Of all the issues the Ohio General Assembly must deal with over the next two years, the state's faltering economy tops the list. The administration of Republican Gov. Bob Taft projects a general fund shortfall of $750 million for the next biennium which begins July 1, while the Republican dominated General Assembly has made it clear that the deficit will not be erased with increases in the state income or sales taxes.
It is within that context this year's election for the Ohio House of Representative seats in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties must be viewed.
After interviewing the candidates and reviewing the written answers they provided in a questionnaire, The Vindicator believes that on the Democratic side, Rep. Kenneth Carano of Austintown in the 59th District, Rep. Sylvester Patton of Youngstown in the 60th and Atty. Sandra Stabile Harwood of Niles in the 65th stand out. On the Republican side, Heather Plues of Salem deserves the chance to compete for the 61st District seat in the November general election.
Carano, an educator for 36 years and a former trustee in Austintown Township, is completing his first term as a legislator and is being challenged by a 19-year-old Youngstown State University student, David R. Sisk.
While we have long supported the infusion of new blood into the political process in the Mahoning Valley, we are cautious about advocating change for change's sake. Sisk of Boardman is ill prepared for such an important position and admits that he has never visited the statehouse.
Carano has a firm understanding of the problems that confront his district in particular and the region as a whole and is working to address them. While he spends a great deal of his time taking care of the needs of his constituents, he is aware that the state's budget crisis must be dealt with in a bipartisan fashion and that new sources of revenue must be found.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Paul Alberty, who is unopposed in May.
Patton, who was appointed to the House seat in 1997 and won election in 1998 and 2000, is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Jerry McNally, a member of Youngstown City Council from 1972 to 1976 and from 1994 to 2000.
This race is an easy choice for the voters of the district, which includes the city of Youngstown. Patton's experience in state government, his knowledge of the issues, especially the budget, and his ability to win support from Republicans and Democrats for his legislative initiatives work in his favor against McNally.
Indeed, Republican William W. Sicafuse, who is unopposed for his party's nomination, will have to run a campaign that goes beyond soundbites if he is to succeed in defeating Patton in the November general election.
The Youngstown legislator has established a close working relationship with the GOP leadership in the House and his membership on the powerful State Controlling Board has benefited the region greatly.
Although there are three Republicans competing for the chance to challenge Rep. John Boccieri, D-New Middletown, in November, only two, Plues and Ron Barnhart of Columbiana appeared before The Vindicator's editorial board. The third, Randy Pope, did not respond to our invitation.
Barnhart ran for state representative in 2000 against then incumbent Ron Hood and received 35 percent of the vote. Hood lost to Boccieri in the general election, but Barnhart contends it was because the Republican nominee did not campaign, thus throwing away the election.
This year, Barnhart says he will prevail and will go on to win in November. We don't believe it's going to be that easy. Plues may be a political newcomer, but her ability to articulate the issues of greatest concern to the residents of the district and her familiarity with the way state government operates has led us to the conclusion that she is the type of new face politics needs.
While she is a firm believer in what she characterizes as "Republican values," she does not wear her ideology on her sleeve. For instance, Plues contends that public schools, by and large, are doing an excellent job and that the "pockets of bad schools" need to be dealt with.
Our endorsement of Harwood will undoubtedly raise eyebrows, since the Niles lawyer has never run for public office. However, we were taken by her commitment to work on behalf of retired steelworkers and widows of steelworkers and her pledge to make sure that no Ohioan has to choose between food and medicine.
Two veteran Trumbull County politicos, Joseph Melfi, former mayor of Girard, and Barry Profato, former councilman and council president in Niles, are also vying for the Democratic nomination for the seat being vacated by Rep. Anthony Latell, who is running for Congress.
While Melfi says it is his turn for the job and Profato insists that his experience as a legislators gives him an advantage, we were less than impressed with their grasp of the issues, especially the budget. Neither was able to clearly articulate a solution to the fiscal crisis, even though their political backgrounds would have required them to have some knowledge of state finances.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican James A. Calko