Taylor Sappington, a Nelsonville City Council member, is running for the 94th District Ohio House of Representatives seat. This file photo from 2017 was taken in The Athens NEWS’ offices.

Nelsonville City Council member Taylor Sappington, a Democrat, announced last week that he will run to unseat Ohio 94th House District Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville.

Aside from Sappington, no one has announced for this race in either party, though it’s still early, with the party candidate registration deadline in February. And while Edwards hasn’t formally announced, there’s little doubt that he’ll run for re-election.

Sappington, 26, said in an interview Friday that he’s not aware of any other Democrats who have said they will run for the seat, which represents nearly all of Athens County, all of Meigs County, and parts of Washington and Vinton counties. The Republican and Democrat primaries, if other party candidates decide to run, will take place in May 2018, with the general election the following November.

“I looked around the district, saw some of the needs which I think are deep and complicated,” Sappington said, “and I don’t see any movement on them… despite a 2016 cycle that was focused and galvanized on the working class, particularly, Appalachian, rural America.”

Sappington – who was born in Columbus but came to Nelsonville early in life with his family – has been a Nelsonville City Council member since 2015. He graduated from Ohio University in 2015 with a degree in political science, and attended Nelsonville High School around the same time as Edwards (who is 27).

Sappington argued that little movement has occurred in the 94th House District to help solve serious problems that “disproportionately” affect Appalachian Ohio, like the opioid addiction crisis; poor, failing infrastructure (roads and waterlines); a lack of living-wage jobs; declining state investment in local governments; and issues with internet connectivity.

Sappington added that he’d like to encourage investment in “sustainable infrastructure” in southeast Ohio, such as solar panels.

During his time on Nelsonville City Council, Sappington has served on the council’s streets, parks and judiciary committees. He said he’s seen first-hand the impact of the opioid addiction crisis on that city’s law enforcement. He added that he has helped the city work through its chronic budget issues, being most proud of a “balanced budget” ordinance he introduced (which was approved), which means the city cannot approve its annual budget with any of three major funding lines in the red. 

Sappington argued that the person sitting in the 94th House seat needs to “stand up a little bit taller” than other state representatives, in order to advocate for the poor and disadvantaged populations of southeast Ohio. It’s past time for talk, he declared, calling out Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s “Start Talking” program that attempts to encourage conversations with Ohio youth about drug addiction.

“If you’re down here, you know that it’s beyond a ‘talking’ problem. It’s life and death; it’s not even political,” Sappington said. “It’s a personal issue. There are bedrooms, homes, parts of blocks empty (because of the opioid crisis).”

Sappington said priorities in the Statehouse need to dramatically shift with a movement from investing and funding the “three C’s” (Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati) to other areas such as southeast Ohio. 

While the problems of drug addiction, a lack of living-wage jobs and a lack of decent internet infrastructure affect his home of Athens County, Sappington said, these problems are acutely felt in other parts of the 94th House District as well, especially in Meigs County. He recalled a forum on internet connectivity in Washington County earlier this year, during which he heard a woman talk about having better internet access when she was in Kenya, Africa, than she receives in southeast Ohio.

During his tenure, Edwards has frequently said he’s trying to work across the aisle with Democrats and others in the Statehouse to improve the situation for those in southeast Ohio.

Sappington struck a similar tone in his interview with The Athens NEWS. He noted that Nelsonville City Council is a non-partisan body, and said he frequently works with those who are ideologically different than he is.

“It makes it a little bit easier to just look somebody in the face across the table and say, ‘What is a priority?’” Sappington explained. “Then you find common ground; they say three or four issues (that are a priority), and I say, ‘Hey, on two of those (issues), I want to work on those too.’”

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