Incumbent Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) of the 71st Ohio House District will be challenged in the Nov. 6 election by Newark Democrat Brady Jones.
The 71st District's new boundaries, redrawn last year, still encompass about half of Licking County, including most of Pataskala and all of Granville, Heath, Johnstown and Newark. The district also touches the eastern city limits of Reynoldsburg.
Hottinger, 42, has represented the 71st District since 2007. Prior to that, he represented the 77th Ohio House District and the 31st Senate District.
Hottinger is vice president of sales for Truck One. He graduated from Newark High School in 1988 and has a bachelor's degree in public administration and political science from Capital University. He is married and has three children.
Jones, 41, is a welder and pipefitter who is running for public office for the first time. He is a Newark High School graduate with five years of trade school training at Owens Community College. He has three children.
ThisWeek asked both candidates a series of questions about:
* Hydraulic fracturing, a technique often called "fracking," to mine natural gas and petroleum from Ohio's shale rock, which begins in Licking County and stretches underground across the eastern part of the state.
* The budget deficit closed by Gov. John Kasich and the state legislature.
* Ohio's Third-Grade Reading Guarantee.
* Issue 2, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
* The federal Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama.
* Early voting in Ohio.
* Ohio's approach to economic development.
When asked about hydraulic fracturing, Hottinger expressed support for the drilling technique.
"Fracking is a process that has been done in Ohio since 1941, and it has been and can continue to be done safely," Hottinger said. "There is always risk versus reward in any venture. Minimizing the risk is more important than maximizing the reward. Fortunately, Ohio has a great track record on safety. There are over 300 wells in Ohio and over 180 of them are Class 2 wells that are in safe operation. There was a single well in the Youngstown area that resulted in an earthquake. Ohio acted appropriately by enacting a moratorium on that single well. ... Ohio and our nation absolutely must ensure the safety of Ohioans, our environment and our drinking water through the fracking process. Some would like to see a moratorium on this process. I do not support that."
Jones said Ohio must make sure fracking is in accordance with state and federal laws, and he questioned some companies' practices.
He said, "Hydraulic fracking pads do not have to install cleaners or scrubbers, even though they release larger amounts of toxic gases in regular, 'burn-offs.' Fracking companies are currently exempt from paying a tax that is used for clean up at hazards waste sites, which also takes away the liability from spills making the taxpayer liable. The significance is that there is no incentive for companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing to try to be safe, because they're not held liable for spills and don't have to pay to clean them up." He said in Ohio "the fracking companies do not have to disclose all chemicals used to anyone unless that person has become harmed by these chemicals. They hide behind trade secrets."
Hottinger said he agreed with Kasich's decision to make cuts in funding to school districts and local governments to alleviate the state's $8 billion deficit without raising taxes. Jones said he did not agree with the cuts.
"We had two primary options," Hottinger said. "We could either raise taxes to fill the significant shortfall or we could balance the budget through a series of cuts and reforms. While neither option was easy, wisely we chose the path of spending cuts and budget reforms. The reform efforts in Medicaid costs, prison reforms and a number of other areas in the budget were important to achieving a balanced budget not only in the immediate budget but lays the foundation for sustainable budgets in future years which helps set the path for economic prosperity in the future."
Hottinger said school cuts were made as a "result of federal dollars no longer being available (they were not cuts from state dollars to education). The one-time federal stimulus dollars were no longer available to Ohio and other states. ... The fact of the matter is, the deep cuts in funding to local schools were not state dollars but one-time federal stimulus dollars."
Jones said, "I wouldn't have cut the education funding and forced communities to have school levies on nearly every ballot. Our local government has been crippled by the current downsizing."
Hottinger said he supports Ohio's new Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, which would hold back third-grade children who aren't reading up to grade level, but Jones said he did not support the initiative.
"Students can't be successful without a solid basis in reading," Hottinger said. "Unfortunately, too many students are not reading at an adequate level for success in schools. Therefore, attention, remediation and resources are needed to be directed to insure they are able to read at an age appropriate level. As the guarantee comes online, additional efforts and resources may be needed to be directed in this area to ensure all students are reading up to par so they can have successful educational careers and later be productive members of society."
Jones said the guarantee imposes a new requirement for schools, with no funding to achieve it.
