Nearly a quarter of a million dollars has been spent on the Republican primary in Ohio’s 80th state House district in Miami and Darke counties, making it the most expensive statehouse primary in the region for Tuesday’s election.
Current state Rep. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, is leaving the seat to run for the state Senate.
The job pays $60,584 annually, but the four candidates — George Lovett, John “Bud” O’Brien, Jena Powell and J.D. Winteregg — have spent $220,061 on the race so far. Nearly half of that was spent by Lovett alone.
VOTERS GUIDE: Learn more about the candidates and issues on the May 8 ballotThe money is flowing, said University of Dayton political scientist Chris Devine, because with an open seat in a strongly Republican district, candidates know a win on Tuesday almost certainly means a win in November.
The only Democrat is write-candidate Scott Zimmerman of Troy.
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Who has the money?
According to just released campaign finance reports, Lovett of Tipp City, loaned $99,400 to his campaign and collected $5,025 in contributions. He spent the most of any candidate: $103,807.
Powell of Arcanum took in the most contributions: $70,193. She loaned herself $15,000 and spent $54,218.
O’Brien of Monroe Twp. received $25,410 and spent $37,638, while Winteregg of Troy received $17,797 and loaned himself $5,500. Winteregg spent $$24,398.
Who are the candidates?
Lovett, 55, is a former councilman and mayor in Tipp City. He said his years of public service, including serving on the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health, are invaluable. “Serving in the state legislature would be a continuation of those efforts,” he said.
Lovett pointed to the opioid crisis as the top issue facing the legislature. “We are losing 14 Ohioans every day to drug overdoses. Protecting life, preserving our Second Amendment rights, and working hard to make government smaller and bring our tax bills down are important,” he said, “but trying to stop these deaths needs to be our top priority.”
The One Wellness Place initiative being pursued by the Tri-County Board — where mental health, addictions treatment providers and support services are housed in a single facility — could serve as a model statewide, according to Lovett. “This will put under one roof the services that addicts need and is projected to save over $200,000 a year in operating costs,” he said. Money is being raised for the facility, which would be located on County Road 25-A between Troy and Piqua.
O’Brien, 55, is in his third term as a Miami County commissioner and previously served 11 years as the county recorder.
“I believe I am ready to go to Columbus and be an effective voice,” he said.
“As a former business owner, I know what government regulations and red tape do to the bottom line. As a county commissioner, I know how to develop and balance a budget in good times and bad without raising taxes and how to make government more efficient,” O’Brien said. As the husband of a public school teacher and father of three grown children, he said he’s seen many changes in education in the last 30 years.
“I have the resources and contacts to improve our schools’ ability to educate,” he said.
O’Brien identified the economy as the legislature’s top issue. “We need to make Ohio more competitive by offering lower taxes, eliminate job killing regulations, right to work legislation needs to be passed or put on the ballot, reform our antiquated worker’s compensation system and make significant improvements in workforce development so we can fill our current open positions and add to our available workforce,” he said.
Powell, 24, is making her first bid for an elected office, a factor she believes is a plus.
“Our district desperately needs to dream again; dream of what we can be if we come together and fight for the ‘American Dream,’” she said. “I believe that having never sought or been elected to public office gives me a unique outsider perspective, which aids in this fight.”
The top issue facing the legislature, she said, is the need to enact legislation “that protects life from conception to natural death.” Other important issues are legislation to protect religious liberty, freedom and conscience, she said.
On the economy, she said: “We need to reduce the regulatory and tax burden that is strangling opportunity and placing an enormous economic burden on the businesses and citizens of Darke and Miami counties.”
She said changes are needed so young people don’t leave the area to pursue economic opportunities elsewhere. “I want a future where high school graduates know that they can build the lives they want right here in Miami and Darke counties,” she said.
Winteregg, 36, said new blood is needed in Columbus.
“I believe my experiences makes me the most qualified person for this position. I’m a conservative who’s a former teacher, who works in agriculture and who works in a small business. I’m a Miami County Farm Bureau trustee, and on its statewide advisory board for workforce development and education,” he said. “Through farm bureau, I’ve been able to advocate for all of these issues important to our district, and I’ve been able to spend time getting to know a number of our legislators through this process. “
The top issue facing the legislature is Medicaid expansion, which he says he would eliminate.
He also advocates reforming education, and says he can bring some expertise to that issue. “We have politicians making educational decisions who have no idea what life in a classroom is like,” he said. “I want to bring my experience to fight to eliminate the testing culture, reform funding and enable local school districts to make decisions based on what is best for the students’ growth and development, because that’s where the focus needs to be.”
Speaker fight plays role
Ohio House races in Republican primaries are complicated this year by a contentious intra-party fight over who will be the next GOP speaker.
Incumbent Republicans Ryan Smith of Bidwell and Larry Householder of Glenford are both running candidates who have pledged to back them as the next speaker. In the GOP race in the 80th House district, Householder is backing Powell while Smith is backing O’Brien, according to Ballotpedia.
Speakers have enormous power in Ohio’s state government structure, and can often determine which bills get heard and which ones don’t.
Householder, who previously served as House speaker, spent more than $500,000 in his own primary against challenger Kevin Black, who reported spending just $3,000, according to pre-primary campaign finance reports. Householder has been running TV ads for weeks and is fending off attacks financed by super PACs.