Strong bonds between state and local leaders tend to forge the most responsive and effective government for all residents and taxpayers.
Indeed, the impact of statewide decision-making can be seen in virtually all facets of life in the Mahoning Valley. Those direct connections make it critical that local residents elect the most seasoned, knowledgeable and public-spirited individuals to the state’s General Assembly.
For Mahoning County’s two state House of Representatives seats, Democrats Michele Lepore-Hagan and Eric Ungaro best possess those traits and rise as the most qualified candidates for the 58th District and 59th District seats respectively.
The 58th District, which encompasses all of Youngstown, Struthers, Campbell, Lowellville, Coitsville and most of Austintown, has been represented by Lepore-Hagan for four years.
In those years, she has taken her responsibility as a legislator seriously. She has served as a primary sponsor on legislation to punish call centers – a growth industry in the Mahoning Valley – that move jobs out of the state and nation, to establish comprehensive and consistent standards of care for victims of sexual assault and to boost protections for consumers against many shady companies offering lease-to-own contracts for home purchases.
As the lone woman among the six-member state delegation from Mahoning and Trumbull counties, she serves as a passionate advocate for women in a chamber overwhelmingly dominated by men.
We have, however, long disagreed with Lepore-Hagan on her opposition to House Bill 70, known as the “Youngstown Plan” that took effect three years ago as an aggressive means to address decades of academic failure in the district. She has sought to replace it with a plan that features comprehensive wraparound services for students and their families. Such wraparound services for students – after-school programming, greater home-school monitoring – however, are an integral part of the strategic plan in place for the district.
In her interview with The Vindicator Editorial Board, however, she acknowledged that HB70 is the law now and that she is working with CEO Krish Mohip. In a third term, we hope she continues to work with Mohip and his successor toward ensuring the best wraparound services are in place within the strictures of the current plan.
Her challenger, Republican David Simon of Youngstown, has contributed public-service leadership to the success of the nonprofit Youngstown Arts and Entertainment in revitalizing the downtown.
Simon, president of Smart Environmental Engineering Consulting and Construction LLC, shares many of the same priorities as the incumbent but lacks her understanding of the office gleaned from four years of experience in it.
The 59th District, which encompasses Boardman, Canfield, Poland and a slew of communities in the southern part of Mahoning County, will see a new face representing it because incumbent Rep. John Boccieri chose to run for the open state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman.
As we did in the spring primary, we again endorse Ungaro for the passion he brings to two of the most pressing issues state legislators are facing and will continue to face: public education and the opiate epidemic.
Ungaro, a Poland Township trustee whose background in teaching and education spans 28 years, would bring the much - needed perspective of an educator to the state Legislature.
He argues that many lawmakers have no clue as to the practical impact on students and teachers of decisions made in the Statehouse. Toward improving education policy-making, Ungaro has drafted a multi-point program that calls for reducing or eliminating some unnecessary starndardized testing, expanding pre-K and early-childhood funding and increasing funding for behavioral health and drug-awareness programs.
The drug epidemic also has struck close to home for Ungaro, son of former Youngstown Mayor and current Liberty Township Administrator Patrick J. Ungaro. His brother died of a drug overdose several years ago, and he’s been on the front lines of the war on drugs ever since.
His opponent is Republican Don Manning, a New Middletown Village councilman who is seeking the office for the second time. He argues that as a Republican, leaders of the state Legislature would pay better attention to his ideas and to his district.
He, too, puts a premium on improving education and working to end the epidemic of drug overdoses in the state.
But, in terms of solid and specific proposals to deal with those and other issues, Ungaro’s priorities stand out as more concrete and realistic.
Editor’s Note: Details of candidates’ positions on a range of issues can be found in Vindicator news stories, videos of Editorial Board interviews posted on vindy.com and by accessing candidate survey forms also on Vindy.com.