The Athens NEWS, in an election race with two strong candidates, is recommending the re-election of state Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, to his 94th District Ohio House seat. Edwards is fond of saying that he “votes the district,” and we haven’t seen any evidence that this isn’t the case.

Challenger Taylor Sappington, a Democratic member of Nelsonville City Council, has a sincere desire to make Appalachian Ohio a better place to live and work for its residents. He personally has experienced some of the struggles of low-income people in our region, and says he’ll use that experience to craft and support solutions in the Legislature.

Sappington correctly points out that the ruling party in Columbus, the GOP, has been the problem in Ohio, not the solution, with regard to health care, education, energy/environmental issues and tax policy, among other issues. Their retrograde positions have especially hurt Appalachia Ohio.

The problem for Sappington in this race, however, is that his opponent, Jay Edwards, has not marched in lockstep with Republican Party orthodoxy at the Statehouse. He often goes his own way, especially on issues of importance to southeast Ohio and its people, including poverty, health care, local government funding and the environment.

For example, Rep. Edwards has worked closely with the Mayor’s Partnership for Progress on a number of its core issues. The MPP is a consortium of mayors and city managers from 15 counties and more than 60 communities in southeast and southern Ohio, including Athens and the other three counties that comprise the 94th House District.

Edwards helped the MPP gather documents to verify that nearly $600 million in Ohio’s welfare block grant funds (TANF) had not been spent, then supported the MPP’s proposal to receive $12 million of that money for essential health products (diapers, first-aid supplies, over-the-counter meds, etc.) and assistance to prevent water shutoffs in those communities.

Edwards subsequently arranged meetings with the director the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services to advocate for the MPP’s proposal. As a result, the department released $500,000 in block grant funds for water assistance to counties represented by the mayor’s group. It wasn’t anywhere near the full $12 million requested, but the MPP apparently was grateful for the help all the same.

Rep. Edwards similarly has supported the MPP’s efforts to encourage the use of in-home childcare aides in the region, as well as supporting an as-yet unfunded proposal for $11 million in increased reimbursement and training for childcare providers.

Unlike other Republicans in the General Assembly, Edwards has supported the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, which has provided health care to many people who otherwise would have no access to it. Along those lines, Edwards worked to stop the implementation of a program that would have hurt the region’s Medicaid transportation system.

In addition to voting against a punitive food stamp (SNAP) bill that created additional barriers for recipients, the representative co-sponsored House Bill 336, which offers an amnesty period for driver’s license reinstatement fees.

According to an advocate for poor people in Ohio, Edwards “has done as much as any state rep could be expected to.”

Edwards, while espousing the GOP’s often extreme orthodoxy on abortion and immigration, says those are not priority issues for him in representing the 94th District.

While for many voters Rep. Edwards’ support for draconian limitations on abortion in Ohio is a deal breaker, we balance that with the concrete ways that he has eased the situations for many low-income people in this region. Added to the positive side of the ledger is Edwards’ advocacy for better educational opportunities, access to health care, and effective ways to address the opioid crisis.

On the environment, Edwards has bucked his party’s line of backing anything that’s supported by the fossil-fuel industries. For instance, he worked on a bipartisan amendment that got into a brine deicer bill earlier this year, ensuring that waste from horizontal fracking operations could not be used in the deicing product.

We’re not crazy about Edwards repeating the standard Republican line on renewable entries – advocating “all-of-the-above energy policies.” That’s just code for a status quo that maintains fossil-fuel dominance in power generation and energy, at a time when much of the world is moving aggressively toward renewable energy sources that don’t contribute to climate change.

From a Democratic or progressive point of view, Sappington says the right things about all of these issues, and we agree with him on most of them. However, because he’s not an incumbent, and hasn’t had the opportunity to apply himself in a hands-on fashion, he lacks the advantage of Edwards’ incumbency. As a result, his responses to questions about a lot of the core issues facing southeast Ohio are more about describing the problem than outlining a solution. 

We have no doubt that once in office, Sappington would quickly learn the ins and outs of representing the 94th District, and hope that if he’s unsuccessful this time, he’ll run again for higher office.

However, Edwards is already accomplishing a lot for people in southeast Ohio. In addition, he works very hard to maintain a connection with the communities in the 94th House District. Sometimes it seems as if he has clones working the district, he gets around so much.

The representative does have room for improvement in some areas, however. He can be extremely defensive when criticized, and multiple citizens have said that he has removed their critical comments from his social-media accounts. (We’re pretty sure we’ll hear from him about this particular paragraph – and *editor's note 10-30-18, sure enough we did.*)

Notwithstanding those issues – or the fact that Taylor Sappington is an extremely capable and informed challenger who has a bright future in politics – we feel that Jay Edwards should be given the opportunity to continue his work for the people of Ohio’s 94th House District. Please vote for Jay Edwards on Nov. 6

Endorsement Process Explanation (for this endorsement)

By Terry Smith: A brief (well, maybe not so brief) explanation of how we reach endorsements. The decisions come from our three-person editorial board (basically the full-time employees in our newsroom). If one of us is covering the race or issue in question, that person recuses him or herself. When that happens, that leaves two of us to make the decision. If those two split on the vote, each one writes an endorsement for his or her candidate, and they run side by side. This is what happened in the Democratic primary for the Ohio governor’s race last May. We each wrote about a separate candidate.

In the case of the Sappington-Edwards 94th District endorsement, associate editor Conor Morris recused himself since he has been covering, and continues to cover, that race for The Athens NEWS. Morris explained, “I could not in good faith have any role in the decision-making or writing process for this endorsement, because I cover Jay and Taylor closely as a reporter. I'm bound by journalistic ethics as the sole reporter on these two candidates to not let my personal opinions influence editorial decisions."

General assignment reporter Kayla Beard explained her position on this particular endorsement. “His stance on abortion is one of the main reasons why I wouldn't vote for Jay Edwards. However, I didn't feel like it was good practice to write a whole separate endorsement for Taylor Sappington based solely on a single issue. If I had written a separate endorsement for Sappington, it would have been solely focused on the issue of abortion."

Beard said she did not oppose the newspaper endorsing Edwards based on the preference of the remaining editorial board member, Editor Terry Smith. He wrote the endorsement.

We run election endorsement less as a way to sway an election than as a way to engage readers in the political process and draw them to the paper. I love reading endorsements but they seldom persuade me from what I already think. They’re interesting to read, and I assume that other people feel the same way. If you don’t agree with our recommendations, that’s fine.

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