East Ohio in the Driver’s Seat

Ohio Dems says region is not a ‘flyover’ area

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON OHIO DEMOCRATIC Party Chairman David Pepper, left, and Belmont County Democratic Party Chairman Phil Wallace hold a press conference Monday in Martins Ferry.

MARTINS FERRY — Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper wants to make sure Eastern Ohio doesn’t take a backseat during the coming political season.

Pepper and Belmont County Democratic Party Chairman Phil Wallace held a press conference Monday at the United Steelworkers Local 1238 hall in Martins Ferry to talk about tonight’s debate featuring Democrat candidates for the Ohio governor’s seat. The event is slated to begin at 7 p.m. at Martins Ferry High School’s cafeteria/auditorium. About 200 tickets already have been distributed for the event; no more are available.

However, the debate will be streamed live on the Ohio Democratic Party’s website: www.ohiodems.org.

Democrat candidates running for governor include state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state representative Connie Pillich of Montgomery and former congresswoman Betty Sutton of Barberton.

“We’re very excited to be here in Belmont County,” Pepper said. “We have four candidates right now, and we may have more. I think what you’ll hear from all the candidates is a real appreciation that most of Ohio has not really done well in the last seven years. The state has tried … trickle down economics — raised taxes on people who don’t have as much and raid local communities of funds. It’s happened all over the state.”

Pepper said he’s been asked previously why the party wanted to kick off in Martins Ferry. He said many people believe Eastern Ohio has been treated like the “flyover” part of the state, meaning it gets ignored by candidates on their way to other campaign stops.

On the federal level, President Donald Trump has been credited for campaigning hard in forgotten or “flyover” states, leading to his win. Last year he campaigned in St. Clairsville, holding a rally at Ohio University Eastern. The closest Hillary Clinton got to the Upper Ohio Valley as a candidate this time around was Pittsburgh.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigned on her behalf in Steubenville and made a stop in Bridgeport.

But it appears Pepper and the Ohio Democratic Party don’t want to make similar mistakes during this governor’s race.

“Although our governor (John Kasich) thinks there is an Ohio miracle taking place, I have yet to find a community in the state that believes they’re seeing miracles,” Pepper said. “This is one of the reasons we’re in East Ohio. This is a part of the state that you wouldn’t find too many communities who say they think the state of Ohio and Columbus have done much of anything to help.”

The Republican Kasich is term limited and cannot seek re-election.

Pepper hit on what many local cities’ officials have complained about for years: that money and taxes generated in Eastern Ohio communities via the gas and oil industry gets taken by the state and not given back in a fair fashion.

“You have places like Belmont County budgeting as if the recession is still going on. That is literally the story of Ohio,” Pepper said.

Pepper said the Democrat candidates are eager to change Ohio and to change policies to help communities again.

He noted another reason for the first in a series of gubernatorial debates to be held in Martins Ferry was that Wallace was eager to have one in Belmont County.

“Being the first in the state to have a debate is going to be a catalyst to let people know what is going on with the Democrat party. We feel very happy that things are happening here,” Wallace said. “We look forward to backing the Ohio Democrat Party and everyone involved.”