Darke, Miami county natives vying to represent 80th District

Two relatively newcomers to politics are competing for the chance to represent the 80th District in the Ohio House.

Incumbent state Rep. Jena Powell, who had never held public office prior to being elected nearly two years ago, is trying to ward off Ted Jones. Jones is a grandfather who is retired and is seeking elected office for the first time ― he was once appointed to a public office. Each hopes to represent a district that includes Miami and southern Darke counties. The job pays about $65,000 annually.

Powell is a Republican and an Arcanum native who helps run her family’s business. If re-elected, one of the issues she would address immediately is what she called Gov. Mike DeWine’s overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic. DeWine’s mask mandates, and restrictions on businesses and schools are based on skewed data, Powell said, noting that the state needs to fully reopen so the economy can get back on track.

“At the end of the day, I believe people have the ability to make personal decisions and personal freedom when it comes to their health,” she said. “I don’t believe we need the governor doing statewide mask mandates when he doesn’t even know the exact data himself.”

Powell would not say if she’s in favor of impeaching DeWine, as some in her party have called for.

Jones is a Piqua resident, Democrat and a retired plant manager who served in the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam era. If elected, he would push for lowering taxes for working families. Tax cuts tend to be tailored to benefit businesses, and he’s not opposed to that, but he said working families need a break, too.

In addition, he would like to change the way schools are funded and operated across the state. Much of the control needs to returned to local leaders and administrators, as opposed to the state running how the districts operate, he said.

“Tt seems like Columbus is on a path to try to undercut public education,” Jones said.

Following is a Q&A with the candidates.

Q. Why do you want to represent the people of the 80th District?

Jones: I want to represent the people that live and work in the 80th District because I truly believe that we are severely underrepresented in our district. We have a representative who has largely forgotten the majority of voters in our district, and focuses mainly on self-promotion.

Corruption in the Ohio State Legislature is not a new subject. Tags like “CoinGate”, ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) and now the Householder scam — where bribery, money laundering and influence pedaling was traded to pass favorable legislation for House Bill 6. Other actions that the legislature allowed when billions of dollars were squandered and swindled from the states treasury though the ECOT scam. The school voucher program is another attempt by legislators' efforts to privatize schools that undercut public education. The long-term results of the voucher program will effectively cost taxpayers more in school taxes and lead to higher property taxes. I want to prevent that. I want to strengthen public schools along with vocational schools that will provide training to develop the next generation of skilled tradesmen that will be needed to contribute to our state’s economy.

I believe it’s time to end the corruption; to end the activity of legislators creating pathways for campaign contributors to funnel money to the legislators of their choice. After 30 years of working my way through the factory system, holding progressive levels in management positions, you recognize effort, persistence and dedication when you see it. I come from an industry that recognizes, and rewards all of those attributes, but does so in a grudgingly way. It’s an industry that judges you not only by how you do your job, but also judges you by doing what you say you will do.

I intend to work for the people of our district, and do it honorably. I also intend to do it with the respect that the office deserves and the respect it demands. In my mind, there is no higher call to duty other than military service, to serve the public interests. I started my working life as a basic laborer and worked my way up in industry to the highest levels of management; ultimately becoming the president of a company. I did not have the luxury of going to college and being named vice president of a family-owned business. As they say, I did it the hard way… by having to prove myself along the way, and doing it without fanfare… all of it a learning experience.

I know what it’s like to raise a family, and help two children get through college, both who are leading successful lives with families of their own... both living in Miami County. I’m also a grandpa now, with two young boys that I’m extremely proud of. What I accomplished in my personal life I want to do for the families of our district, and do it with honor with the same dedication that I did providing for my family, and while serving my country.

Powell: To be their voice in the legislature, fight for life, lower taxes and fewer regulation.

Q. What initiatives have you brought to past positions/organizations? Please explain the results.

Powell: I own my own business in the district, where I work with hundreds of small businesses across the state, as well as the last two years I’ve served in the legislature working on everything from prolife legislation, pro-business, pro-Second Amendment to fighting for people’s freedom.

