Ohio's 34th House District includes several communities in eastern Hamilton County, among them Anderson Township, Mount Lookout, Fairfax, Terrace Park and Hyde Park. Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, who has a background in the printing industry, is running for his third term in the seat he won in 2000 as an insurgent who defeated his party's chosen candidate in the primary. Attorney Greg Delev of Anderson Township has been active in the Hamilton County Republican Party. Here are excerpts from their recent question-and-answer session with us.
Q. Tell us briefly about why you're running.
Tom Brinkman: I ran for office when the party wanted to dictate who my state representative was going to be. I couldn't stand for that, so I ran, and I'm proud I did. It's been a frustrating three years as I've watched Gov. (Bob) Taft drive the state off a cliff. But I've been fighting back. I fought successfully against Issue 1 (the Third Frontier initiative), which was a disaster, a handout to big business. And we're trying to do fundamental reforms of the cost drivers that are really ruining the state of Ohio - civil service reform, public sector collective bargaining and prevailing wage. If we can't get rid of these things, we're just inevitably stuck with a double-digit rate of (budget) growth.
Greg Delev: I'm running because I've watched for the last few years, and despite a lot of rhetoric about lower taxes, less government and getting spending under control, we've done nothing. I think the 34th House district currently has ineffective and irresponsible representation in Columbus. We have to work together to solve problems. But you don't do that by attacking the people you're supposed to work with.
I respect Tom and his opinions. He's right - spending is out of control. But it's more than just voting no on things. You just can't go up there and tell everybody they're crazy. As an attorney, I know you have to sit down and build consensus before you resolve a case. It's the same in the Legislature. Sure, people in the 34th House district may agree with Tom and me on a lot of things, but without selling people in Cuyahoga County and Lucas County, we're not going to go anywhere.
Q. Both of you are conservative. Could each of you explain what you believe the differences are between you, and why each of you thinks you are the better candidate?
Delev: You can be a conservative without being a no vote. You can be conservative without being obstinate. Being against taxes is not enough. You have to be an effective, respected legislator.
Tom has a belief that anyone should be able to carry a gun pretty much any time, any place without any restrictions. As someone who's served in the military, I've seen unsafe handling of firearms and it scares me.
At the same time, he's against the death penalty. I shudder to think we've returned to Wild West days where everyone's walking around with their firearms, but the sheriff can't do any hanging. I support laws that protect the innocent.
And in this case the innocent are the innocent police officers and people who are victims of heinous crimes.
Brinkman: I think independence is really the key word. I'm not owned by the lobbyists, party leadership, anyone. The only people I am held accountable to are the voters of the 34th district. I was the only representative to vote against the Patriot Act in the Ohio General Assembly because I believe it's an infringement on our individual rights. I believe in Vermont-style concealed carry, and I'm proud of that. It will give law-abiding citizens the right to self-defense as guaranteed in the Constitution. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But it's that independence that I think the voters are thirsting for. God forbid we all get in lockstep on capital punishment. I am 100 percent pro-life, and I believe that's from conception until natural death. I won't change, because this is sacred for me. And I'm not going to go along just because the majority of people are for this.
Q. Tell us about your district, and what you believe are its biggest concerns.
Brinkman: We're the seventh-richest district in the state in income. Education is pretty high. I'm pretty proud that these people are independent thinking. I think it is the greatest district in the world. We only have a few municipal entities, and I try to work well with all those officials to get things done. Do I agree with everything they want pushed? No, not if it's for more government, for more taxes. But when there are things we can do to drive government services down to the local level, certainly I agree with that, and we've been able to pass quite a few bills that help that happen.
Delev: The composition of the district is unique. I've pretty much lived there my entire life, so I know the people. They are hard-working, conservative, middle-class and upper middle-class America. They are what makes this country great. I agree with Tom. It's probably one of the best parts of Ohio. They are independent. But they understand that with independence comes responsibility. We can't have anarchy. As a legislator, you're obligated to represent everyone's views, even if you don't necessarily agree with those views. If you don't, you don't get anything accomplished.
