Photo Caption: State Rep. Debbie Phillips listens as her opponent, Charles Richter, delivers his closing remakrs at a debate in Athens Tuesday.
Both candidates in the race for Ohio's 94th House District emphasized their fundamental difference in governing and political philosophy during the final Athens County League of Women Voters candidate forum at the Athens Public Library Tuesday night.
State Rep. Debbie Phillips, a Democrat currently representing the 92nd district, squared off with Republican challenger Charles Richter at one of the least-attended such forums of the current election season.
Though the audience was sparse, moderator Ellsworth Holden noted they served up some of the best questions of the 2012 forum circuit.
"There are several issues we're looking at, and I believe we have a big difference in philosophy," Richter said during his opening statement. "I believe that we should promote businesses. We should promote jobs. That creates tax revenue for our government."
Phillips issued her opening statement in a similar fashion.
"I really believe that there is a difference of opinion and philosophy within state government currently, and that's part of the reason I actively fought against Senate Bill 5," she said. "I thought that was a radical and divisive agenda and not the right way to fight the challenges facing our state." (S.B. 5 – appearing on the 2011 ballot as State Issue 2 – was the Republicans' failed attempt to roll back collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio.)
The candidates showed another contrast just several questions later when the subject of the current State Issue 2 came up. Issue 2 is a ballot initiative to alter the way the state handles redistricting for state and congressional lawmakers.
Phillips said that she favors the proposal.
"If you followed the process last year when the new district lines were being drawn, it was just a very, very partisan process. A lot of it happened out of the public eye and out of the sunshine," she said. "That's why we ended up with these partisan districts."
She said the proposal creates a more balanced system that includes four Democrats, four Republicans and four independent citizens, with no politicians or lobbyists, drawing the lines.
Richter said that he is against Issue 2.
"First, the Ohio Bar Association and the judges are against it," he said. "They don't want to be politicized… They don't want to be a part of this. Second, we would be changing our (state) constitution, and I'm not in favor of changing our constitution on this issue."
Echoing the official position of the state GOP, Richter did concede the state needs to do a better job on how it draws its districts but that Issue 2 is the wrong way to go about it.
In 2013, the Ohio Llegislature will shape another biennial budget. The candidates were asked about their priorities during that process and what their position would be on the question of local government fund monies.
Richter emphasized infrastructure in towns and counties as well as making sure education is adequately funded.
"We definitely have to make sure we take care of our townships," he said. "We've cut the funding at that level too much, and we definitely need to address that."
He also said that education needs a better mix and adequate funding.
"We need to bring more back to the schools, the districts and the individuals, and have more local input," he said.
Phillips said that it will be another challenging budget but with economic recovery, there have been some positive signs.
"I believe that local government funds are an important partnership between state and local government," she said. "When the state created an income tax, there was an agreement between state and local governments and schools that there would be revenue sharing."
She called for local government funds to be restored to communities where police and fire protection are provided, and said her priorities lie in education, workforce development and infrastructure.
Both candidates said that they oppose a proposed statewide uniform municipal taxation, saying that power should continue to rest with the local communities.
Both candidates also said that state government plays an important role in maintaining and developing infrastructure such as roads, sewers, bridges, etc.
Asked about their most important issue, though, the candidates went in different directions.
Phillips cited her longstanding work as an education advocate, working to fix Ohio's unconstitutional school funding system.
"I just think it's fundamentally important for our state's long-term wellbeing that we come up with a system that is fair to the taxpayers and that provides our children with the educational opportunities they need to be able to compete in the information-based, fast-moving, global economy," Phillips said.
She said great progress was made under former Gov. Ted Strickland with the evidence-based model, and she slammed current Gov. John Kasich for repealing that and so far replacing it with nothing.
Richter, meanwhile, said that his top priority will be working on local issues that include development and education.
"We need help with our schools. We need help with our townships," he said. "We need to fund issues at the local level and work with our townships, commissioners and school boards to make sure that we're taking care of our infrastructure and taking care of our schools."
Richter said that government should be less involved in business and more involved in those other things.