A longtime Tea Party activist and former candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives said Friday she will run for Highland County commissioner in the 2016 Republican primary.
Hillsboro resident Barb Cole said she decided to run to help bring new business and economic development to Highland County, particularly through “citizen participation.”
Cole said citizen input and ideas should be the driving force behind economic development efforts. She pointed to a plan she said was conceived by local resident R.D. Morgan to extend Roberts Lane from Harry Sauner Road at Kroger south to the Highland District Hospital area and further, which would create another north-south avenue. Cole said she joined Morgan’s effort to promote the idea, and she said Mayor Drew Hastings and Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin support the plan.
“It’s fantastic, and it came from a citizen who cared,” said Cole. She said the extended road would help bridge the disconnect between businesses on Harry Sauner Road and the uptown business district.
Cole said she sees Highland County as being comprised of three distinct interests – the farming community, the larger incorporated areas like Hillsboro and Greenfield, and the Rocky Fork Lake region.
“Each one has various concerns and problems,” she said.
Cole has been involved with the Rocky Fork Lake Community Alliance, which has been working with LuAnn Winkle and Turning Point on a plan to reduce crime and bring economic development to the lake, which Cole called a “jewel.”
Cole said she wants to delve into the county budget “with new eyes.”
Cole, 72, said her Tea Party beliefs would likely influence her initiatives as a commissioner, especially on tax issues. She said she has asked county officials if they have ever participated in meetings to discuss lowering property taxes, and has always been told that no such meetings have been held.
“That’s a meeting I want to have,” she said. “Wait until the farmers get their tax bill. I don’t think many know what’s coming down the pike.”
Also known to be circulating petitions for the same commission post Cole is seeking are Republicans Lee Koogler, the Hillsboro City Council president, and Hillsboro school board member Terry Britton. There are two commission seats up next year, and so far all candidates are seeking the one being vacated by Tom Horst, who is retiring. Commissioner Shane Wilkin is seeking re-election to the other seat.
Cole was defeated in the 2014 Republican primary by State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, who is now the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. She said she ran that campaign to bring attention to the issue of fluoride in water, which she said is a health hazard. She said local government should be able to choose whether to have fluoride in water.
Cole said she also wants to make an impact on the GOP.
“I’d like to bring new energy to the Republican Party,” she said, describing it as divided between the “establishment” and new blood.
“I want to see the Republican Party come back together,” she said.
Cole grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and after college she started and operated several small businesses, all of them successful, she said in a profile in 2014. After moving to Ohio, Cole served 13 years on the Warren County Zoning Commission and Housing Authority. In 1992 she ran for county commissioner in Warren County, losing by about 150 votes.
Cole and her husband, Jim Plants, have two children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
In a 2014 profile during her campaign for the statehouse, Cole said she was asked during a Cincinnati radio interview whether she was too old for the job of state representative. She answered, “Last August I was in Peru for three weeks at 13,000 feet hiking, so I’ll be OK walking around the statehouse.”
On Friday, Cole said she can still hike the Peruvian mountains.
“I’m not looking for a new career,” she said. “I believe in citizen representatives, not professional politicians.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.