By David Skolnick
With state Rep. Robert F. Hagan prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election this year to the 58th Ohio House District seat he’s held for nearly eight years, four fellow Democrats — including his wife, Michele Lepore-Hagan — are looking to succeed him.
The winner of the May 6 primary in this heavily-Democratic district would move on to the general election unopposed unless an independent candidate files by the May 5 deadline.
The eight-year incumbent cannot seek another term because of the state’s term-limits law.
Lepore-Hagan, of Youngstown, who has received the endorsements of the Mahoning County and Ohio Democratic parties and numerous labor organizations and unions, is the only one of the four running for political office for the first time.
But her endorsements and her marriage to the incumbent have made her a target of the three other candidates — Janet Tarpley, Michael E. O’Hara and Cynthia McWilson, all of Youngstown.
“You should not get this job simply because of who you are and who you’re related to,” said O’Hara, who’s unsuccessfully run for numerous elected offices over the past 30 years, including six attempts to get on the Youngstown school board. “People are getting tired of career politicians and name recognition, because I’ve seen it too many times in this county. It’s just the name shuffle. I’m sorry, I think that people are looking for some new people. They’re looking for some new blood.”
McWilson, who unsuccessfully ran for city council’s 5th Ward seat in 1999 and 2003, agreed that Lepore-Hagan is running on her husband’s name.
“Yes, you can say that,” McWilson said.
The three are also criticizing Lepore-Hagan’s husband, who’s been a state representative or state senator since 1987.
“When you look at the incumbent’s record, it’s real clear the local problems that we have. I don’t think he has addressed them, especially with the blight and housing issues,” said Tarpley, a two-term city councilwoman in the 6th Ward, the least-populated ward in Youngstown.
Lepore-Hagan didn’t directly answer a question about whether she’d run for this seat if her husband weren’t the incumbent.
But she said, “His [political] passions have transferred to me,” and “I have a special insight into the workings of the state government. I’ve really grown to love and support the issues that he fights for, and I’d like to continue” those battles in the Ohio House.
On fracking, Lepore-Hagan said companies involved in the industry should pay a severance tax — “5 percent is reasonable” — with the money going toward infrastructure improvements needed to support it.
That includes, she said, repairing roads damaged by drilling equipment and trucks as well as for energy-related education and job-training programs, money to enforce environmental and workplace safety regulations, funds for research into the long-term effects of fracking and fracking waste disposal, and money to invest into education and infrastructure not tied to the energy business.
O’Hara suggested a “fair” severance tax of 2 percent to 2.5 percent.
The oil and gas industry needs to pay “a small amount in severance tax,” Tarpley said though she didn’t give a percentage. She said a high tax would lead companies to not want to drill in the area.
McWilson said she’s not familiar with severance taxes or what the state should charge the oil and gas industry.
Also, McWilson is delinquent on three properties, including her home, she owns. She owes $1,396.15 in delinquent taxes, according to the Mahoning County auditor’s website.
“I am making payments, but I don’t have enough to pay my taxes,” she said.
McWilson also said she thought her ex-husband was making payments on some of the properties when he wasn’t.
The 58th District includes all of Youngstown, Struthers, Campbell, Lowellville and Coitsville as well as 36 of Austintown’s 40 precincts.