Jones: 1. My experience in manufacturing operations has provided many opportunities to not only improve production cycle times and quality of parts produced, but also gave me opportunities to advance workers into higher paying positions within our company. I initiated a training program after contacting the state to see what the requirements were. I began by writing training grants through Ohio’s Incumbent Workforce Training Program. Unfortunately, funding for the program was eliminated. If I were elected, I would move to have the program reinstated because it was effective and worked exceedingly well. The program was beneficial to both the company and to our employees by lowering our training costs and improving the skill levels of our employees and increased their hourly rate of pay. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

2. On two occasions I was involved with factory start-up operations. Once again charged with the responsibility of training and implementing a quality program that would meet auto-related quality and environmental standards at that time.

3. Our company decided to expand our operations, and I was given the responsibility of handling the selection of the contractor and overseeing the plant expansion. The cost of the building expansion project was in excess of $1 million, not including the cost of the equipment. Through the efforts of all the people that were involved with the project, it was brought in on time and at budget. The new manufacturing equipment started to arrive as I was authorizing the final payment to the prime contractor.

4. Developing people and their skill levels have always been important to me. I had responsibility for overseeing the quality operations in two plants. One located here in Ohio, and the other in Alabama. The company has an exceptionally dedicated person in our Alabama office that cared about her job and the company. She was a quality coordinator at the time. I gave her more and more responsibility and training opportunities that culminated in her being promoted into a management level position. Unfortunately, the story does not have a happy ending. Sometime after I retired, her husband shot her and killed her in front of their two children. We lost a good person to gun violence.

I could list many more initiatives that I took on or were asked to take on. I constantly looked for ways to directly lower manufacturing costs or improve manufacturing operations. No one had to tell me to do that, it was an expectation of the position.

Q. What new initiatives would you bring if elected?

Powell: I will continue fighting for life so that every child has the ability to be protected. I will continue fighting for lower taxes. I will continue fighting to remove regulations on small business owners and make Ohio a more free state.

Jones: I would restart the Ohio Incumbent Workforce Training Program, because it was effective in allowing both new and existing employees to upgrade their manufacturing skills as well as potentially increasing their rate of pay. I would also seek state subsidized funding for vocational and technical students of age to work in business that would further their experience in their chosen fields. The subsidy would lower the cost of training for the company, and the student would have an opportunity to join that company or earn money to further their educational objectives.

I would move to strengthen our public schools. By doing the following:

  • Return control of our schools to our local school boards, and administrators.
  • I would end the practice of the school voucher program that will deplete school funding and increase local school and property taxes.
  • I would increase school funding on an equitable level so all schools are treated financially equally.
  • I would seek to revisit the Park Investment case that allowed both business and industrial property taxes to be taxed at residential property rates. The ruling created a massive tax deficit in educational funding.
  • I would permanently move to end the practice of scoring school performance using the current formula. The formula is too complex and in some cases yields arbitrary or irrelevant information.
  • I would move to reduce funding that public schools lose when students are transferred to charter or “community schools”.
  • I want to reduce taxes on working families, and I’m prepared to work on legislation that will accomplish that.

Q. Why should voters select you over your opponent?

Jones: I have a broad range of experience and training that my opponent doesn’t have. When people come to you with a problem or concern, chances are that I can relate to their problem and I know what they are going through. I find solutions to problems — it’s what I do. I am a veteran; I volunteered to serve my country right after graduating from high school, I didn’t wait to be drafted. I served four years of active duty in the United States Coast Guard, and two years of inactive reserve duty receiving my honorable discharge in 1971. I am a community volunteer and served my church in different capacities. I’ve held appointed office for several years becoming the vice president of our township planning commission. I helped review and approve building and construction projects that would position our community in a favorable position for years to come.

Powell: I believe I have the ability to continue being the voice of the people in the legislature. The past few years I put the people first. I work for them, and I look forward to doing that again in the next two years.

Q. What is the biggest challenge currently facing the office, how will you address it?

Powell: Right now, the biggest challenge facing our district is COVID-19 regulations and the governor’s orders. I will continue fighting to get those removed to reopen the state of Ohio. And then the three main issues I see facing our state would be regulations on small businesses and families and nonprofits, taxes and fighting for life.

