With incumbent State Rep. John Patterson ending his service representing Ohio House District 99 due to term limits, three challengers are competing for the seat during the Nov. 3 election.
Democrat Richard Dana aims to carry on Rep. Patterson’s work and legacy, Republican Ohio State Board of Education member Sarah Fowler Arthur looks to fight for local schooling and Kyle Bruckman, the owner of City Taxi Cab & Transfer Co. in Ashtabula is running as a write-in, independent candidate.
Mr. Bruckman, who first filed his intent to run on Aug. 11, said that his experience as the owner of a small business will help him evaluate government funds. “In an event like this pandemic, I have to restructure to stay open,” he explained.
“I can’t just ask for more money. I have to look at everything, downsizing, restructuring. That’s a big thing I’d like to look at as a state representative. Some things, locally, need more funding whereas other areas might need less.”
In addition to the taxi company, Mr. Bruckman owns 86ED Engineering LLC in Kingsville and Black Eagle Moving Co. in Ashtabula.
Mr. Dana brings 18 years of private law experience and now more than a decade of knowledge from working as an adjunct professor of justice studies at Kent State University of Ashtabula to the table.
“The big issue we have here is the House Bill 305, so the effort to equalize school funding which is especially needed in more rural areas like Geauga County and Ashtabula County,” he said. “For the past 22 years, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that our state board funding formula is unconstitutional because it’s based too much on property tax.”
With farming being the most lucrative industry in the area, Mr. Dana said school districts receive little funding from property taxes so a big goal of his is to carry on one of Rep. Patterson’s fights: securing a fair and constitutional funding formula for school systems.
Sarah Fowler Arthur owned Sarah’s Eggs from 1999 to 2012 and she started Badger Run Berries, LLC in 2018. But she said her experience serving on the state school board since 2013 has taught her the most about government processes.
“I’m most proud of championing the local control of our public education system,” she said. “I’ve supported policies that would move teacher and principal evaluation to the local from the state level. I’ve supported reducing state mandated assessments for students and advocated against a national standard and for local control of our public schools.”
Another major area of concern for her is making sure that all students have equal access to job skills and vocational training, regardless of the education path their parents have chosen for them. Being a homeschooled high school graduate, she said, has given her the opportunity to think outside the box and look at different perspectives.
That extends to the controversy surrounding former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder accused of being involved in $60 million of bribes linked to the passage of a $1.5 billion clean energy bill.
“Local government constituents need to be able to access information,” she said. “I’m very supportive of former [Republican] Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s open checkbook concept. It enables every Ohioan to review expenditures and to hold their elected officials accountable for how funds are spent at every level of government.”
Mrs. Fowler Arthur said she disagrees with House Bill 6, the legislature that allegedly opened the door for the bribery scandal, on the basis that the government shouldn’t be spending tax dollars to bail out companies. She said it is important to offer U.S. citizens access to domestic energy, which the bill also provides.
“My perspective is we need to have a free market policy that enables everyone to offer a product and for the consumer to be able to decide what is best going to serve their household and their business at a fair price,” Mrs. Fowler Arthur said. “I don’t think government should be picking winners and losers in such a huge decision.”
Mr. Dana called the recent corruption in Columbus a “distressing situation” and said it is a shame that parties aren’t standing together to oppose high-level scandals.
He said, “I’ve read that 90-page complaint and it’s pretty damning. It is something that erodes the confidence the public has in elected officials when you read about someone not doing something in the public’s best interest. When you violate the public’s trust, I think the penalty needs to be higher here for that. Especially when you’re in charge of taxpayer dollars.”
Mr. Dana said the house bill has a few good points, but it went off the rails at some point. “Should it be repealed?” he asked. “Yes. Should there be some legislation to deal with the good here in the bill to save clean energy? Also, yes.”
School districts near the energy plants would be devastated if they had to shut down, he said, recommending utilizing Northeast Ohio’s abundance of natural gas as a transition fuel to slow coal consumption.
Mr. Bruckman said the controversy reinforced his faith in his decision to run independent because he doesn’t believe that there’s anyone within the Ohio General Assembly who hasn’t received money from FirstEnergy through the deal.
“These special interest donors, even the candidates running against me, you see a decent amount of money being donated from unions and energy companies. And you have to know that they’re giving those people money, they’re going to get first priority and that’s kind of an integrity thing for me.”
Someone working in a position that pays $68,000 a year shouldn’t be living in a $1 million home, Mr. Bruckman added. Another financial issue he mentioned was related to mail-in voting, which he said cost the government $3 million in postage.
Mr. Bruckman said mail-in voting was done better in the past and he is skeptical this year because he’s received several ballots at his home in Geneva addressed to former residents who no longer even lived in the state.
“This year, they encouraged it and opened the door to more fraud because they mailed these absentee ballots out,” he said. “I’d rather they be requested.”
According to the Ohio Secretary of State Office, ballots are only mailed to voters if an official ballot application is filled out, returned and verified by the local boards of elections.
Mrs. Fowler Arthur said she supports mail-in voting, given the state’s long track record of absentee voting. “If you’re uncomfortable voting in person, you do have the option to vote absentee and take your ballot to secure drop boxes. I think that’s a good option for anyone with concerns about mail-in.”
Mr. Dana agreed, but said he was worried about Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s recent order to limit the drop boxes to one per county.
Mrs. Fowler Arthur and Mr. Dana both pointed to erosion occurring along the Lake Erie shorelines when asked about climate issues.
“I’ve grown up in agriculture,” she said, “so I’ve seen that the environment is continuously changing, but there’s varying degrees of that. I do think as part of infrastructure rules, we do have a responsibility to step in to protect infrastructure, businesses and families that step in to protect that environment.”
Mr. Dana said that climate change could have an effect on industry as the area in and around Ashtabula county experiences burgeoning agrotourism. The area’s seen it in the past, as well; he said he remembers John Rockefeller pouring gasoline into Ohio’s streams and rivers during engine production and does not want a repeat of that for environmental and economic reasons.
“We are part of Steelhead Alley,” he said. “People come from all over the world for our fishing and hunting activities here and that does relate to our environment, and those do need to be protected.”
Mr. Bruckman said that people should take personal responsibility for the treatment of the environment and citizens need to be trained to not pollute the earth. It’s important to keep industries local because some foreign countries have even fewer regulations and restrictions when it comes to energy production, he added.
The independent candidate said that the federal coronavirus handouts that have been going to local governments and other taxing authorities are excessive, especially when small business owners are struggling.
“The government decided who was essential and not essential,” he said. “So they got laid off, but then essential businesses like myself that stayed open were cut 60-70 percent in revenue. As a whole, I’m totally against all of the funding throughout this. If I was in legislation, I would block all additional funding for COVID.”
Mr. Dana said that COVID-19 aid should be spent on resources that help more people navigate the current health crisis, like broadband access for more people to access medical services or education opportunities from home.
“We’re blessed with great healthcare in this region but we have a situation where doctors can’t see patients one on one, it shows that gap with not having broadband here in our rural communities,” he said.
Mrs. Fowler Arthur said that allowing the state to reopen is the best course of action.
“With things being closed, we are perpetuating a cycle of need because families can’t be employed as they normally would and businesses are having a difficult time finding employees. It’s put a hardship on businesses, especially in construction fields, areas of different trades, electricians, plumbing. I view it as a circular issue that we have to address by lifting regulations and mandates.”