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Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio

by Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com reporter



MOUNT VERNON — Candidates vying to represent the constituents of the 68th district voiced their views during a debate Monday night at the Mount Vernon Middle School. Incumbent Margaret Ann Ruhl (R) and challengers Randy Miller (I) and Joyce Skocic (D) spoke on a number of issues ranging from education to judicial sentencing.

“I love this community; I want to represent this community in Columbus… I have a huge concern for this community,” said Ruhl. She said her background in agriculture, finance and 34 years of public service make her the best candidate.

“Public service is the voice of the constituents,” said Miller, adding that the misguided priorities and policies of the few have become disconnected from the interests of the community. He said there are a lot of money issues that affect hard-working people on a daily basis. “Where is the stewardship, where is the oversight, where is the leadership?” he asked. Miller said his vision for Ohio is built on the ideas and energy of the regular taxpayer. 

“I want to restore faith in our government again,” said Skocic. She said current legislators have slowed the economic recovery in Ohio by shifting the burden to the working class and wants Ohio government to represent all groups, not just special groups. 

The candidates answered questions posed by Marty Trese of KnoxPages.com, Samantha Scoles of the Mount Vernon News and Curtis Newland of WQIO/WMVO, and each candidate had the chance for a rebuttal. Following are their responses.

How should the state funding system for education be changed so that districts are funded equally? Are you in favor of unfunded mandates that often heap more financial burden on districts?

Miller: “When the personal tax on businesses was removed, that put an extra burden on taxpayers and farmers. I would reinstitute that [tax].” He was unsure whether he would vote for unfunded mandates.

Skocic: “We have to go back to a system where the state pays for schools, not taxpayers.” Feels funding for education should be treated as a necessity, similar to a utility. She said part of the problem with the money following the student is that money goes to charter schools which spend up to 40 percent of the money on advertising and are not held accountable for the money. Is not in favor of unfunded mandates. 

Ruhl: “HB 59 changed the funding to the schools to follow the children. In doing so, rich schools received less money and poorer schools received more money.” Ruhl favors this change and said most schools received as much or more money than under the previous funding formula. Students are being counted more often to make sure the money matches the number of students. She is not in favor of unfunded mandates but added that “sometimes we have to do things we don’t like to educate our kids.” She said charter schools will be held accountable just like public schools.

What do you think about Common Core? Should it be repealed?

Skocic: Common Core creates standards and there is no need to repeal; that is a waste of time and money. However, the standards are being used incorrectly; students and teachers are being bombarded with tests. The standards should be used to analyze teaching methods and help students learn, not as punitive report cards. Testing is overdone.

Ruhl: Is not in favor of repeal until it is known what will replace Common Core and the new plan is ready to go. Agrees over testing is a problem. Ruhl said she believes she voted for Common Core because it included Race to the Top money which is additional funding for schools.

Miller: “Common Core needs to go and replace it with something else.” He said educators, parents and school officials are upset with Common Core, particularly teachers who spend more of their own time trying to work with Common Core.

Eighty percent of school budgets are made up of labor. Do you think there needs to be a discussion on labor?
Ruhl: Favors local schools handling their own situation. The state legislature doesn’t need to be involved, that is the school board’s job. Regarding labor in general, Ruhl does not personally favor unions but will not pass legislation to ban them. Feels deciding whether Ohio should be a right-o-work state should be decided only by voter ballot.

Miller:  Pay increases are up to the union and school district; the legislature should not be involved with who can or cannot be in a union. Agrees right to work should be a ballot vote.

Skocic: Workers should have the right to talk with employers. The right of collective bargaining does not hurt anyone; need to protect workers’ rights. When cutting costs, need to look at other areas.

Do you feel a discharge petition is a useful means of prohibiting one person, such as a committee chairman or the Speaker of the House, from burying a bill and having too much power in state government?
Miller: Needs more information before commenting.

Ruhl: Favors discharge petitions.

Skocic: Favors discharge petitions.

What would you do to restore funding and increase success of drug addiction and mental health treatment programs?
Skocic: Would restore programs and reinstitute funding; find other areas to cut. Said the state is not doing enough and has essentially thrown the problem to communities.

Miller: Favors funding drug treatment programs but is not sure DARE is the way to go. Cited Utica as an example of the problem: the state didn’t want to provide funding, the school didn’t want to provide funding and the police department doesn’t have the money to provide funding.

