By DENISE GRANT
The three-way Republican primary race for the Ohio Senate’s 1st District seat has focused as much on the state of the party as it has on other issues like drug addiction and business taxes.
Maybe it’s the lingering fallout from the resignation of former Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, in 2017. Hite quit after admitting “inappropriate behavior” with a state employee, and it has been an uncomfortable discussion for the district, and for the candidates, ever since.
The 1st Senate District includes all of Henry, Putnam, Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Hancock, Van Wert and Hardin counties; the southeastern corner of Fulton County; and northern sections of Auglaize and Logan counties.
The winner of the Republican primary will compete in November with Democrat Adam Papin, 36, of Bryan, who is unopposed in his party’s primary.
For Republican candidate Craig Kupferberg, 58, a former assistant superintendent for Findlay City Schools, Hite’s resignation has become a platform issue. Insistent that the political climate in Columbus must change, Kupferberg has said voters must show a willingness to hold lawmakers accountable, not only for their behavior, but for their principles.
“I am not a politician. I am a public servant for over 35 years,” said Kupferberg, referring to his career in public education.
Kupferberg said he entered the race out of frustration.
“Very frustrated with the current direction of our legislative leaders and their policies, which are centralizing power and authority in Columbus,” he said.
Candidate Bob Barker Jr., 52, of Van Wert, has been a lot more blunt.
“I’m one of millions of Americans who have had enough of government’s idea of common sense,” Barker said. “I demand real change, pro-American change. My platform is I’m constitutional, pro-Second Amendment and a pro-life Christian.”
Kupferberg and Barker have not held elected public office.
Their message of frustration with government has presented a challenge for the incumbent, state Sen. Robert McColley, R-Napoleon, who has found himself being painted as a party insider.
McColley, previously a state representative, was appointed to the Senate seat in November after it was vacated by Hite. He is now seeking election to the post.
At 33 years old, McColley, an attorney from Napoleon, is relatively new to state government. He was elected in 2014 as state representative of the 81st House District, which represents Putnam, Henry, Williams and part of Fulton County. He was re-elected as a state representative in 2016. He has held the Senate District 1 seat since December.
McColley has said he’s the only candidate in the race with a proven record of conservative action. He said northwestern Ohioans are “driven by a set of values that come from their faith, family and their appreciation of their freedoms.”
“I have a track record of building consensus on tough issues that will better the State of Ohio. I am also a proven conservative who reflects the values of rural northwest Ohio. I feel these traits make me the best choice to represent northwest Ohio in the Ohio Senate,” he said.
“I have come to understand this throughout my time growing up here and representing parts of northwest Ohio in the Legislature,” McColley said. “I will commit to stand up for these values in Columbus.”
“My top three priorities (in no order) are improving Ohio’s business climate, working to curtail the heroin/opioid epidemic, and continuing to fight for our conservative values,” McColley said.
“Ohio’s business climate is better than it was eight years ago, but it has a long way to go,” he said. “Our tax code needs work, the state needs to do a better job facilitating public-private partnerships between education providers and private industry, and overly burdensome regulations on businesses and workers must be reined in,” said McColley, a former economic development director for Henry County.
McColley recently introduced a bill in the Ohio Senate that would require a 30 percent reduction in regulations across the board over the next three years, and elimination of two regulations for every new regulation proposed after that time if the benchmarks are not met.
“We must demand this of our government if we are going to best serve our citizens,” McColley said.
“As far as business issues are concerned, our tax code in Ohio leaves us at a competitive disadvantage to other states. Particularly, the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) is a gross receipts tax imposed upon businesses, regardless of whether businesses make a profit. This is particularly problematic for many retail businesses and other high-volume businesses that make a low margin on their sales. If Ohio’s revenues support it, the CAT should be eliminated and not replaced,” he said.
Kupferberg lists local control of schools and government, supporting the agriculture industry, and assisting communities in coping with the drug epidemic as his top three priorities.
“Fighting the continued effort by our legislation leaders to centralize power and control of our schools and local governments is the main reason I am running for Senate,” Kupferberg said.
He opposes House Bill 512, which would eliminate the Ohio Department of Education, the Board of Regents and Workforce Development, and replace them with a single agency. The director of the new agency would be appointed by the governor.
“Second, the Senate needs to fix the current (high school) graduation requirements,” Kupferberg said. “Our current graduation requirements, which were originally scheduled to be in place for the class of 2018, but have been put on hold until at least the class of 2021.”
Kupferberg said the requirements were developed with “a great deal of influence” from university presidents.
“Our public universities have seen a decline in their undergraduate enrollment of 13 percent (over 52,000) in five years,” Kupferberg said. “These graduation requirements were drafted with the best interest of public universities and their employees in mind, and not in the best interest of high school students. Although these graduation requirements are outstanding for students who have a desire to attend a four-year university, for those students with no interest, it is a disgrace.”
Kupferberg also thinks more competition or choice needs to be built into the pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education system.
“Our current legislative leaders have continually favored private and charter schools and have purposefully built barriers for our public schools,” he said.
Kupferberg said he is also “deeply concerned” about the algae problem in the Great Lakes.
“I believe we missed a great opportunity to involve a tremendous Ohio resource, the Ohio State University, one of the leading research universities in the world, in helping us find real solutions. Grand Lake St. Marys and Indian Lake have suffered from algae issues for a long time, and could have been used as natural laboratories for research to find real solutions, and we still might be able to use them in this manner. However, we are at a point, we must act,” he said.
Kupferberg said the Ohio Senate should call together representatives from business and agriculture, along with representatives from the cities of Detroit and Toledo, to work together on solutions to the problem.
“My observations of our current political leadership in Columbus does not lead me to the conclusion that this type of cooperative and collaborative solution will be sought. Rather, a quick political solution will be mandated that will be expensive (driving up food prices for all) that may or may not work'” he said.
Both McColley and Kupferberg agree that the opioid epidemic is a top priority.
“The heroin/opioid epidemic has hurt every community in Ohio. Families are being torn apart by addiction and senseless death,” McColley said. “The ripple effect is putting a tremendous strain on the state’s and local government’s assistance programs. Every reasonable solution should be considered, because there is no single solution that will bring an end to this epidemic.”
Kupferberg said he has spent over 20 years assisting Hancock County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services with community drug abuse and addiction issues.
“Since many become addicted to opioids accidentally through legally-prescribed painkillers, the Senate must require a better mechanism for monitoring how many painkillers are being prescribed to patients by doctors and being filled by pharmacists,” he said. “Doctors and pharmacists are on the front line to be sure a patient is not taking an amount of opioids that could become a problem.”
He said anyone who works with youth or young adults should be required to become educated on the issues and signs of opioid abuse, and more research is needed on “best practices” in addressing addiction. He said the government must also fund care for individuals living in a home with an addict, to prevent children of addicts from becoming addicted.
“The Senate must research why Ohio has been hit so much harder by this epidemic than other states, in order to effectively deal with the issues that made us especially susceptible,” Kupferberg said.