Democrat David Sparks of Clayton is seeking to unseat first-term state Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, in one of the region’s most competitive statehouse races in a once-firmly Democratic district that became more evenly balanced in the 2012 redistricting.
The race pits a Bernie Sanders-supporting businessman who advocates a higher minimum wage and green energy against a Republican attorney whose top priorities are advocating for the communities in the district and battling the region’s opiate addiction problem.
The district covers parts of Englewood, Clayton, Trotwood, western Montgomery County and all of Preble County. In a district with a political index that is about 51 percent Democrat and 49 percent Republican, Rezabek in 2014 unseated State Rep. Roland Winburn, D-Harrison Twp. In 2012, when President Barack Obama was on the ballot, Winburn won easily.
Rezabek previously ran unsuccessfully in 2012 for Montgomery County Juvenile Court judge.
Sparks, owner of buzzwad.com, a digital development and e-commerce consulting firm, was a delegate for Sanders at the Democratic National Convention this summer in Philadelphia.
The Rezabek-Sparks race turned ugly this summer, with Rezabek supporters producing ads and a website calling Sparks “Creepy Dave” and saying he made inappropriate comments about girls and drugs in his online videos.
Sparks, in turn, accused Republicans of putting him in personal danger by falsely implying he was a pedophile and said his videos on subjects such as Planned Parenthood, drugs and prostate cancer were supposed to be informational, funny or both.
In a 2015 video Sparks, now 48, advocated against defunding Planned Parenthood and sang a song about putting his hand on a 14-year old girl’s breast when he was 14. He sang about how it made him want to have sex and argued that since teenagers think that way it would be a mistake for the state to cut funding for the planning family and women’s health services agency.
The Ohio Republican Party also held a news conference that Rezabek participated in this summer criticizing Sparks’ videos. Television ads paid for by the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee (OHROC) knock Sparks for his videos, state tax liens and a court judgment against him for accepting $25,814.58 from a bank for a certificate of deposit that was not his.
Sparks was sued by Fifth Third Bank after accepting the money in 2001 and was ordered to repay it, but the debt was discharged in 2010. He said he thought the money was his and that $5,523 in state tax liens were mistakes by the state except for $172.65 he paid in early October.
Dan Tierney, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, confirmed that all but one tax lien is closed, but he said the office is in the midst of a computer update so he could not confirm that Sparks’ October payment cleared that final debt. Tierney also said he could not provide details about what taxes Sparks did or did not owe because it is not a public record.
Sparks sees the Republican attack ads as a sign that he’s making inroads with his low-budget campaign against Rezabek and says the TV ad is putting his name in front of people who might otherwise not have seen it.
“I think its ridiculous and I got a big chuckle out of it,” said Sparks, who estimated the cost of his campaign at less than $10,000. “I don’t think it’s hurting us.”
Rezabek said he has tried to distance himself from the mailers and TV ads even though he participated in the ORP news conference. He said the ads are not his doing, and that he wants to stay positive and talk about the issues.
“It’s about relationships, so if other entities are doing these things and my opponent may be trying to smear me as much as he can as well, what that does is I have to work harder to redevelop those relationships,” Rezabek said.
He said his work with families and juveniles as a Dayton attorney informs his job as a state legislator. He co-sponsored HB 410, a bill that passed the House and is in committee in the Senate, that would help children who are truant before charging them with delinquency.
He also was a sponsor of a bill that eased access to Naloxone, the drug that can reverse an opiate overdose, and supports more efforts to get people addiction treatment.
Rezabek said he has worked with Democrats on bills, including one dealing with kinship care, and has bucked his party when Republicans voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood. He said the family planning agency does good work in preventing pregnancy and providing needed women’s health care. He opposes abortion and is also a co-sponsor of the Heartbeat Bill, an anti-abortion effort that passed the House and is pending in the Senate.
Rezabek said the state should restore some of the funding that was cut from the Local Government Fund during the post-recession budget troubles to help communities fund infrastructure and other improvements. He said if there are going to be further state tax cuts they need to put money back into people’s pockets.
Rezabek would not answer whether he supports increasing the minimum wage but said raising the base would lead to further increases that will cost jobs.
“Then whatever number you pick — eight, ten, 15, 50 dollars — as a minimum wage, everything will adjust and then everyone will be saying that’s not enough either,” Rezabek said. “Because what happens is you lose jobs.”
He said he also would like to improve education funding and reform unemployment compensation and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
“My philosophy is simple,” said Rezabek. “Is it good for the 43rd district? Is it good for the state of Ohio? (And) does it solve a problem.”
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a key campaign theme for Sparks. He said the nation’s economic recovery has left too many people behind.
“I’ve seen a general overall malaise in employment, well-paying employment specifically, which is one of the biggest challenges we face,” Sparks said.
He said there is no real evidence that raising the minimum wage leads to fewer jobs and he believes it would improve the economy.
“That spending goes into the economy,” Sparks said.”Republicans have it completely backwards as to how economies develop. They develop from the bottom up.”
Sparks wants to eliminate the tax abatements and job creation tax credits that are used to attract businesses, saying they lead to a loss in tax revenue for communities and schools and shift a larger share of the tax burden onto individuals.
He opposes the state’s privatization of economic development through JobsOhio, the non-profit corporation that was funded with state liquor profits.
Sparks also wants to ban hydraulic fracturing, an oil and gas extraction method known as “fracking,” and replace government subsidies to fossil fuel industries with support for solar farming and wind energy.
Sparks also opposes right-to-work laws and said people should have the right to form unions. He believes marijuana should be completely legal and be regulated like alcohol. Drug addiction should be decriminalized and addicts treated as patients, Sparks said.
Sparks also wants the state to restore cuts made to the local government fund and improve school funding, particularly to reduce class sizes.
He supports a woman’s right to choose abortion.
A major issue for Sparks is removing money from politics. He supports convening a Convention of the States to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
“People realize that the entire political system is bought and paid for by multimillionaire interests,” Sparks said. “I would expect a democracy to serve citizens fairly and equally.”
MORE ABOUT THE CANDIDATES
Job: member Ohio House of Representatives 43rd District and attorney
Education: University of Dayton, bachelor’s in psychology and juris doctor
Job: Owner Buzzwad.com
Education: Bachelor’s in liberal studies Wright State University