Ohio Political Candidates Set to Debate On Tuesday in Martins Ferry

MARTINS FERRY — As Ohio gubernatorial candidates get set to debate their platforms in Martins Ferry on Tuesday, local officials and government representatives are weighing in on the importance of the event for the local area.

The debate will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Martins Ferry High School. According to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, no more tickets are available, but the event will be live-streamed with questions being taken from viewers on Facebook and Twitter.

This is the first debate in a planned series of six, focusing on six different regions of the state.

The four Democrat candidates running for governor are state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman; Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley; former state representative Connie Pillich of Montgomery; and former congresswoman Betty Sutton of Barberton.

Belmont County Democratic Party Chairman Phil Wallace said he is happy to see the state party focus on eastern Ohio for its first event.

He said he met with Pepper in February to discuss party strategy and the need for Democrats to focus more on eastern Ohio.

“We discussed that there should be a debate in this part of the state. We have voters here, so the candidates need to talk to them,” Wallace said.

“Since Belmont County went the other way in the last election, this may be a good way to bring Democrats back into focus. I am very happy we are going to have this event here and really hope people listen to the message of these candidates. The ODP is funding everything to come here.”

Pepper said the state party chose eastern Ohio to start the round of debates because he believes the region has been “undermined” by state policies over the past several years.

“The current formula is not working for eastern Ohio. And eastern Ohioans know that,” Pepper said. “We need to get our candidates out there to discuss a new direction. Ohio’s job growth has trailed the national average for 56 straight months.”

“Ohio is struggling with an opioid crisis, and our education system has fallen from fifth in the nation to 22nd under Kasich’s leadership,” Pepper said.

He said Ohio ranked 19th in the nation in 2000 for median income but now ranks 34th. He also said Ohio ranks 45th in the nation for college affordability. He noted that local governments have lost funding and that when dollars are needed by state government in Columbus, officials simply “take from us.”

“There was an oil and gas fund set aside to cap old wells in eastern Ohio, but those funds were used for a lawsuit in western Ohio. Those were funds that needed to be used for the environmental safety of people in eastern Ohio,” Pepper added. “Severance tax dollars just flow out of here and into Columbus.”

Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas will be attending the debate and said he appreciates the Ohio Democratic Party for giving a nod to this part of the state. He said he thinks it is not only good strategy for the party, but it shows that the party recognizes that all areas of the state matter, not just those areas with large blocks of voters.

“I truly appreciate the party recognizing that Belmont County and all of Eastern Ohio does matter and, regardless of the number of votes here, should get equal time with the larger, metropolitan areas around the state,” Thomas said. “Our economy here is churning well and we have the possibility of an economic explosion in the next few years, and it is time that statewide candidates and our General Assembly pay closer attention to the tax dollars being sent to Columbus from eastern Ohio. It is time we put partisan politics aside and have everyone work statewide for an equal, fair share apportionment of monies coming from our capital.”

Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, said he has been working in Columbus to keep more severance tax dollars in the area and to provide oversight for how eastern Ohio’s taxpayer money is spent by serving as lead Democratic member of the House Budget Committee. He and Martins Ferry Mayor Robert Krajnyak, along with Monroe County Commissioner Carl Davis, all said they believe eastern Ohio has been ignored by Columbus politicians.

“I’m glad that ODP selected eastern Ohio for the first debate of the candidates for governor. It’s important that these candidates hear from our residents and for them to explain how they plan to help our part of the state, which is often forgotten by politicians in Columbus,” Cera said.

“I think this is a great event, having the candidates here,” Krajnyak said. “I feel it is extremely important for the candidates to see our area and the struggles we have because of current government actions. I feel we are forgotten by many in Columbus, so it is important for the candidates to see our struggles and our potential first-hand. I am sure not many realize how our state’s policies are hurting this area.”

Davis, who will also be attending the debate, said he thinks the Ohio Democratic Party feels that the current administration has “forgotten” Eastern Ohio, particularly southeastern Ohio.

“I think they wanted to bring the debate here to get it started to bring some attention to the area and to some of the problems that we’re facing. I will be supporting the Democratic candidate, whoever comes out of the primary. I think they have a better feel for what we are dealing with in this part of the state,” Davis said.