32nd Senate race has no incumbent

Voters in the 32nd Ohio State Senate District have a choice between two men who both named aging infrastructure as one of their top priorities.

Sean O’Brien’s third term as a Democrat in the Ohio House of Representatives will end this year and he said he is banking on a win in the state Senate to keep working on issues important to the area’s constituents.

Rob Allen, a Republican living in Chardon, said it is time for voters to give up on Democrats who haven’t done enough to ensure the district’s waterlines, sewer lines, roads and Internet access functions in a way that draws in businesses.

Incumbent Democrat Sen. Capri S. Cafaro is barred from running for the seat she will hold until the end of the year because of term limits. The district encompasses Trumbull County and parts of Ashtabula and Geauga counties.

Allen said the district’s prior senators haven’t done enough to ensure the tax dollars rural residents pay will go to improving where they live but instead go to Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

“The three C’s,” O’Brien echoed.

Both men said they believe the next senator has to fight to bring dollars to the district.

O’Brien said he is well positioned to do so because of his experience in the Ohio House doing just that. He touted his successful campaign to end the septic mandates in Trumbull County and his work to secure the largest grant of its kind for the Blueprint to Prosperity Waterline Initiative, which is extending waterlines from Braceville to rural Farmington and Southington.

O’Brien said he is known for working well with both parties in the House.

“I am one of the few to cross the aisle here,” O’Brien said. “I look at the issues from a district standpoint, not from a party standpoint.”

Allen said there are parts of Ashtabula County that have no access to the Internet, which not only affects the everyday lives of residents and their business ventures, but also limits new development.

“Over the last 40 years, Democrats have repeatedly ignored infrastructure, that practice has hurt the communities in the district and keeps jobs out of these smaller, rural areas. Businesses need solid infrastructure if they are going to invest in the community,” Allen said. “It is 2016. This a 1980s problem that should have already been dealt with.”

And, Allen said too many regulations double down on local chances to expand the economy.

“That is not business friendly, and we have to change that,” he said.

Working as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army in the 1980s and then working in security at universities in Virginia and North Carolina before taking a security position at Kent State University taught Allen how to work with multiple agencies and solve problems expanding multiple jurisdictions, Allen said.

Allen currently trains college students on how to handle an active shooter situation in their school and has never run for a public office, though he has served a central committee member. He said good legislators know how to bring the relevant players to the table, and how to “pull everyone together to get a problem solved.”

The state’s $2 billion rainy day fund shouldn’t be held and built up indefinitely, both agreed, but disagreed on how the surplus should be handled.

O’Brien said as senator, he would fight to bring those surplus dollars to the district, and to local governments because, “it’s a rainy day fund, and it is raining in these communities.”

“The state is supposed to take the money and then send it back, but they have cut back so significantly on funds to local governments, it’s too much,” O’Brien said. “Some of that is sent back in grants and other projects, but it isn’t going into the general funds, isn’t going to the police and fire departments.”

Allen said he wants to see people pay most of their taxes locally, not to the state.

“We should be taxing local so we can spend local, if not, we are losing out, it doesn’t benefit us. The burden needs to shift, and if people realize it, if they don’t have to send their money to Columbus, I think they will feel better about voting for local levies,” Allen said.

Some of those tax dollars should be spent to curb the relentless stranglehold the opioid epidemic has on the district, both agreed.

Coming from a law enforcement background, Allen said the state “won’t arrest its way out of the problem” but he said does believe pairing treatment with justice centers could help.

He proposed replacing the aging Ashtabula County Jail with a facility that is attached to a treatment facility. Allowing other residents to use their insurance at the center to help it financially, and directing those with substance use problems to the facility as soon as they are apprehended, could lead users away from addiction and the crimes that sometimes accompany it, Allen said. With programs that focus on re-entry and education for younger Ohioans, Allen said he thinks he can help build a coalition that works.

O’Brien also said treatment and education are paramount and would like to see more treatment options in the district, along with grant programs that give counties the freedom to design programs that work.

Diverting state funds to treatment programs will end up saving the state money in the long run, O’Brien said. Drug dealers also should be subjected to harsh penalties and the state should focus on societal remedies like education, O’Brien said.

The general election is Nov. 8 and early voting begins Oct. 12.

rfox@tribtoday.com