A Republican and a Democrat are vying in the Nov. 6 general election for the chance to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives as the representative of the 98th District, which includes all of Tuscarawas County and part of Holmes County.
The position is being vacated by state Rep. Al. Landis, R-Dover, who will leave office at the year’s end because of term limits.
The candidates are Uhrichsville Law Director Brett Hillyer, a Republican, and Jeremiah Johnson, a Democrat and former mayor and councilman in Sugarcreek.
Despite their differences, the candidates have similar views on certain issues, such as a need for greater accountability for taxpayer-funded charter schools and JobsOhio, the state's privatized economic development arm. Both also say they want to see fairer legislative districts replace gerrymandered boundaries.
Each candidate has legislative initiatives he wants to pursue.
"Ohio is an energy powerhouse that needs to be unleashed," Hillyer said. "I would support an all-of-the-above energy policy that allows for a mix of renewable and nonrenewable energy sources."
"Eastern Ohio has real estate and opportunity to grow a petrochemical and petro-plastic economy. Obviously, it would be easier to pipe hydrocarbons 25 miles instead of 200 miles. Ohio should do more to entice business to develop around the shale play."
Hillyer said he would not support any increase to the severance tax paid on oil and natural gas extracted from the ground. He said proceeds from the tax should be used only to support the oil and gas work of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
For Johnson, the top legislative initiative is working to bring home more of the state tax money the state has shared with local governments since the 1930s.
"Schools and local government need to be funded to the fullest extent," Johnson said. "If we reinvest in our community, we would see a lot less levies on the ballot."
He was on Sugarcreek Village Council for six months before becoming Sugarcreek mayor, a position he held during the Great Recession.
"I understand how it is to continue to provide services for your constituents when the money’s not there," Johnson said. "And then we come out of it as a state of Ohio. Things are going well, but the state continues to cut funding to local governments. I don’t think that’s right. We need to restore funding to our local school systems."
When it comes to problems in state government, Hillyer sees Ohio’s Medicaid spending putting significant budgetary restraints on services offered by the state.
"Further, people who need Medicaid most are often left on waiting lists for (mental retardation and developmental disabilities) and mental health services," Hillyer said.
"Medicaid needs to be a viable option for children and those that cannot help themselves," he said. "However, the current system is not working. Ohio is spending too much on a bad product that doesn’t help the people it set out to help.
"I would support a freeze on the Medicaid budget, not a cut, and put into place work or education/training requirements for enrollment. Further, I would look at ways to make private insurance more affordable for employers and private purchasers so that better care for patients is available with a wider selection of care providers."
Johnson sees a problem in the state's funding of for-profit charter schools, in particular, the now-closed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a statewide online school.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Ohio spent nearly $10.4 billion in state taxpayer money, including lottery money, on education between mid-2016 and mid-2017. About $929 million of that, or 9 percent, went to charter schools. As the state's largest charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) received about $104.3 million that year.
Johnson sees charter schools taking money away from public schools.
"Just ECOT alone took $1.7 million out of the school districts in the 98th House District," he said. "That's a lot of money to take away."
He places the blame on the Republican-dominated state legislature.
"In the last biennial budget, they cut $250 million in funding to public schools because they said they didn’t have any money," Johnson said. "Two line items later, they added $500 million to private for-profit charter schools. So if they didn’t have any money, why did they do that?"
He noted that ECOT founder Bill Lager gave money to Republican candidates throughout the state, although most gave the money back.
Johnson has no objection to nonprofit charter schools, such as those sponsored by the Garaway and New Philadelphia school districts.
Hillyer said he supports school choice.
"However, I believe that all schools need to be held to the same standard and must be transparent in how public dollars are spent," he said. "I would not support failing charter schools."
Johnson said he agrees with Hillyer about transparency for spending public money.
"Any time state money goes to any organization, when the state wants to audit that organization it should be cut-and-dried, 'Absolutely, here’s what we did with your money,' " Johnson said. "Anybody else that does public funding and whatnot has to go through that same process. It’s checks and balances of government."
Hillyer and Johnson both see ways for the state to help businesses.
"I would support policies to cut unnecessary or duplicative red tape and bureaucratic oversight," Hillyer said. "Additionally, I would not support any regulation that was not generally accepted as an industry standard. Finally, I believe our tax structure should be changed to allow for new and growing businesses to locate to Eastern Ohio and improve the standard of living."
Johnson wants to see the state explain its own regulations more clearly to businesses, such as rules about tax filings.