By Sue Botos
Aggressive solutions to balancing a tight budget and creating jobs versus extremism and party polarization was the underlying theme of last week’s District 16 state representative candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and held at the Don Umerley Civic Center in Rocky River before a Republican-leaning crowd of about 100.
Republican incumbent Nan Baker and Democratic challenger Andrew Meyer, a Rocky River attorney, squared off on questions regarding not only the economy, but the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, school funding, voter identification, privatization of the Ohio Turnpike, legislative redistricting and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Baker opened the remarks by crediting the aggressive stance of the state government with balancing a budget with an $8 billion deficit and creating 120,000 new jobs.
“To upgrade from a negative to a stable credit rating sends a message across the nation that Ohio is open for business. It’s all about jobs,” she said.
Meyer described the present state government as being permeated by “hyperpartisanism,” a term he used frequently throughout the forum to describe what he felt was the polarizing effect of the current administration. “The government pushed extreme bills through,” he said. “I am going to be an active legislator. I am never going to be afraid to challenge my own party when it’s in the wrong.”
On the subject of health care, Meyer stated that it was an obligation to follow the directives of the federal government to ensure health care for all. Baker countered that governors are anxious, and waiting for further mandates, pointing out that $1 billion will be necessary for expanded Medicaid coverage.
When it came to erasing the $8 billion deficit, Baker said that “nothing was a sacred cow,” even public schools. However, she pointed out that an amendment she sponsored held cuts to districts at 20 percent. “Schools did lose the tangible personal property tax, but all agencies lost this,” she stated.
Meyer called the school cuts “less ‘aggressive’ and more extreme.” He said that the state legislature originally approved cuts of up to 70 percent. “Many cities will have to raise taxes,” he said of the result.
Baker countered that the school funding proposal was not a matter of a simple vote, but a carefully thought-out process, requiring approval by the state Senate, House and a select committee.
She added that schools as well as communities are turning more toward collaboration. She credited area mayors with being agreeable to the idea by setting up a central dispatch center in Westlake, and by exploring other ways to utilize resources. “There are better ways to manage government, not just throwing money at programs,” she stated.
Moving to the topic of streamlining the number of documents that can be used as voter identification, Meyer said this was unnecessary, as there has never been a documented case of voter fraud in the state. “This is another example of the Kasich administration pushing the limits,” he stated, adding that requiring voters to produce either a driver’s license or state ID would prevent the elderly, the poor and others without access to these documents from casting a ballot. “This is a solution in search of a problem,” Meyer contended.
“There are groups out there who want to manipulate voting,” countered Baker, adding that she applauded Secretary of State Jon Husted’s stance on voter identification. “This will be a very contentious race. We want everyone to feel confident that their vote will count.”
The candidates predictably split on the controversial Issue 2, a proposed constitutional amendment creating a 12-person citizen committee to draw up legislative and congressional district maps. Taking up the theme voiced by many Democrats, Meyer said that the issue would rectify the current districts, which he said amounted to Republican gerrymandering.
Baker called the issue partisan, and said it would take authority away from the voters by prohibiting elected officials from serving on the committee.
On the issue of “fracking” – the removal of oil-rich shale deposits with chemically-laced water, Baker said there is “a lot of ‘the sky is falling’ mentality.” She said the work is governed by SB 315, which requires a detailed sharing of information on the chemicals used. “This is an economic game changer for Ohio. We’re fortunate to have it in the state and fortunate to have the technology to make it safe,” she stated.
“We need to make sure this is being done responsibly. The standards are not sufficient and we need to tread carefully here,” said Meyer, who cautioned that this technology could amount to a “boom-bust” and not a steady, long-term income.
In closing, the candidates underscored their platforms, with Baker stating that the focus will continue to be on creating a better business environment and creating jobs, while Meyer called for a return to the area’s traditional nonextremism and strong leadership.