94th District Candidates Discuss Hot-Button Issues At Forum

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Issues of funding priorities, poverty, Planned Parenthood and minimum wage came up during Tuesday’s forum between two Democratic candidates for the 94th District of the Ohio’s House of Representatives.

The standing-room-only crowd at the Athens County Public Library listened to Ohio University graduate student Eddie Smith and local businesswoman Sarah Grace spell out their plans if elected to replace Debbie Phillips at the Statehouse.

In introducing himself to the crowd, Smith talked about his childhood in Martins Ferry as one of eight children who dreamed of studying sociology and helping low-income families in the future. That subject would become a theme for most of his answers during the forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters.

“It will be a challenge representing all the interests of this district,” Smith said. “I want to help the little folks on the bottom first.”

Paid family leave and education are top priorities for Grace, a mother of four who said her connection with the local residents has inspired her to take on the challenge of the Ohio Legislature.

“I’ve lived in Athens for 19 years,” Grace said. “I’m committed to working for the future of my home.”

Both candidates agreed that marijuana legalization was in the future for Ohio and both condemned the decision by the Republican-led Ohio Congress to bring about a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in the state, a bill that is currently awaiting the signature of Governor John Kasich.

Grace, who brought up the need for paid family medical leave in the state and affordable healthcare, along with mental health and addiction services, said she felt a personal connection to the Planned Parenthood fight. She called Planned Parenthood, which has a location in Athens that does not conduct abortions, “essential.”

“I had cancer when I was 24, I had no health insurance,” Grace said. “It makes me sad, and more than that it makes me angry…Women should always have access to affordable healthcare.”

Smith called Planned Parenthood a “wonderful service and resource” and said he plans to be “assertive” when it came to the advancement of women.

He said he also planned to go after the “millionaire class,” specifically mentioning OU administrators, including increasing taxes for the most wealthy in the state. He and Grace both touched on raising the minimum wage, but in different ways.

“We need to examine the relationship between the wealthiest and the poorest in this district,” Smith said, adding that he agrees with a minimum wage increase but questions the longterm effects on prices.

Grace said $10.10 per hour is a “reasonable goal” for the legislature to reach, along with a base pay for tip-based employees of about $5 per hour.

In terms of new business opportunities, clean energy is the wave of the future, according to both candidates. Grace said investing in trade schools and education for workers transitioning into the clean energy industry.

“Clean energy is where our country is going,” Grace said. “The fracking industry is not sustainable.”

When asked if they would sponsor or co-sponsor a ban on fracking in the state, both said they did not want fracking to continue, but Grace hesitated in saying she would lead the charge in the current political environment.

“I don’t believe that is a bill that pass in this legislature,” Grace said.

Smith said he would take a hands-on approach, adding that he would be willing to sponsor or co-sponsor a bill.

“Whatever I can do,” Smith said.