Ruhl: Schools are leaning more toward student resource officers rather than DARE. Said you can’t always throw money at everything; have to go back to local communities to determine what each one needs. Also have to talk with businesses because they also have to deal with drug addiction and mental health issues in their employees.

Should state legislators tie the hands of judges by limiting the sentences for those convicted of fourth- and fifth-degree felonies in order to control the prison population and save money?
Ruhl: The punishment should match the crime. Prisons are full; many who are incarcerated have mental health issues. Backs a pending bill that gives juvenile judges greater clarity in sentencing.

Miller: “The prison system is a joke. … The judges’ hands are tied and people don’t get the sentence they deserve.” Said the community service program is not working as well as they say it is. “If you do the crime, do the time.”

Skocic: Crime is increasing and prison spending is increasing; feels people need better education and a hope for the future so crime is not attractive. Said more police and security are needed to keep down crime. If spending increases, then education increases; beef up security and relationship with police. Believes the state should not tie the judges’ hands.

Was reducing local government funds a smart budget cut? Would you sponsor legislation to return local government funds?
Miller: Said he is only one voice, but he would talk with other legislators about his viewpoint. Said he doesn’t see new jobs being created and cited the example of a Texas company that wanted to come to Utica but received no help from the state legislature to overcome electric company hurdles.

Skocic: Would vote to restore the cuts; need to come up with a fairer source of taxes and new sources of revenue. Lower income and working class are paying more due to the sales tax, and seniors have been affected by the rise in the threshold to qualify for the homestead exemption. Said cuts do not make jobs or grow the economy, and the 1 percent sales tax goes to tax cuts or the top 1 percent rather than back to local communities.

Ruhl: The state is trying to increase jobs, which brings in more revenue and is an avenue to raise funds locally. Said the current budget includes a one-time allocation of $45 million in local government grants for which municipalities and townships can apply.

What are the three biggest issues, other than education and drug addiction, you would tackle if elected?
Skocic: Protect the environment, easy access to the polls and women’s rights. Need to find different sources of energy; the Ohio Legislature has frozen standards for clean energy and there are problems with clean water. Fracking is endangering the water table. Women need equal pay for equal work; funding cuts to some health clinics that women need shows perhaps we don’t think women are intelligent enough to make their own decisions. Jobs Ohio is not getting the job done. 

Ruhl: Agriculture and jobs. “The rest of the things follow once jobs are established.” Agriculture is being accused of responsibility for the algae bloom in several Ohio lakes. Disagrees with Skocic about fracking. “Fracking creates good-paying jobs and the water is safe.”

Miller: Environment and jobs. Do a test and find out where the chemicals are coming from that are causing algae bloom. Keep jobs in Ohio. Agrees fracking leads to bad water being pumped into local wells; citing instances in other communities where the pipes have burst and contaminated the water, he asked “What’s to say that won’t happen here?”

What are your plans to engage your constituency if elected?
Miller: Continue going door to door; emphasized talking directly with the people.

Ruhl: Continue on the radio to answer questions and update on pending legislation, e-mail, attends monthly meetings and holds regular office hours. Best communication method is e-mail.

Skocic: People are disillusioned due to gerrymandering; would abolish and find another way to create fair districts. Said the cost of running for office is too costly. Would contact constituents about issues; if it’s a farm bill, would go to the farm board, if it’s an education issue, would contact students, teachers and administrators. Would also communicate via a website and via mail for those not technically savvy.

Closing Remarks:
Skocic: Wants to provide quality education and desires to protect individual rights. Believes a fair tax system is needed with new sources of revenue. Favors a severance tax on fracking and natural gas as those activities are taking resources from the state. Said the state doesn’t tax the profit on corporations; said the state needs to lift the burden on low-income and working class populations. Wants to protect vulnerable seniors and invest in children’s future and said government should serve all of Ohio, not just a specific few.

Ruhl: Been in public service more than 34 years, is a good listener. Constituents can contact her if they want information on bills moving through the legislature; has received lots of candidate endorsements.

Miller: Public education needs funded to allow individuals to grow and flourish; if individuals grow and flourish, business will grow and flourish. Need adequate police and fire services; as funding is cut, safety is cut which attacks communities and families.


You can hear a portion of the debate audio on KnoxPages radio at this link: https://soundcloud.com/mount-vernon-radio-com/state-rep-68-debate-part-1

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