Experience, fiscal responsibility, the drug epidemic, and pending sales tax legislation dominated the discussion today at the Clinton County Republican Party’s County Commissioner Forum. Seven candidates, five for one seat and two vying for another, answered questions from audience members and others about a variety of issues.
Kerry Steed, an incumbent running against James Fife in the primary, was the first candidate to give his opening statement. He focused on his experience as county commissioner, saying he was “the only one with a proven track record of making difficult decisions as a commissioner.” Steed was also able to discuss the creation of an endowed fund for the money from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital.
After Steed, three candidates for the open commissioner seat were up for their opening statements. Scott Holmer told the crowd that he used his late mother-in-law, Darlene Myers, as a role model as he works to help the community. Holmer then discussed his experience as a banker and non-profit leader as examples of his experience with fiscal responsibility as well as community service. Mike McCarty touched on some of the same subjects as Holmer, emphasizing his experience in public and community service with organizations such as the Clinton-Massie School Board and the Clinton County Foundation. According to McCarty, his love for serving others is a driving force behind wanting to be commissioner. He ended his opening statement with a call for addressing the drug issue and workforce development issues in the county.
Greg Grove was next, and his opening statement was more generally focused. He described himself not as a politician, but as a “patriot.” He emphasized his belief in lower taxes and small government, and that governments should spend within their means. James Fife, who is taking on Kerry Steed in the primary, started his opening statement by underlining his lifelong residency in Clinton County. Fife stressed his experience with local government as a Union Township Trustee, as well as his business experience as an administrator with the Ohio Department of Transportation. He stated that he believes it is important to protect taxpayer money, and that he would do so by moving the county to a zero based budgeting system. This plan drew a small reaction from the crowd.
After Fife, two more candidates running for the open seat finished out the opening statements. Brenda Woods spoke to her experience as clerk of commissioners and fiscal officer of Wayne Township as important experiences that would help her as commissioner. She emphasized that a “commissioner is elected to serve” and should focus on fiscal responsibility and accountability to taxpayers. Terry Habermehl talked about his family and their importance in his life as well as his dedication to service. He served in the military and says that the choice to do so was driven by the desire to serve others. Additionally, Habermehl claimed that his experience as a responsible Clinton County Auditor would make him a suitable candidate for the County Commissioner position.
Following the opening statements, the candidates were asked several questions. The first was a question on what they believed was the most important issue in Clinton County. Many candidates focused on fiscal responsibility, but Scott Holmer added that he believed it was most important to keep a safe community. Mike McCarty gave the opinion that the county should be looking at workforce development and the drug issue, insisting that those problems go hand-in-hand.
The next question was about what makes the candidates most qualified. Grove answered first, stressing his experience as a leader making difficult decisions. Steed, Fife, Habermehl, and Woods all focused on their experience working in their respective areas of government, especially as it concerns budgeting. Holmer and McCarty talked about their experience in the private sector as well as with non-profits.
Following that question, candidates were asked about difficult decisions affecting someone that worked for you. This was perhaps the weakest section for all candidates, with many giving answers that didn’t really answer the question. The star of this section was Holmer, who had perhaps the line of the morning when he said “a slow no is worse than a quick no,” meaning that it is important to be decisive and straightforward when making a tough decision or giving someone bad news.
The third question saw a question about the drug epidemic in Clinton County. The candidates focused on coordinated efforts and collaboration, with Woods, McCarty, and Steed focusing on education. One issue that could come up for some candidates is their support for the DARE Program, which is a much maligned program among researchers due to growing research about its ineffectiveness. Holmer said that the county should emphasize support for Health First Clinton County, for which he serves on the board, as a way to continue to grow a group that has been at the forefront of much of the public health discussion in Wilmington.
Finally, two of the last three questions were about the potential 0.5 percent sales tax rolloff for the county, an issue which has been supported by the current county commissioners. All of the candidates emphasized their belief in lower taxes, but most said that they needed to do more research. During this question, Habermehl was able to show off his experience as auditor by noting that many of the candidates did not know the numbers that were being put before him, but that he had studied it extensively.
The candidates’ closing remarks were shorter than their opening remarks, but very similar. Steed reminded voters that they voted for him overwhelmingly four years ago, and that he had followed through on campaign promises. Holmer and Woods both emphasized that they would be full-time, engaged commissioners. McCarty told those in the audience that he loves to serve and loves to help people. Grove boiled his campaign down to leadership and trust, with those being important facets of an effective commissioner.Fife told the audience that he wanted to develop a team atmosphere, where voices are heard through the county. Habermehl closed with a reminder of his success in instituting changes and making tough decisions as Clinton County Auditor shows that he is ready for the job.
This forum showed once again that from an ideological standpoint that there is not a significant difference between any of the candidates. The focus on fiscal responsibility and the drug issue will certainly remain a focus for the next month of the primary race. Each of the candidates tried to emphasize how their own life experiences make them the best candidate for the position. I wonder if this will be a deciding factor for voters. If the candidates continue to speak to non-specific plans, they will likely have to bank on the tried and true method of door-to-door campaining to encourage Clinton County residents to vote for them.