Jobs top Ohio’s concerns for 2018

MARTINS FERRY — The next governor of Ohio is going to be the candidate who best addresses the state’s concerns about jobs and the economy, according to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.

As Democratic candidates for Ohio governor met in Martins Ferry Tuesday for the first debate of the 2018 election season, Pepper’s prediction could be in line with the thoughts of Ohio voters.

An online poll taken during the debate asked state residents what issues were the most important to them. Jobs and the economy topped the list at 44 percent; followed by education, at 23 percent; health care, at 19 percent; and fighting opioid addiction, at 15 percent.

As the politically savvy are aware, whoever wins the race for Ohio governor will be in position to lead the state up to the 2020 presidential election — and whichever presidential candidate wins Ohio usually wins the presidency.

This makes the 2018 Ohio gubernatorial race a particularly important one.

Although Pepper acknowledged Democrats’ shortcomings in last year’s presidential election, he believes the tide will start to turn as Republicans struggle to deliver on promises made.

“We’ve spent seven and a half years watching an approach (in a Republican-led Ohio government) that hasn’t worked,” Pepper said. “Money from local communities is being sent to the state, and that money is given out as tax breaks. The result has been job growth that is anemic, and our schools are struggling because they have been defunded.

“The point is the trickle-down theories have not served communities like Martins Ferry, Steubenville and Bellaire very well. I’m anxious to hear what the candidates have to say, because what they’re doing now isn’t working.”

Ohio Democratic Party leadership chose to hold the first debate in Martins Ferry to touch base with those in rural Ohio. And some local Democrats believe members of their party will have to do a better job next year addressing the middle class and East Ohio if they want to take the governor’s office — and the White House in 2020.

Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas fears the Democratic Party is losing touch with working people and rural areas, and he appreciated the party’s move to pay attention to East Ohio by holding the first gubernatorial debate in Martins Ferry.

Thomas is serving with two first-time Republican commissioners elected during the GOP tide of 2016, and he is on the ballot in 2018.

“Regardless of the party, the message needs to resonate to everyone involved in Ohio that East Ohio matters,” Thomas said. “What I’m hoping to hear tonight from the candidates is that the candidates are cognizant that East Ohio has a voice, and it needs to be heard in Ohio.”

Thomas said severance tax dollars are being sent to Columbus from gas and oil production in East Ohio, and it isn’t being used to repair infrastructure in East Ohio communities as it was intended.

“We’re just asking for a small portion of it so we can fix roads in Belmont County,” Thomas said. “That doesn’t seem to be heard in Columbus, and that’s very frustrating at the county level.”

Pam Wampler, a member of the Belmont County Democrat Central Committee, said the party failed to appeal to its base in 2016, and needs to change that with the 2018 election.

“They did not go to the working class people,” she said. “They need to go to the small communities, the fire stations and where people gather to let the people know their message.”

Ginny Favede, co-chair of Project BEST, said she wanted to hear from the candidates in the 2018 election that “East Ohio matters.”

“I think voters just got caught up in the Trump tide (in 2016),” Favede said. “They wanted something different. … Next year, Democrats are going to have to clarify their priorities better — both at the local level and the national level.”

Former Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said the Ohio Democratic Party’s decision to come to Martins Ferry sends a message that it does care about East Ohio.

“We had a situation where a candidate outside the mainstream of politics said popular things,” Gentile said of Trump. “It was an effective strategy, and voters just went down the line.”

Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, said he believes many voters last year were “turned off” by what they saw happening in politics.

“We just need to work together,” Cera said of Democrats and Republicans. “People need to see that we’re working for them.”