By Ed Runyan
Democrat Tom Letson of Warren, 64th District state representative for five years, may have invited the large field of opponents in this year’s race because of personal issues he faced a year ago.
In addition to Republican Albert J. Haberstroh Jr. of Southington, who lost to Letson during the general election of 2010, two other Republicans are running in the March 6 primary: Randy Law of Warren, who held the seat before Letson; and Roger Peterson Jr. of North Bloomfield.
In the Democratic primary, Letson will be challenged by Sheila A. Calko of Warren, a political newcomer; and David C. Cook of Warren Township, who has run for several offices in recent years, including county commissioner.
Trumbull County Democrats supported Letson over his two Democratic opponents when it conducted an endorsement meeting recently. Calko received 15 votes, Cook received two, and Letson got 57.
Letson, an attorney, underwent treatment for alcoholism in January 2011, a short time after the Internal Revenue Service filed a tax lien against him for failing to pay a $37,427 assessment related to his 2006 federal taxes. He was also behind on his county property taxes for several months.
In an interview with Vindicator editors recently, Letson said he has explained his personal issues to his constituents and that his financial problems were related to the care of his parents, not his medical issues.
In trying to settle his parents’ accounts, he spent money he needed to pay his own taxes, Letson said. Those taxes have since been paid, he added.
Calko, who is unemployed, admits that Letson’s troubles were among the reasons she decided to run for the seat, which represents residents of Warren, West Farmington and the townships of Braceville, Champion, Howland, Southington, Warren, Bloomfield, Bristol, Farmington, Green, Gustavus, Johnston, Kinsman, Mecca and Mesopotamia.
“I wasn’t satisfied with the way that played out as a constituent,” Calko said of Letson’s financial problems. “There was no explanation given for why he hadn’t paid taxes.”
Regarding one of the most important issues facing eastern Ohio, hydraulic fracturing for Utica shale, Letson said Ohio already has sufficient regulations in place to keep the area safe.
Problems will occur in Ohio, as they did in Pennsylvania, if the state fails to provide “adequate, consistent enforcement,” he said.
“Pennsylvania never enforced the rules. They blew it every way you could blow it,” Letson said. “They extracted it [gas, oil and byproducts] badly and disposed of it badly.”
Among Letson’s greatest accomplishments in recent years, he said, were his efforts in opposition to Senate Bill 5, the bill that would have limited collective bargaining rights for state workers, and House Bill 194, which pertains to Ohio’s election laws.
Calko, who taught public school in New York City for a year and has a master’s degree in teaching from Columbia University, said she has received support for her campaign from Center for Progressive Leadership.
Among her interests are clean-energy jobs. She thinks the state’s support of charter schools is wrong.
“I don’t think we should take money from public schools and give it to for-profit charter schools,” she said.
Cook did not respond to a request for information about his candidacy.
Law served as 64th District state representative in 2005 and 2006 and filed to run as an independent in 2010 but later withdrew.
“In the Republican primary, I’m the most experienced and qualified,” Law said. “I think it’s important that someone have already a relationship with the governor and the support of the speaker,” Law said of Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder.
Law believes electing him, a Republican, will provide central and northern Trumbull County with more of a voice than if the district were to elect a Democrat.
Haberstroh says he agrees with 90 percent of the state Republican platform but disagrees with the party on charter schools.
A member of the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, also known as the county board of education, Haberstroh says he is a “firm believer in public schools.”
Haberstroh says he’ll not be a “yes man” in Columbus. “Do you want somebody who says ‘yes, yes, yes,’ or do you want someone who says, ‘We’ve done some things right and some things wrong?’”
With regard to public-assistance programs and unemployment benefits, Haberstroh believes benefits should be given for things such as interest payments on a house or payments on a car, but not cash.
Peterson says his primary issue is septic systems, which he has tried to address as a Bloomfield Township trustee.
Trumbull is the only county in the state that requires sand filters for its septic systems, Peterson said. That adds $4,000 to the cost but only marginally improves the quality of the water that comes out of the system, Peterson said.
A new septic system costs about $16,000, but in 10 years, it most likely won’t pass inspection, he said.
The county health department is overcompensating by making septic requirements stiffer than they need to be because of a relatively small number of areas in the county that have created water-quality problems because of poor septic systems, Peterson said.