Hilliard Northwest News

21st Ohio House race

Incumbent Duffey looks to hold off challenger O'Connor

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Beyond the negative campaigning, the race for the 21st District in the Ohio House of Representatives is all about education and jobs.

Mike Duffey, the Republican incumbent from Worthington, thought he was no longer a target for Democratic attacks. After all, he took his share two years ago, when his opponent spent nearly $1 million to take jabs at him.

Then the negative mailers and television ads came out this fall, and Duffey said he realized he again was going to have to spend money and energy to deny the allegations.

Challenger Donna O'Connor, a teacher from Dublin, said she was as surprised as Duffey to see the attack ads. They did not come from her campaign but from an organization of unions working to unseat Duffey, she said.

He calls it the "S.B. 5 vengeance platform."

Senate Bill 5 would have curbed the power of public unions. Duffey supported the bill, which eventually was overturned on referendum in a general election.

As a result, O'Connor has received endorsements of police and fire unions, as well as the Ohio Education Association. She is the vice president of the Dublin Education Association, the union representing Dublin teachers.

Duffey is quick to point out that he has been personally endorsed by the presidents of both the Worthington and the Dublin school boards.

It was her interest in education that led O'Connor to accept the Democratic nomination for the House seat, she said. Until districts were redrawn last year, Dublin was part of the 22nd District, represented by John Carney. The new 21st District includes most of Dublin and Worthington, as well as a small portion of Hilliard.

O'Connor decided it made sense for a teacher from the newly formed district to run for the seat, she said. First, she had to win the primary, which she did.

Knocking on doors made a difference in winning that race, and she has kept knocking through this campaign. Thus far, she has knocked on the doors of 15,500 residents, she said.

Most people seem glad to see her and like the idea of a teacher and mother to two running for the office, she said.

With school levies on the ballots in both Worthington and Dublin this fall, most residents want to talk about school funding, she said. The state must realign its priorities to make school funding sustainable and equitable, she said.

She pointed to a 2009 report that said by setting aside an amount of just less than 1 percent of state spending each year, Ohio public schools could fund lower class sizes and fund early childhood education and pre-kindergarten.

That plan was thrown out when Republicans took over two years ago, she said.

"For me, we need a plan that doesn't change every time leadership changes in the state," she said.

Duffey said the answers are not quite that simple. His wife is a teacher; his mother was a teacher; and he works closely with local school districts to make sure their interests are represented at the Statehouse, he said.

The popular idea that the local property tax burden should be "shifted" to the state does not make sense, he said, especially for districts like Worthington and Dublin.

To shift to a state sales tax, that tax rate would have to increase from 5.5 percent to 13.2 percent, he said.

Under the current formula, state income taxes from Worthington and Dublin would have to increase by more than 500 percent to provide the same funding that is provided currently, he said. That is because for every dollar of state income tax paid, 18.11 cents is returned to Worthington and 11.6 cents to Dublin. Larger percentages return to poorer school districts, with some districts receiving more than 100 percent of the state income-tax dollars paid.

Duffey denies that the districts have levies on the ballot because of state funding cuts. Of the $2.8 billion cut from the education budget in fiscal years 2011 to 2012, $2.1 million was in federal funds.

Specifically, one-time federal "stimulus" funds no longer are available. The state had no control over those funds, Duffey said.

He said he also would like to see Ohio school districts cut spending by sharing expenses in such areas as busing and health care.

The real boon for education will come from the recovery of the economy, which is occurring faster in Ohio than in most other states, Duffey said.

Ohio is the leading job creator in the Midwest and ranks fourth nationally, he said.

Unemployment, which was 9.8 percent when Duffey took office two years ago, is now at 7 percent in Ohio.

One of his first acts as representative was to be the primary sponsor of the bill creating Jobs Ohio, the privatized economic development arm of state government.

"I don't credit it with all the jobs created, but it helps," he said.

O'Connor acknowledged that Ohio is on the right track in creating jobs. But last year in Dublin alone, 46 teaching positions were cut from the schools.

"When you look at the jobs created, are they good-paying jobs?" she asked. "We have to talk about what each community is dealing with."

O'Connor, 44, teaches special education at Dublin Coffman High School. Her husband also teaches in Dublin.

They have two children.

Duffey, 34, is a Worthington native who served on Worthington City Council from 2005 to 2010. His father, the late John Duffey, also was on council.

He is married and has two children.

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