.”
“I am all in favor of tax incentives for programs or businesses that create jobs. I would go so far as to say that if a county or other political subdivision started a small business incubator program where they would help their local residents who have a great idea for a small business, help them get started.
“If they would set up some program along those lines, I would be all in favor of the state helping fund those types of programs.
“If the people that are out of work now need retraining, we need to do what we can to help get them retrained for jobs that are out there.”
“When you look at the state overall, I think this area, this district, kind of gets the short end of it when it comes to funding infrastructure projects. I think there needs to be a focus on this area, to help develop and bring it up to the same business-friendly, manufacturing-friendly area that Columbus or Cincinnati is.
“And I think we used to have that years ago with the river and the rail. We still have that, which is a big bonus for us in this area. And I think we need to have a focus on interstates or highways and also on the high-speed Internet access and the same types of services provided in the Franklin County area. We are part of the state too. We need to get those so that we can compete with Franklin County or Hamilton County.”
Being a city council member, I guess there are two things, and they are really kind of budget related, which is one of the first things you do when you get into office, you start working on the biennial budget because it’s due in June.
“Two of the biggest things I see we need to attack is the cuts in local government funding. Those have been around for 76 years, local government funding, the state sends money to the city and other local government entities to provide funding for such things as police and fire, and the services the city provides to its residents. The last budget eliminated that. What it forced the City of Portsmouth to do for example was, we were in a position where we had some firefighters and some police officers and service department employees that retired. So we didn’t fill those positions.
“Fortunately we didn’t have to lay anyone off. We were able to cut through attrition, however, what it has done is bumped up overtime, it has worked the fire department to death. We’ve got trucks going out that should have five people on it with two. Those things, not only is it a safety issue and a crime issue because we have fewer police officers on the street covering the same area they have always covered, the other side of it is, if the city is going to continue to provide those services, they are going to have to find new sources of revenue.
“… From my side of things, being on city council, I see the direct effect of that and the costs and what will happen. It’s the same with the education cuts. You are going to see tax levies on the ballots because you’re going to raise property taxes for schools to fund education and make up for all the cuts. And cities are going to look for new sources of revenue like raising fees, income taxes, that sort of thing.
“… What happened was, the state government, rightly or wrongly, balanced their budget on the backs of local governments or schools. That’s where they made up what they considered the short fall. And I don’t think that’s where it should come from.”
93rd DISTRICT CANDIDATES
Ohio’s 93rd District includes all of Jackson and Gallia counties and the eastern part of Lawrence County starting at roughly Coal Grove.
In April, Republican Ryan Smith was appointed to fill vacant the 87th District seat, which will be the 93rd District after Congressional redistricting, after Rep. Jon Carey announced his resignation last year.
Smith is a financial advisor, vice president and partner of Smith Financial Advisors of Hilliard Lyons. Smith, 39, is a native of Gallipolis and lives in Bidwell. He earned bachelor of science and finance degrees from The Ohio State University in 1995. He was elected to the Gallipolis City School Board of Education in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.
Role as state rep
“I am the liaison from the constituents here in the district to Columbus to make sure the state resources are being allocated correctly and that we can hopefully cut down on government bureaucracy.
“But also to represent southeastern Ohio in Columbus to make sure the laws that are introduced, that I introduce, fit our constituents down here. Part of the challenge in Ohio is that it is such a diverse state, from Lake Erie to the shores of the Ohio River.
“When you try to construct a bill that will become law, it is hard to make it equitable for everyone throughout the state and it is important that we have a voice so that folks in our end of the state, somebody understands their challenges and can represent them.”
What can voters expect?
“I think they can expect to be represented well in Columbus No. 1. But I’d like to work with all the local officials through all the communities in my four-county district to try and make some good things happen in southeastern Ohio. I want to make sure the state resources are allocated to southeastern Ohio and that we get our fair share. And expand job opportunities, expand the infrastructure and hopefully fight the prescription drug problem.”
Since I have been there in April, we started a pilot program that Sen. Peterson and I were fortunate enough to secure a half million dollar grant through Health Transformation in the State of Ohio to work with Holzer Health System, with a company in a private-public partnership. The company’s name is Cross Checks. They have started a biometric enrollment verification program.
“Basically what it does is it takes a fingerprint when you go into Holzer Health System and ties it to your electronic medical record. What this will do is allow the pharmacies where these narcotics are distributed to communicate with each other so that we can now bring technology into the game in the fight against prescription drugs and hopefully cut down on the doctor-shopping, on the fraudulent prescriptions, on the diversion and stop the flow of it eternally.
“… If we mind this data we collect, we will be able to identify the folks that are abusing the system in order to duplicate fraudulent prescriptions that put these narcotics on our streets. It will also identify the bad prescribers as well.
“… I think the program will go statewide and with any luck will go national. And the beauty of it is we’ll be able to create some high-tech jobs in southeastern Ohio and give some of our best and brightest students an opportunity to stay in southeastern Ohio for employment.”
“I think working through workforce development programs that will fit this so that we can connect our unemployed or underemployed in this area with the right type of jobs and attract the industry that we can. I think by fighting against the war on coal is important to this area in creating a lot of jobs. And trying to open up opportunities and again working with the local officials to try and expand some of the good initiatives they already have started.”