"At this , it is underfunded for what school districts are being asked to do," Jones said. "This will create another financial burden on local school districts at a time when funding is already being cut. Also, the money really needs to be invested in all-day kindergarten and quality preschool education because that has proven to improve kids' reading skills significantly in the third grade. Why wait until the third grade and then hold them back if they can be helped earlier?"
The candidates had opposing views on Issue 2, the Nov. 6 ballot measure that would take away the ability for politicians to draw legislative and congressional districts and give the map-drawing responsibility to commission of appointed residents.
"I am opposed to Issue 2 and will be voting against it," Hottinger said. "The current system is flawed and imperfect. And I have voted in the past in favor of both Republican and Democratic plans attempting to address those inadequacies and flaws. However, we should not replace a flawed system with one that is riddled with its own flaws and significant shortcomings. Issue 2 is a partisan approach largely funded by one party and their allies that has virtual no safeguards or accountabilities in place. I will continue to support a common-sense, bipartisan solution to redistricting, more similar to the approach advocated by our Secretary of State (Jon Husted)."
Jones said, "I will vote yes on Issue 2. We need to have a fair and balanced system to redraw the legislative districts -- a system that brings equal opportunity to all parties making sure voters have the correct representation."
Both agreed something has to be done about health-insurance issues, but they differed on how Ohio should handle the Affordable Care Act.
"Unfortunately, there continues to be large number of unknowns in the area of insurance exchanges," Hottinger said. "I have interacted many times with federal and state officials as they try to work their way through this complex part of the national health-care law, as enacted by Congress. There are way too many unknowns and unanswered questions on the federal level for states at this time to be able to determine whether a state or a federal exchange is in the best interests of Ohioans. The administration, along with officials in the Ohio Department of Insurance, are continuing to research the advantages and disadvantages of both types of exchanges. I want the system that gives the state, not the federal government, the most flexibility and at the least amount of cost to set up and to operate. At this point in time, I don't think anyone can answer which is our best option."
Jones said, "Something has to be done about insurance companies' rates and coverage. My premiums have doubled over the past five years, and with myself and my son (who has) type 1 diabetes, our rates have put a huge burden on our personal budget. The cost of our treatment, prescriptions and ... health care for my two daughters is not at an affordable rate. With the passage of a federal health-care law, whether we agree with it or not, Ohio representatives have not prepared for a new health-care system. Due to their lack of focus and work on this new system, Ohio will have to scramble to put a system into play in just a short time. It is irresponsible and unbelievable that the individuals who we elect decide not to care about our needs. Insurance companies and their lobbyist have put us where we are today so they can make more money."
Both candidates said they were in favor of early voting, which began Oct. 2.
"Ohio is one of the leading states already in early voting," Hottinger said. "Few states are as generous in the amount of time given to vote as Ohio. In Ohio, there are 35 days of early voting and the national average is only 21 days. In fact, in our neighboring states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, you can only vote on Election Day unless you have a valid reason. ... In Ohio, you have 750 hours to be able to vote early by mail in the comfort of your own home and 230 hours to vote early in person."
Jones said, "I think we need uniform voting hours across the state to ensure equality. With that said, I do believe Secretary of State Husted should make sure voting hours or ability to vote is available to everyone. Voting can be difficult to some who work odd hours or have mobility problems. I think that with the current different forms of voting and hours for the polls established by Secretary of State Husted, there should not be a problem. I just hope there will be enough ballots or polling machines at each precinct for a large voter turnout."
Both candidates said they want Ohio to be a friendly environment for new businesses.
"Government does not create jobs but elected officials and government play an important role in helping to create a climate and atmosphere that fosters economic development and job creation," Hottinger said. "One of the most important parts of my job is to help create the atmosphere for more jobs by promoting and fostering an environment that encourages business, manufacturer and industry investments in Ohio."
Hottinger said the state government needs "to continue to ensure that our state and local tax policies are not an impediment to Ohio's growth and job creation efforts, practice fiscal discipline in the budgeting process" to improve the state's bond rating, improve Ohio's workforce development initiatives, expand the state's job-retention tax credit, reform small business regulations and improve workers' compensation policies.
Jones said, "We should not overtax businesses (that) are willing to stay here or move here. We must make sure our infrastructure can support the needs of small and big business. Lastly, (we must) have a personable relationship with these companies so they know we are willing to work with them to keep and create jobs."