STOW — The opioid epidemic, a reduction in state funding to local governments and financial challenges at the county level were among the issues discussed at a Candidates Night event Tuesday evening.
The Citizens for Nonpartisan Politics hosted the event at the VFW/Acker-Moore Memorial Post 175 on Fishcreek Road. About 80-90 people attended the program, which included candidates for the Ohio House, Ohio Senate, Summit County Council At-Large, the Ninth District Court of Appeals, and three different Summit County Common Pleas Court judge races who will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Candidates for all statewide offices — U.S. Senator, governor, attorney general and secretary of state — were invited to the event. None attended and a few sent a representative to offer some brief comments.
Here is an overview of what the candidates in the Ohio House 37th District, Ohio Senate 27th District and the Summit County Council At-Large races had to say.
Ohio House 37th District
This race matches two local City Councilmen — Republican Mike Rasor of Stow and Democrat Casey Weinstein of Hudson.
Rasor is an attorney with Cavitch, Familo & Durkin in Cleveland. Weinstein works as a managing client director for Gartner, an information technology research firm (his client is the U.S. Air Force).
The position is currently held by Republican Kristina Daley Roegner, who is running for Ohio Senate in the 27th District. Roegner could not run for the 37th District seat again due to term limits.
Both candidates were asked about the most important and challenging issue facing the state and how they would address it elected.
While noting that the opioid crisis is "the most pressing short-term issue," Rasor said the focus should be on "generational poverty."
"We have neighborhoods and we have families that have been poor for decades and decades," said Rasor. "And generation to generation, our system has to support them and they don’t really experience what I believe is God’s plan for each of us, which is to work, and which is to find your purpose."
Weinstein said he felt the opioid crisis was the most pressing issue right now. Public officials need to "tackle this challenge because it’s killing Ohioans," he said.
"Regardless of income, regardless of where you live, it is killing people today. We have to get this right, now."
If elected, Rasor said he would spend his first two years focused on finding ways to bring people out of generational poverty. This would include helping guide young people from impoverished areas into apprenticeship programs where they can learn a trade, develop a marketable skill and not carry any college debt.
"You give somebody a job like this, all of a sudden they can support their family," said Rasor. "All of a sudden, you have more two-parent households, all of a sudden you have more home ownership and our whole society’s going to be better for it."
Saying it is important to ensure that people have access to health care, Weinstein said he is a "strong proponent" for maintaining Gov. Kasich’s Medicaid expansion to "keep people in the system where their care can be managed and deaths can be prevented."
"This is an economic problem and this is a health problem and this is a moral problem, " said Weinstein.
The issue can also be addressed by restoring state funding to cities and villages, Weinstein said.
"That funding goes to first responders, who are at the tip of the spear for this problem, carrying the Narcan," said Weinstein. "We need to make sure they have adequate funding to fight this problem."
Ohio Senate District 27 race
In the Ohio Senate District 27 race, Republican Kristina Daley Roegner — who is currently the Ohio House representative in the 37th District — is running against Democrat Adam VanHo. The position is currently held by Republican Frank LaRose, who is running for Secretary of State on Nov. 6.
Roegner and VanHo were each asked what concerns they had for the state and how they would work to resolve these concerns.
Roegner said she felt the top issue facing the state is the opioid crisis, which she said is killing more than 4,000 people each year. She said the state legislature has passed the Good Samaritan Law, increased access to Narcan, and appropriated $180 million into the budget to fight the problem.
"It’s not the government alone that’s going to solve this," said Roegner. "I do believe it’s churches and schools and communities and neighbors all working together to solve this crisis."
Roegner said that her daughters — both who of whom attend Hudson High School — have brought Drug-Free Clubs of America into the school.
"Over half of the students in the Hudson High School have signed up and they have committed to be drug-free," said Roegner. "It’s really impressive what’s going on there."
VanHo, an attorney in Hudson, said his top concern is "the lack of civility and bipartisanship," and said he believes that the dominance of one political party in Ohio has given the state "tunnel vision."
He noted Ohio is last in the country in both entrepreneurship and infant mortality.
"We need to protect health care," stated VanHo. "We need to make sure that people have the ability to get a good, quality education."
Throughout his legal career, he has been known as "a problem solver" and someone who can work with people on both sides of an issue.
"I’m not running to push any agendas or anything like that," said VanHo. "I want to see Ohio move forward."
Summit County Council At-Large
There are six candidates — three Democratic incumbents and three Republican challengers — who are running for three At-Large seats on Summit County Council.
The Democratic incumbents are Clair E. Dickinson, John A. Donofrio and Elizabeth Walters. The Republican challengers are Cynthia D. Blake, Nick DeVitis and Michael B. Washington.
Dickinson, Walters and Washington attended Tuesday’s forum. Donofrio, Blake and DeVitis did not.
The three candidates were asked about the top concern for the county and how they would resolve it.
While noting the county is facing an opioid and methamphetamine epidemic, Washington said an anticipated $4 million budget shortfall at the county level deserves attention.
"Part of that is due to the fact that the state legislature has changed some of the basis for certain taxes that used to go to the counties," Washington said. "Because of that, you have a significant amount of money that is not being recovered or being taken in by the counties. There are many things that could be done. There are obvious things of cutting non-essential services, which nobody wants to talk about, nobody likes to do, [a] potential for shifting employment situations."
Washington said that while County Council is addressing funding and staffing issues at the county jail, more work needs to be done there.
Walters said the opiate crisis was the top issue.
"We at the county continue to struggle from an infrastructure standpoint with needed beds, needed services, access to detox, [and this] is something we work on in a collaborative fashion to address," Walters said.
The Summit County Health Department runs an opiate task force, where multiple organizations work together "to expand access, to apply for grant money at the state and federal level and we’re making progress. It’s slow, but we’re making progress," she said.
Walters also encouraged the audience to support Issue 8, a 2.25-mill levy renewal and 1 mill levy increase for Summit County Children Services.
"Children are the silent victims of this [opiate] crisis in our community and we have seen a 30 percent increase of children coming into our care because of this crisis," Walters said. "We need to ask for your help to do a small increase in your Children’s Services levy to support recruiting and training good, qualified foster homes and helping create a safe space for these children to heal, recover and get back into a loving environment."
Dickinson said he felt the opioid issue is "critical," and noted "part of the reason that we need … to provide more services through the Children Services Board is because so many more kids are there because of the opioid problem."
The county only recently made land available at the former Edwin Shaw site to two non-profits that are providing rehabilitation services, he said.
Dickinson said the county will be facing a funding "crisis," which is due in part to state funding to local governments being "cut and cut and cut."
"The state committed to provide local government funds for us to do that," said Dickinson, noting the state has a rainy day fund of "billions and billions of dollars" because the state has "cut the money they provided to local governments, including counties."