By JOY BROWN
Two contentious Republican races were on display Friday at a Hancock County GOP lunch, where the candidates’ stances reflected the party’s ideological rift.
State Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, who has two challengers in the Republican primary in May, attracted some protesters. Supporters of Ohio’s anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” put up signs and banners outside the American Legion hall on Front Street, where the lunch was held. One banner claimed Hite “let us down.”
About 120 people attended the lunch, where Hite and his opponents, Corey Shankleton and Milo Schaffner, argued about the heartbeat bill and disagreed about the Ninth Commandment and school testing.
Meanwhile, two Republican candidates for Hancock County commissioner, incumbent Phil Riegle and challenger Steve Oman, clashed over flood-control spending and methods.
The incumbents urged unity while the challengers attacked.
“It’s time we take our party back from those who have hijacked it and moved it to the left, like my opponent has,” said Shankleton, a pastor running for Hite’s seat in the 1st Senate District.
“We are all Republicans, and we should’ve learned our lesson by now,” said Hite, urging those in his party to “stop the backbiting and infighting.”
No one paid much heed to that plea on Friday.
The heartbeat bill, the latest legislative attempt in Ohio to restrict abortions, became stalled in the Senate last year. That hasn’t stopped pro-lifers from continuing to push for the measure by holding lawmakers’ feet to the fire.
Members of the Faith2Action group who were protesting Hite on Friday said they don’t think he did enough to get the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. His opponents evidently concur.
Shankleton, of Stryker, was wearing one of the group’s “Cliff Hite Let us Down” stickers as he criticized the senator for not forcing the bill to a vote.
Shankleton, pacing the front of the room instead of standing at the podium, also denounced Hite’s vote “to grant special rights to a homosexual agenda,” referring to wage discrimination legislation that included sexual orientation.
“That’s not a value I support,” Shankleton said.
Hite’s other primary opponent, Milo Schaffner of Van Wert, advertised and asserted that his foremost principle is that the Bible is the “divine word of God.” Second is the belief that “a child is born at the time of conception.”
“I was the point person for the heartbeat bill,” Hite countered. “It got shoved down by attorneys” who argued that its wording and constitutionality were questionable, he said.
“I believe in this bill, and I’d vote for it in a heartbeat,” Hite said. “But … it can’t be effective if it’s not in effect. We wouldn’t be fiscally responsible if we pushed a bill that goes to the courts, gets held up, and then costs your taxpayers tons and tons of money to get it done.”
Similar bills in other states have been legally blocked, Hite said. Ohio has managed to “do an end run” by enacting other measures that have forced clinics to close and made it more difficult for women to get abortions, he said.
Hite said some of what Shankleton said about his record and the Senate’s record was incorrect, and Hite said the pastor should reread the Ninth Commandment.
“The Ninth Commandment has nothing to do with bearing false witness,” Shankleton retorted. “Of course, he (Hite) probably wouldn’t know that,” he said, causing a disapproving grumble among the crowd.
The state Senate candidates said they all don’t favor national common core learning standards, but disagreed about whether Ohio’s testing mandates are in lockstep with them.
Hite said the Ohio Learning Standards are based on the national standards, but they allow local schools to develop their own curriculum. Hite said he doesn’t think the existing state standards should be repealed until a better method can be found, but said the current standards don’t seem to be working.
Hite cited an Ohio Board of Regents study, released earlier this year, that showed 40 percent of Ohio’s high school graduates, upon entering college in fall 2012, had to take remedial math and language arts courses.
Schaffner, a staunch constitutionalist who believes in eliminating federal and state control and handing it back to local entities and businesses, said he thinks school standards should be tailored to and adopted by local districts.
“As a young person, I didn’t do well in school,” said Schaffner, a former vocational school teacher and school board member. “I didn’t get to college until I was 37, and that was the first time I ever read a textbook cover to cover. In high school I didn’t even open them,” he said.
Schaffner said it “disturbs” him that students’ learning progress is tracked at the state and federal levels.
Shankleton said he thinks Ohio’s standards are essentially the common core. He said he supported a recent incident in which a parent opted to have her child not take a standardized test, which he said is becoming more common throughout the nation.
Steve Oman, a former Hancock County commissioner who wants to return to that office, said he thinks the region should opt out of studies that have suggested controversial flood-control ideas, and should simply clean the Blanchard River thoroughly and often.
“I’m running for one reason only, and that’s because for the last six years absolutely nobody has stepped up and taken ownership of the Blanchard River, a river that’s screaming it needs to be cleaned,” Oman said.
Oman said $6 million has been spent on studies that have formulated possibilities for reducing flooding, such as a western diversion channel around Findlay, and what the Army Corps of Engineers has referred to as “induced flooding” in parts of Findlay. The corps’ preferred plan has yet to be announced.
Oman contended there’s “not one thing in that plan that does anything to the river. It’s just dumping it all into a plugged-up river.
“It’s a disgrace to have what we’ve got here,” said Oman, an Eagle Township farmer who said he’s driven the length of the river up to the Auglaize River.
Oman quoted former President Ronald Reagan, who once talked about “the nine most terrifying words: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Commissioner Phil Riegle, who is running for a third term, said the river is getting cleaned, however.
While the corps finalizes a flood-control plan, “we’re cleaning the river in a more aggressive fashion than has ever been done before,” Riegle said.
Riegle said during his eight years as a commissioner, Hancock County, using local and federal money, has spent about 10 times as much for river cleaning and enhancement as the commissioners did during Oman’s last four-year term. Less than $84,000 was spent during those four years, he said.
“No one is happy with the (corps’) process,” Riegle said, “but it’s critical to get all the facts and have all options investigated thoroughly. Now is not the time to turn to divisiveness and mistrust. We have to move our community forward together.”