“There are two kinds of infrastructure. One is road and highways, which we could certainly use some help with. The Chesapeake Bypass I know has been an area of concern for Lawrence County for a long time. I think if you could complete that it would complete the loop in the outer belt which would open up some more opportunities for business in the area. That would be fantastic.
“A longer term project and what I’d really like to see is a project running a super two-lane to the northern part of Gallia County or southern Jackson from Lawrence County in order to cut through some of the more rural areas of Lawrence County and open it up for development as well.
“The other piece of infrastructure I was going to mention was the broadband piece. Too much of our area in southeastern Ohio is still not served by high-speed Internet that is reliable. I think, from an educational standpoint, we have to have that in order to open up the lines of learning on an online basis.”
“I think one of the areas we need a lot of work in is worker’s comp. The Bureau of Workers Comp needs some reforming to make us competitive and with two of my counties Lawrence and Gallia, being river communities, and competing with other states, especially Lawrence where you are bringing in Kentucky and West Virginia, we are at a disadvantage against Kentucky and West Virginia with the current worker’s comp situation. Being able to reduce worker’s comp rates and help small businesses grow, I think would be the most impactful thing I could do.”
Democratic candidate John Bailey is a native of Jackson. The 39-year-old graduated from Ohio University in 2012 with a degree in political science. He has been a small business owner for more than 20 years and owns an oil change center in Jackson.
Role as state rep
“I think the biggest role for state representative is to actually represent the people and lead the people. I think we have to put ourselves in a leadership position and we have to make sure things are being done. We also have to make sure that we are all pressing to help the biggest problems in our area, and right now, those are jobs. We have to have someone who is focused on bringing jobs to the area. But we also have to make sure when we have emergencies, we have someone there that knows what’s going on as well.
“When we had that last big emergency, June 29, which was my birthday, heck of a birthday present, the governor tells us that they are bringing down the National Guard to southeastern Ohio but they never make it past Dayton. They tell us we have ice and ice has never been found. They tell us they are bringing in thousands and thousands of generators, well I don’t know anyone that has a generator. These are things your state representative has to make sure get done.
“You don’t have to do everything, as far as the minute details, but you have to be able to lead and you have to be able to make sure that when someone says something is getting done, it’s getting done. And that our people are getting what they deserve.”
What can voters expect?
“… I can tell you exactly where I want our district to go. I can tell you what I think we need is, which is more accountability and put more power in to the communities. I have not heard whether or not he (Ryan Smith) has vision. I have heard him say a lot of the problems I have mentioned to you but it’s easy for all of us to find problems. What we need are solutions.
“… We need some one that is going to sit back and say, ‘I can see that is a challenge, and we need to find a solution.’ And that’s what we need, someone who has solutions. That is what strong leadership is about. And I think that is what sets me apart: strong leadership.
“… And I want people to know that if you need me, my name is on any card that I have, and so is my phone number and it is the same phone number that I have now and if I am elected, it will be the same phone number then. If you need to talk to me you can always talk to me and I’m always there. No one will work harder than I will to put jobs back here. Failure is not an option.”
“We also have to find a way … to bring in more drug courts. I know the places that have the good drug courts are finding the numbers go down on the people who are abusing drugs. Because you put them in a position where you fail or succeed, and they start succeeding because people start caring. You have to find away to make it happen.
“You can’t just sit around and just look at one thing and say, ‘this is the only thing I can do.’ You have to have a multifaceted approach. You have to take care of every aspect because one size does not fit all and we have to make sure we have every tool available. Otherwise we are just going to keep beating our heads against the wall.”
“One of the biggest things we have to do is find someway of passing a jobs bill. We have to make sure we start building on our infrastructure. Those are things that are going to put jobs back in this area.
“… We also have to start bringing industry back in the area. We have to make sure we have good jobs that can sustain the smaller businesses because the truth is, if you don’t have industry, your small businesses will slow die away. And that’s what we are finding out. That’s why our Main streets are just about empty in almost every town in my district. It’s because industry has left. We don’t have people having those jobs. And if you have to drive to Columbus to find a job, you’re going to do your shopping in Columbus.
“We have to make sure we have the infrastructure and we have all the tools in place to bring industry in. Because they will go where they can spend the least amount of money to get set up and ready to go. If we are not prepared for that, they are going to go some place that is. We cannot wait, we have to go proactively and we have to make these jobs come to us. We cant wait for the trickle down from Columbus or somewhere else. We need someone that is going to represent us in that respect.”
“Anything this big (a jobs bill) you would have to find bipartisan support, but I don’t think you would have much trouble because I know that there is a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who the people that are representing are being hurt by this economy. So it’s not going to take a whole lot to convince someone, ‘Hey we have an opportunity here to put jobs in your community. Do you want to say no to that?’ I don’t think they do.
“If you’re working on a jobs bill in Akron with someone in Lawrence County, you’re going to have two different views. Well we have to make sure the people in Lawrence County are able to get what the people in Lawrence County want. The people in Jackson are able to get what they want.
“We need to make sure we make some accountability and we allow for some leeway for the communities to bill what they need. I’ve been to city councils talked to them about it and that exactly what they want they want the ability to fix the things that they know that they need right now. I believe that’s the best way we are going to get jobs into our communities, is by listening to the people, listening to what they have to say. Because they will know better than what we will.”