Perhaps it is fitting that in Ohio's House of Representatives district with the highest level of education, voters in Dublin and Worthington will pick between a doctor and a lawyer.

Stu Harris is an attorney for Nationwide Insurance and a 12-year member of the Dublin school board who wants to focus on education. Beth Liston is a 15-year doctor of pediatrics and internal medicine who wants to focus on health care.

Each said they jumped into the 21st District race in an effort to do more with their respective expertise.

"I saw it as an opportunity to be involved in education and other important issues on a larger scale," said Harris, 56. "I thought this would be a good opportunity to take my educational and life experiences and try to help these communities."

Harris has plenty to say about education, praising efforts by the Dublin City School District, including the opening of the Emerald Campus, where high school students can start a focus on such professions as biomedicine, engineering and information technology.

"We have to focus on what works. The STEM schools work," Harris said, talking about schools that focus on science, technology, engineering and math. The state needs to do more to incentivize districts throughout Ohio to start those types of schools, he said.

Liston, 43, wants to bring expertise to complex health-policy issues.

"By the time I see people and they're hospitalized, it's a little bit late, especially when you're dealing with complications from illness and disease as opposed to things that go into really keeping people well," she said.

The two are locked in one of the state's most competitive House races, seeking a suburban seat Democrats hope to flip as they try to cut into the Republicans' record 66-33 majority. State Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) is prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election to the seat.

Health care is more complicated than partisan talking points, Liston said. She wants the focus on long-term health improvements and broad insurance coverage.

"Lots of kids who come in and can't breathe – if they had been able to afford their inhaler, then they wouldn't have to be in the hospital," she said.

As Liston introduces herself to voters, she tells them she wants to deal with health-care issues. Walking one afternoon in Worthington, she met a woman who said she had been laid off recently from JPMorgan Chase & Co. and is worried about coverage.

"You're a Democrat, right?" the woman said. When Liston replied in the affirmative, the woman said: "You've got my vote."

Not long after, Liston talked to a retired nurse who complained lawmakers are "clueless" about health care.

Liston said, "It's the long view versus the now. People in politics are often looking at that one- to two-year time frame. You have to understand that sometimes there is an investment upfront that is really beneficial for health and cost savings, but you may not realize those savings for a decade."

She praises Ohio's Medicaid expansion, which is providing coverage for more than 650,000 low-income adults, most of whom have jobs.

A number of Republican legislators have fought to end or significantly curtail the expansion, arguing that it's unsustainable.

"It's the short view," Liston said of that argument. "Investing in prevention is a long-term benefit."

Harris agrees the Medicaid expansion must be maintained. He said he also wants to see other health-care-related changes, including more transparency in employer health plans so that carriers provide information on the best options.

He also would like to use re-insurance to ensure that health carriers offer coverage of pre-existing conditions.

As he rings doorbells, Harris mentions he is on the Dublin school board and his focus is on education and civility in politics. He also highlights that Duffey is his honorary chairman. That's not a bad idea, considering Duffey out-performed Donald Trump in the district by nearly 19 points in 2016.

"I think the issue people gravitate toward the most is civility," Harris said. "It's clear that's an important issue."

As Harris walked Worthington Hills near the golf course, he visited with Brida Coates, who previously was one of the first voters he had met in the neighborhood.

"He's going to be extraordinary because he's going to listen," Coates said.

In addition to STEM schools, Harris said, he wants to focus on ways to ensure older students are ready for jobs and the youngest ones are prepared for kindergarten.

Harris also wants the state to get school resource officers into districts across the state so they can provide safety, counseling and a valuable connection between students and law enforcement.

"There is mistrust between African-Americans and law enforcement," he said. "Some say that won't work in a school because of that."

But with a resource officer, he said, "you begin to develop a culture of trust."

Liston agrees education needs to be addressed holistically to prepare students for jobs of the future.

"But I really feel like that's been on the table for a long time, and Ohio has had single-party rule," Liston said. "We need change. We need people that are willing to tackle it and address it in a new way."

Both Harris and Liston agree school funding needs to be fixed, including lifting funding caps that keep some districts, including Dublin and Worthington, from receiving the full amount of state aid the formula says they should get.

Dublin is a growing, diverse district, and people move there because of the quality of the schools, Harris said.

"If people want to move there because they want the best opportunity for their children ... we've earned popping those caps off," he said. "We're doing a lot of things the correct way."

Harris said he wants to address "fundamental fairness" issues with the funding formula. He suggests collecting sales tax on more online purchases and taxes on sports betting could be sources of funding.

Liston said the school-funding formula remains unconstitutional "because it's not providing equal opportunity for students," relying too much on property taxes.

Both candidates also oppose charter schools run by for-profit operators.

Liston said charters have not had the necessary academic success or fiscal accountability.

Harris said there are successful charter schools that partner with traditional schools, but he sees problems with other models, such as online-only schools such as the now-closed ECOT.

"We place them in an (online) environment that might have caused their path to veer off-course, instead of keeping them in a building with teachers and peers and wrap-around services and a mental-health component," he said. "I feel like that is a failed model."

jsiegel@dispatch.com

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