Shane Wilkin and Beth Ellis, the Republican candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives from the 91st District, found common ground on some issues Tuesday evening and sparred on others as they took the stage at Southern State Community College in Wilmington for a public forum sponsored by The Times-Gazette and Wilmington News Journal.
Times-Gazette Publisher and Editor Gary Abernathy and News Journal Editor Tom Barr moderated the discussion, posing questions on a variety of topics, as well as relaying audience questions.
On additional subjects covered Tuesday, the candidates agreed they will advocate for fiscal responsibility at the state level and work to ease financial burdens on local governments.
Wilkin said he is in favor of cutting spending in the House and allowing local governments more financial freedom.
Ellis said she will advocate for “cutting the fat” from state programs.
On the topic of skilled trades, Ellis said more students should be encouraged to attend trade schools. Wilkin said there seems to be a stigma attached to vocational schools, but many companies in the 91st District have a need for skilled employees.
On agriculture, tariffs and trade, Wilkin said in today’s uncertain trade environment, “predictability and stability” are important to businesses and farms in the 91st District.
Ellis said with “discrepancies” in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and an escalating trade conflict with China, she trusts Donald Trump as a “master negotiator” to navigate complicated trade situations and tariff battles.
In regard to term limits, Ellis said the rule causes “instability,” and that “constant change is destructive.”
Wilkin said term limits look good on paper, but are not as beneficial in practice, adding that “when you get into term limits of only eight years… it actually reinforces the bureaucracy.”
Both candidates said they support Issue 1, a measure that will change the way congressional districts are drawn and cut back on gerrymandering.
In discussion of taxes, Wilkin said he is generally not in favor of new taxes. Ellis said while taxes can negatively affect low-income populations, there are “so many ways to slice it,” there is not a clear-cut answer.
On the topic of education, Ellis said taking care of teachers and students should be a top priority, especially related to instability in the education system due to Common Core and standardized test controversies.
Wilkin said he will advocate for stability in the state education system and local control for local school districts.
In regard to teachers, Wilkin said in order to keep good educators in the system, “you’re going to have to allow teachers to teach,” rather than requiring them to “teach for the test.”
Ellis said she believes “good teachers need to be encouraged to stay in schools and teach.”
Wilkin added that teachers should be supported with good wages, and Ellis said measures should be put in place to keep them from getting “fatigued.”
On the topic of prison overcrowding and felony sentencing, Ellis said every community has “different cultural issues,” and said she will advocate for local control in the justice system.
Wilkin said legislation prohibiting judges from sentencing low-level felony offenders to prison leads to overcrowding in local jails, and he feels prison and jail alternatives should be explored.
The candidates also shared how their life experiences make them good choices for state representative.
Ellis said her experience as a recreational pilot has given her strong nerves and the ability to make quick decisions. Wilkin said his experience as a business owner and county commissioner has given him a wealth of knowledge.
Wilkin addressed two challenging circumstances he has faced in recent months – delays in a federal economic development grant for the Rocky Fork Lake area, and the sudden resignation and conviction of a former commission clerk on felony theft in office charges.
Wilkin said the clerk violated the office’s trust and is reaping the consequences, and added that she repaid the stolen funds.
As for the grant, which was stalled in recent months apparently due to concerns by Justice Department officials, Wilkin said collaboration with different groups got it moving again.
Ellis addressed criticism of the Clinton County Port Authority, on which she sits, after the Clinton County Air Park missed out on an Amazon hub coming to Wilmington.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s not lived up to expectations,” she said of the port authority. “There is work to be done, and now there’s a plan in place… it is reaching out in other parts of the county… and hopefully we’ll get some economic opportunities.”
The candidates also discussed taking care of the district’s aging population, with Ellis saying overregulation strangles nursing facilities and keeps the elderly from receiving a high quality of care.
Wilkin said he didn’t think there was a “broad stroke answer” on the matter, but said he believes well-trained staff and caring family make a difference.
In closing statements, Wilkin said if he is elected he will advocate for deregulation and more local control, adding that he has a “proven track record” that will be useful in representing the citizens of the 91st District. Wilkin emphasized his commitment to balancing the state budget without pushing the burden onto local governments.
Ellis said as a business owner, farmer, wife and mother, she has the experience and passion needed for the job of representative, adding that she has done extensive research on the 91st District and hopes to take that data to Columbus. Ellis said she will work hard in office if she is elected, and added that there are “no hard feelings” in the race between her and Wilkin.
The 91st District covers Clinton, Highland, Pike and part of Ross counties.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.