Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Candidate Q&A: Ohio 14th District state Senate seat

The Ohio General Assembly's 14th Senate District includes Clermont, Brown, Adams and Scioto counties, and part of Lawrence County. The current senator, Senate President Doug White, R-Manchester, is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.

Ohio 14th District state Senate seat
Tuesday: Ohio 2nd District U.S. House seat
Monday: Ohio 1st District U.S. House race
Sunday Forum: Commissioner candidates

Two of the Ohio House members whose districts are contained within the 14th Senate District are vying for the Republican nomination to run for White's seat - Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, who represents part of Clermont County, and Rep. Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, who represents the remainder of Clermont County, plus Brown County and part of Adams County.

Here are excerpts from our recent session with the two candidates.

Q. Tell us why you believe you should be representing the Republican party in the fall race.

Schmidt: This is a very dynamic district. The five counties in it have great challenges ahead of them. They're very dissimilar except for two geographical situations that tie them together - the Ohio River and the fact that they are all Appalachian. And so when you look at the district, you have to look at the common threads so you can be effective for each and every community. You have to understand it before you can serve it.

I am the best person because one of the main things all five counties have to have is jobs - job creation, job retention. I have a track record on that. As a Miami Township trustee I was in the forefront of bringing jobs to my community. I learned how to share, partnership ideas, and utilize resources to bring jobs to Clermont County. I can bring that kind of experience and energy.

This race is about having an effective legislator that will meet the demands of the entire district. The fear from many of the people I meet is that because the next senator will come from Clermont County, they will be underrepresented. But if you know anything about me, I don't under-represent anybody.

Tom Niehaus (R) state representative 88th district, Ohio speaks to the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board.
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
Niehaus: I'm the best candidate because I've demonstrated for the past two years in particular my ability to represent multiple counties. I already represent three of the five counties in the district - Clermont, Brown and Adams. You're interacting with commissioners and school boards and chambers, and you get a sense of what the community is about. Elected officials would tell you that I was visible, accessible and responsive, not only to their needs but to the rest of the community.

One of my skills is listening. When you listen you find out that really while the geography is very different and some of the socio-economics may be different from county to county, the underlying issues are the same. Everybody wants a good education for their children. They want good jobs so they can provide for their families and also so their children will stay in the region.

There's a great deal of concern about the direction Ohio is going with its tax policies and spending. In order to attract the companies to provide the good jobs, you have to have an educated workforce and a tax climate that encourages companies to expand their operations.

We need to have those large employers. But we also need an environment where the small employer can thrive.

Q. If you move from the House to the Senate, do you expect to be working on the same issues or do you see other pressing statewide issues?

Niehaus: I expect the work in the Senate will be very similar to the work in the House. The issues, I think, are the same - education, jobs, tax reform. But everyone tells me there's a big difference between the House and the Senate. They say it puts a premium on collegiality, on being able to work with others and build consensus. Because you have a smaller group, you have broader responsibilities on committees. So it would require someone who has a broad background, who has the ability to sift through reams of information and get to the key parts of issues. To have the resources not to know everything but to know where to get answers. To have a good network of contacts so when issues come up you can pick up the phone and ask, "What's this proposal going to do? What's the practical application?"

Schmidt: An effective legislator already has the networks in place. It's imperative you can pick up the phone and make the call and say, "What is this going to do to you?" Whether you are in the House or the Senate, that is your responsibility to get to the heart of the issues. But I do think as a senator you have to think more statewide and not just your region. For the very reason that Tom pointed out, because there are only 33 senators you have to reach consensus with people who represent districts that are vastly different from yours. You really have to understand the state in its entirety in order to be able to best represent your region.

Q. What are some of the other issues you think are very important?

Niehaus: There are a couple of key issues - the penny sales tax increase and the almost $5 billion in added spending that was part of the last budget bill. We're going to hear about proposals that would add a constitutional amendment to restrict spending.

We have a spending problem in the state of Ohio, clearly. Our revenues have been growing, but not fast enough to keep up with the rate of spending. We had the opportunity on June 19, 2003 (the budget vote) to rein in some of that spending and we didn't do it. There are some things that we just can't control, and Medicaid is one of them. We can trim around the edges, but Medicaid is a real problem not only for Ohio but for every state.

When you have the double impact of a 20 percent increase in the sales tax and almost a $5 billion increase in spending, that's sending the wrong message to Ohio taxpayers. We're saying we can't control ourselves.

When I go around and talk with people on what they're most upset about, they don't understand how in this economy we could raise the sales tax 20 percent and raise spending as much as we did. Most people understand you have to have taxes to pay for public services. The question is, when is enough enough? People I'm talking to are saying we've reached that point. You're taxing us too much. We need to have some fiscal restraint. We need the ability to have you quit spending. And we need legislators who are willing to stand up and say enough is enough, just say "no" to new spending. I did that on June 19 when that budget bill came back from the Senate.

Jean Schmidt, candidate for state representative 88th district, speaks to the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board.
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
Schmidt: We do have a history of overspending in Ohio. But it's not just recent history. It's a 40-year-old habit. As we have begun every decade, you can count on an economic recession here in Ohio as well as in the rest of the United States. When Tom and I got to the Statehouse, we were saddled with a government that had overspent its revenue long before we got there. What did we do in 1972? We created the income tax. What did we do in 1982? We increased it by 90 percent. What did we do in 1992? We said we won't tax ordinary citizens, we'll tax business, and drive them into Kentucky and West Virginia and Michigan and Indiana and other places. Before you talk about job attraction, it's important to understand why we're losing jobs. This has gone on for the last 40 years.

But in this budget, that penny sales tax, the $890 million that the penny generates, enabled us to meet the needs of the elderly, the poor, our children. Without that we would have seen serious cuts. Some would have been in the form of reimbursements to hospitals. What do you think a 10 percent cut would be to Children's Hospital? Devastating. We would have really had to slice education. We would have had to eliminate the local government fund, and our counties and townships and villages need that - more acutely in areas like Adams and Brown counties.

It was a tough decision to make. Tom originally voted for the penny, same as I did. But as he's explained to you, the difference in the end was in the way the Senate chose to spend that penny. I understood that it is our responsibility to not only balance the budget but to make sure the citizens of Ohio have the adequate services to meet their needs. And toward that end, I did the responsible thing. I voted for the budget, because constitutionally we had to have a balanced budget.

Candidate Q&A: Ohio 14th District state Senate seat
Tuesday's Candidate Q&A: Ohio 2nd District U.S. House seat
Monday's Candidate Q&A: Ohio 1st District U.S. House race
Sunday Forum Q&A: Commissioner candidates
Convention shows city's progress
Letters to the editor