Q. What do you believe are the major issues the current legislature has had to face, and how well do you think it has handled them?
Delev: No. 1 was getting spending under control. Unfortunately, they set themselves on a track they couldn't escape, and instead of having bold initiative and leadership on spending, they created a cut-and-paste method of funding government.
No. 2, it's horrendous, it's an outrage what they did with school funding. They let the Ohio Supreme Court ride roughshod over them, and they attempted to solve it by throwing a whole lot of money at the school system. The state needs to return authority and control back to the school districts.
No. 3, issues on social service spending are out of control. I was on the mental health board in Hamilton County. Every time we turned around, they found new ways and unique ways to spend money.
Brinkman: I voted against the budget, which included a sales tax increase along with $784 million of one-time money, which was taken from various programs, money we won't have next time. I'm for (Secretary of State) Ken Blackwell's sales tax repeal and have circulated petitions to get that on the ballot to force my colleagues to step up to the plate and cut government.
Again, we have to get to the cost drivers. Unfortunately, there's an unholy alliance in Ohio between the Republican leadership and the unions. And so my efforts and colleagues' efforts seem to go for naught. But the new leadership, once (Speaker Larry) Householder is gone, will be a lot more favorable toward these things. Is it going to change overnight? No, but I think we can start moving ahead.
We're pushing ahead with fundamental change of our tax system. Gov. Taft came out with a change, but it was a tax increase. What we're trying to do is have a change that's revenue-neutral, but will fundamentally change and stop letting 50 of our 100 biggest companies pay only $50 a year in corporate tax. We want to have a way we can tax them and also help the manufacturing climate in this state.
Q. Mr. Brinkman, what would you say are your major accomplishments during the past two years?
Brinkman: I have House Bill 126, which would severely restrict the use of RU-486, an abortion pill. It has passed the House and the Senate committee. It is on tap to go to the Senate floor. It will pass, and I know the governor will sign it.
I introduced a bill to renew the Hamilton County drug court. It costs $22,000 a year to keep somebody in prison, but it costs $4,500 to give them drug rehabilitation. I'd rather do that than keep them in prison.
There were two bills that were very important for the townships. No. 1 was the bill to expand the use of (Tax Increment Financing) districts. Beechmont Mall was a sore spot. The TIF law did not allow money to be allowed for demolition, so we got the TIF law changed. No. 2, we did a lot of township reform, little annoyances that townships have had to put up with - stuff like they weren't allowed to hire anybody who wasn't a resident of Ohio.
Q. Mr. Delev, what would you like to accomplish in the next two years if you are elected?
Delev: No. 1 is define what is the future role of state government. I really think that is a crucial thing. Until we determine that, we aren't going to be able to reduce spending. We can't become overdependent on state government to solve all our problems.
I want to put competitiveness into the social service arena. President Bush enacted legislation that would allow nonprofits and churches to work more closely with social service dollars. I'd like to see something similar to what goes on with Community Chest/United Way - competing for tax dollars, instilling free-market ideas into social services.
We need to look closely at crime and strengthen laws so jails aren't revolving doors and we have more creative ways of treating the criminal.
We need to look at the way state government controls state roads such as Beechmont Avenue. Townships' and cities' hands are cuffed on what they can do to try to develop economic enhancement and beautification. I'd like state government to return more authority back to local government.
Q. What would you like to add in conclusion?
Delev: I will accept my responsibility to make sure everybody has a voice in Columbus. I will hold firm on not voting for any new tax increases. At the same time I believe the citizens of the community have the right to vote on tax levies, and if a school district has a levy on the ballot, it is up to the people to decide.
Brinkman: I was always taught you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything. I am the only state representative who has not had a fund-raiser in Columbus. I come home every night while maintaining a 100 percent voting record on the House floor over three years. I attend hundreds of community council and government council meetings over the years to get input from folks.
I hear from people that they appreciate my independence. They appreciate people who stand for basic rights, whether it's the right of the unborn, the right to bear arms, the right of free speech. I'm going to continue to do that. And if I shake people up and I get people thinking and I get people mad, so what? That's what I was elected to do.
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