In the 64th District primaries: Tom Letson and Randy Law

Both Republicans and Democrats will have choices to make in the primary election for the 64th Ohio House District, which covers much of Trumbull County.

The district is represented by Democrat Tom Letson, 61, of Warren, who is seeking his fourth term. He’s being challenged by Sheila Calko, 31, of Warren and David C. Cook, 66, of Warren.

Three Republicans are seeking their party’s endorsement: Randy Law, 50, of Warren, who represented the district for one term; Albert J. Haberstroh Jr., 54, of Southington, the party’s nominee in 2010, and Roger Peterson Jr., 35, of North Bloomfield.

All but Cook sat for endorsement interviews with Vindicator editors. The district includes the city of Warren, the village of West Farmington and the townships of Bloomfield, Braceville, Bristol, Champion, Farmington, Green, Gustavus, Howland, Johnston, Kinsman, Mecca, Mesopotamia, Southington and Warren.

The Democrats

Letson’s challenger is seeking elective office for the first time, though she describes herself as a political organizer and civically active community member. Calko holds a certificate in governance from the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University and degrees from Columbia University and Youngstown State University.

Her criticism of Letson was that he has not been sufficiently active in protecting the environment and that his amassing personal tax delinquencies while a member of the ways and means committee raised an ethical issue.

On environmental issues, she said she is not opposed to fracking, but believes the public is entitled to more information on how the process is being carried out.

Letson, an attorney, answered the question of his tax delinquencies by saying that he fell behind while assisting his ailing parents, who required nursing-home care, but that he has since paid all back taxes and penalties. The delinquencies were unrelated to his alcoholism, which has been a matter of public record and for which he received treatment last year.

Letson says the regulations for drilling in the state appear to be sufficient but must be adequately and consistently enforced. He suggested a severance tax on well production could be used to train and employ inspectors.

As a member of the Democratic minority in Columbus, Letson defended his party’s role in opposition to a number of initiatives by Gov. John Kasich, including Senate Bill 5. He said Kasich’s claim of a projected deficit of $8 billion was about twice the actual shortfall. Even so, he said, balancing the budget has cut vital funds to local government, schools, health and mental health, and it could get worse when putting together the next biennial budget.

Though we have disagreed with him in the past on some issues, Letson presents himself as the stronger candidate by virtue of his experience and his political pragmatism. He receives our endorsement in the Democratic primary.

The Republicans

In the three-way race to reclaim the 64th District seat for the Republicans, all hold or have held an elective office. Haberstroh served on the Southington Board of Education for 14 years and has been on the Trumbull County Educational Service Center Governing Board since 2008. Peterson is a two-term member of the Southington Township Board of Trustees. And Law served as state representative from the 64th District in 2005 and 2006. He lost to Letson in a year of Democratic resurgence in Ohio.

Haberstroh, who ran unsuccessfully against Letson in 2010, is not a single-issue candidate but spent most of our interview discussing the challenges facing public education in Ohio. He believes local public schools should get strong state support, that they should maintain their individual character in the face of various pressures to consolidate and that better public schools, not charter schools, are what Ohio needs.

Peterson clearly brings a township trustee’s point of view to the race, which, he says, is something the General Assembly could use.

He talked about the hardships that EPA regulations and health department mandates place on homeowners who depend on septic systems. He also complained that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources controls 15,000 acres in Bloomfield Township, which is removed from the tax duplicate. The township, though, must maintain roads abutting the public land. He suggested that a narrow strip along the roads be freed for public sale and home development.

Peterson said he supports a reduction in the state income tax and less reliance on local property taxes to support school districts.

Law says he is eager for a rematch with Letson. He got 46 percent of the vote in 2006 when he lost to Letson. At the head of the ticket that year, Ken Blackwell, the Republican candidate for governor, got 18 percent of the vote against Democrat Ted Strickland in the 64th District.

Law says he already has a relationship with Gov. Kasich and State House Speaker William Batchelder and that he would be in a position to help get things done quickly. He says he was part of passing the largest tax cut in Ohio’s history and the 2005 landfill reform bill.

Law is a broker who deals in selling business and business real estate, and says Ohio needs to be more business friendly. One of the impediments to that, he says, is the EPA.

In the Republican race, The Vindicator endorses Law based on his experience in Columbus and his broader view of the myriad issues.

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