Democratic candidate Sarah Grace, left, and Republican candidate Jay Edwards, right, attend a public forum held by The League of Women Voters and answer questions from the audience at the 94th Ohio House District Race Community Forum held in Nelsonville, Ohio, on Tuesday. (Robert McGraw/WOUB)

Final 94th House Forum Brings Talk Of National Issues

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Along with local issues of job growth, fracking waste and minimum wage, the final public forum for the candidates running in the 94th District House of Representatives race touched on national issues such as abortion and the presidential race.

The forum, in a packed meeting room at the Nelsonville Public Library, began with a discussion from Nelsonville native Edwards about bringing good paying jobs to the area, and from Grace about the importance of improving education standards in the district.

From there, the conversation turned to negative campaigning. Grace responded to a political mailer sent by the Ohio Republican Party that accused her of being “godless” for her argument that the Pledge of Allegiance should not include references to religion.

“No one asked me what my personal religious beliefs were and…I was shocked to see the ad,” Grace said.

Edwards said negative campaigning “doesn’t help anyone in Southeast Ohio,” in response to an ad sent out by the state’s Democratic Party calling him a puppet of Columbus politicians. He said career politicians in Columbus are the reason he wanted to avoid political action committees (or PACs) when raising funds.

“That’s a big reason why I felt it would be important to raise (campaign funds) from individuals,” Edwards said.

An audience member asked for the candidates’ stance on a woman’s right to choose, and Grace and Edwards took directly opposite stances.

Edwards said he respected the Supreme Court’s decision in reference to Roe V. Wade, which said the right to privacy extended to abortion. He does not, however, condone abortion, he said.

“I would never allow my child be aborted nor would I ever condone an abortion,” he said.

For Grace, the issue is personal. She told the audience about a molar pregnancy for which she was diagnosed shortly after she was married. A molar pregnancy creates growth of fetal tissue rather than a viable pregnancy, according to a definition by the Mayo Clinic.

She had a surgical procedure to terminate the pregnancy, and received chemotherapy after the surgery.

“What I had caused cancer,” Grace said. “(The surgical procedure) was the most gut-wrenching, horrible experience of my life, but there is no way that anyone who is not right there, with their spouse, or partner, or physician should be making that decision for the woman who is in that situation.”

When asked whether they felt party loyalty is important to being a member of the House of Representatives, both said they planned to work across party lines as much as possible.

Though she said she plans to communicate with both sides on the issues, Grace said she was “proud to be a Democrat,” because she shared the values she saw in the Democratic platform.

“They are focused on actually enacting law that help people,” Grace said. “They support asking those that have the most money to pay their fair share.”

Grace said she puts her support behind Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Edwards did not provide an answer when asked if he supported the presidential candidate for the Republican Party, Donald Trump.

“I’m running as a Republican but that means very little to me,” Edwards said. “I (couldn’t) care less about party lines.”

Education, which has been a mainstay topic for Grace’s campaign, was also touched on during the debate. Edwards promoted an emphasis on trade school funding and encouragement for students to consider vocational schools.

Grace spoke about bring arts programs back to schools and putting less of an emphasis on standardized testing as a litmus test for success.

Both were asked if they’d ever lost money in their lives or careers, a questions that seemed to be directed at recent reports that money had been misplaced while Grace was a member of the East Elementary Parent Teacher Organization.

“No, I have not,” Grace said.