O’Brien v. O’Brien
Incumbent faces ex-Ashtabula County auditor in race for Senate 32nd District
WARREN — State Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, said his biggest attribute is his ability to work with Republicans to get things done in the Legislature.
His opponent, Republican Sandra O’Brien of Lenox Township, said the Ohio Senate 32nd District largely is ignored because it’s represented by a Democrat when the GOP has an overwhelming majority in the Senate.
“When we keep sending legislators from the minority party, they do not have a seat at the table when financial decisions are made,” Sandra O’Brien said.
But the incumbent said not only does he have a good relationship with Senate Republicans, but he’s been the go-to Democrat when Republicans need co-sponsorship for legislation and has a seat at the table, pointing to his ties to Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina.
“I am able to transcend party politics,” he said. “I’ve been able to do that, and I’m proud of it. We need to do what’s best for the state. My opponent doesn’t understand I’ve been able to do this or doesn’t want to admit to it.”
Sean O’Brien is co-sponsoring some of the higher-profile bills in the Senate with Republicans, including a repeal of House Bill 6 — the controversial law that bailed out two nuclear power plants and is part of a federal political corruption investigation — and a bill to strengthen laws about using smartphones and other wireless devices while driving.
The Senate approved a bill in July that O’Brien co-sponsored with a Republican to reclassify most nonviolent drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
Sandra O’Brien said her main reason for running is to give the district better representation and a voice in the Senate.
“What do you have to lose by sending a Republican member to the Senate?” she said. “I’m running because I’m really tired of my Senate district being neglected and ignored.”
She doesn’t have any specific criticisms about the incumbent except that he’s not a Republican and because of that can’t get things done.
The district includes all of Trumbull and Ashtabula counties and a portion of Geauga County. The job pays $63,007 annually.
Sean O’Brien was elected to the Senate four years ago after serving three terms in the Ohio House.
Sandra O’Brien served 12 years as Ashtabula County auditor, ending in 2006. She unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer in 2006 and 2018 and for secretary of state in 2010.
She also was a public school teacher from 1985 to 1994 and a member of the adjunct faculty at Lakeland Community College from 1984 to 2012.
SANDRA O’BRIEN PRIORITIES
“I’ve learned to pick my battles,” she said. “I’ve learned to articulate my positions.”
One of her top priorities is making sure the district gets its fair share of state funding, particularly from the transportation budget.
That budget distributes gas taxes to the state’s 88 counties equally and “doesn’t help the district disproportionately affected by harsh winters,” O’Brien said.
She wants to work out a formula to help districts, such as the 32nd, “get a little more funding.”
As a former Ashtabula County auditor, O’Brien said: “I understand government finances. Going to the General Assembly, it’s just larger numbers. There won’t be a learning curve.”
She said she also wants to lower or eliminate the state’s commercial activity tax, which she said is “anti-growth” as it “penalizes all economic activity.”
O’Brien wants the state to take over the Lodge at Geneva on the Lake, the only lodge funded by a county.
“The state should take over the payments for the lodge,” she said.
O’Brien said she’d also support building a lodge at Mosquito Lake.
Regarding economic development, O’Brien said that “is done by private enterprise” and “I don’t believe government creates jobs.”
The role of government, she said, is what President Donald Trump has done: lowering taxes and reducing regulations.
“Then, get out of the way and let the free market grow,” she said.
SEAN O’BRIEN PRIORITIES
Sean O’Brien said his top priority is economic development and job creation.
“We’re making our area the Voltage Valley,” he said.
O’Brien said his bipartisan approach “has enabled me to help bring in major projects” such as Lordstown Motors Corp., TJX HomeGoods distribution center and the General Motors / LG Chem battery-cell plant.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” he said.
The state’s role in job creating is to provide tax credits to companies coming to Ohio, which O’Brien said he’s worked hard to accomplish.
He also supports a plan to improve infrastructure.
“We have ignored our roads and especially our bridges for too long and it’s time we start putting money back into improving them,” O’Brien said. “I will work across the aisle to see that our roads and bridges get the attention and funding needed to bring them up to par.”
The gas tax has helped somewhat with infrastructure, but not enough, he said.
O’Brien said one possible way to raise funds for it is through an increased vehicular registration fee.
“We need to study and look at it,” he said.
Another priority for O’Brien is equitable funding for schools.
“I have been fighting to keep the flow of taxpayers’ dollars from going to for-profit charter schools that have very little oversight or accountability and put that money into upgrading our public school systems.”