Jones: One of the biggest challenges we currently face is addressing the issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. How we are going to respond to it in the work place, restaurants, our schools, colleges and universities? At the outset of the pandemic, we did not have access to accurate information. Couple that with the lack of support at the federal level, it substantially hurt our economy and increased the transmission rate of the COVID-19 virus, all the while burdening our health care system almost to the breaking point. Equally egregious was the fact that the state legislature refused to provide any leadership, deciding to adjourn and take their summer vacation instead. The root problem is the apparent lack of public trust from our medical community, as well as our state government. Mixed messaging on the virus contributes to the confusion. Our representative continues to spread inaccurate information with regard to taking the most basic health care precautions to prevent the transmission of the disease. She adheres to the rhetoric of a minority of Republican leaders in the legislature that defies common sense. She shares her opinion that the virus is not dangerous, and publicly solicits corroborating statements from other like-minded officials that further leads people to believe in inaccurate information. Fortunately, our state has established a department that is administered by the Ohio Development Services Agency to help businesses recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. We should continue the program until our economy recovers. We should also look at some of the rules that pertain to how small business owners qualify for grants or loans. Some small business owners are getting forced out of the system that was designed and setup to help them.

Additionally, we need to restore the public trust in our medical profession and start educating people with accurate information on the dangers and transmission of the disease. We know now that businesses need not close, but rather maintain sanitary conditions, along with social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. Further, businesses should act responsibly in that effort, setting the standard for the level of protection implementing prudent protocols sufficient to prevent or stop the spreading of the virus. People also have the responsibility of taking the proper safeguards in maintaining a safe environment while in public places. Prevention and testing are ways that will limit the spread of the infection. Currently, a vaccine to prevent the infection of the COVID-19 virus is not available. From all accounts, one will not be available soon. Wearing a mask limits your exposure quotient and also limits the exposure of the person within your radius of susceptibility. Education is the key to everyone staying healthy.

Q. What makes you qualified for the job?

Jones: I believe that my previous experiences, education and training, managing businesses and manufacturing operation for more than 30 years. Additionally, the years spent working with lawyers, contractors and engineers on large scale development projects related to my service on our township planning commission would qualify my candidacy to hold public office.

Powell: Serving as a state representative for the last two years. What’s most important is that you understand the role of government. You are trustworthy, you’re honest ... and put the needs of the people first. I have listened to our community and fought for them, and I believe that’s what it takes to be a good representative.

Q. What is the most important responsibility for a person representing the 80th District?

Powell: The most important thing is honesty and integrity, and putting the needs of Ohioans first. It’s our job every single day to walk into the Statehouse with the voice of the people in mind, and to do that with honesty and integrity.

Jones: There are several. I believe that a representative should be responsive to those who elected you to office. It is perhaps the most important responsibility that an elected official has. Honesty and integrity are the hallmarks of a good representative. Keeping the public trust is paramount for any officeholder. Keeping constituents informed on issues of bills and resolutions being considered for passage is important. Representatives need to be responsive to comments and consider opposing arguments when formulating ideas and positions regarding pending legislation. Finally, open communications and regular dialog are a prerequisite to an informed electorate. I intend to do all of that if I’m elected to office. I want to represent all of the people that live and work in our district to the best of my ability, like I did working to build a better life for my family and when I served my country, and do it all with honor.

Name: Jena Powell

Age: 26

Hometown: Arcanum

Family: Single, no children

Political Party: Republican

Political Experience: Completing first term representing the 80th District.

Education: Graduated from Liberty University with a Bachelor’s in business

Name: Ted Jones

Age: 74

Hometown: Piqua

Family: Married to Gail Jones for 54 years; yhey have two children and two grandchildren

Political Party: Democratic

Political Experience: Has never been elected to a political office

Education: Earned a two year certificate in industrial management from Penn State University. Also attended Defiance College and the Institute of Applied Management and Law, where he earned several other certificates. Was a member of the Coast Guard during the Vietnam era.

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