Political rookies face off in Democratic primary
64th state House District up for grabs with incumbent out due to term limits
Two political newcomers are seeking the Democratic nomination for the 64th Ohio House District seat in the Aug. 2 primary with the winner facing Republican Nick Santucci in the general election.
Bria Bennett of Warren, operations manger for Hire Logic, and Vincent Peterson II of Howland, constituent and community affairs liaison for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, are the Democratic candidates for the seat.
The new 64th House District includes all of Warren, Girard, Liberty, Niles, Hubbard, Vienna, Howland, McDonald and Weathersfield. It favors Democrats by almost 10 percent based on the last decade of statewide election voting trends.
The current 64th District is represented by Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren, who cannot seek re-election because of the state’s term-limits law.
Santucci, of Howland, is running unopposed in the Republican primary. Like Bennett and Peterson, Santucci never has sought public office before this.
Also, independent candidates can file by Aug. 1, the day before the primary, to run in the Nov. 8 general election.
The primary for state legislative candidates initially was scheduled for May 3, but the Ohio Supreme Court ruled five times that maps approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission were unconstitutional because they unfairly favored Republicans. That caused the primary to be delayed.
A federal court announced April 20, however, it planned to implement the third set of maps — rejected by the state court — no later than May 28 if the state couldn’t approve constitutional one. That left no incentive for the redistricting commission members to make changes. The federal court imposed the third set of maps May 27 and put them in effect for only this election.
Peterson has served as a constituent and community affairs liaison for Ryan, D-Howland, since May 2017, and spent almost four years before that as a state parole officer.
“A state representative seat would be a phenomenal way to give back to this community,” Peterson said. “There is opportunity (in Columbus) to do a lot of good work locally and to focus money back on the Valley, and to get away from politics that will have us go down to the Statehouse and people try to pass legislation that has nothing to do with putting food on people’s tables or improving the educational system or affecting infrastructure. We have to get back to the basics of what really matters to people and not all the divisive rhetoric.”
Peterson said his top three priorities are education reform, infrastructure improvements and economic development as they are needed “if we want to move this Valley forward.”
Regarding education, Peterson said training and vocational classes “that fit the new wave of jobs” need to be taught. That includes involving building trades that offer pre-apprenticeship programs and advanced classes “that will give kids a leg up if they choose college.”
Money is needed for repairing roads, bridges and resolving flooding issues, he said.
“A better appearance will look better to interested businesses thinking about locating here and will give residents more pride about their home,” Peterson said.
He added that economic development is “going to be key to our growth and retainment of our talent. We need to work to land businesses that pay well, believe in fair labor practices and will work to give our citizens a true livable wage.”
Bennett has worked as operations manager for Hire Logic, a video interviewing software system company, since March 2021. Before that, she was a customer success project manager for Perishable Shipping Solutions in Youngstown. In 2016, she was the deputy campaign manager for Cynthia Rice’s unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court and a field organizer for the Ohio Democratic Party.
“I have experience,” Bennett said. “I’ve worked campaigns at the local level, at the state level and at the federal level. I’ve been doing that literally since I had a job. My first job was working with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, where we talked about health equities and where I discovered we have food deserts across Trumbull County.”
Her top priorities are economic growth and business opportunities, public health reform and ensuring fair elections.
Bennett said she wants to bring quality jobs and business opportunities to Trumbull County.
“If we want the Valley to be ready for the jobs of the future, we must start preparing our workforce and infrastructure now,” she said. “This should begin with educating our local high school and college graduates about the opportunities that exist.”
Regarding public health, Bennett said work has to be done to improve its quality before it hits a crisis level.
One option is to incentivize companies that hire caregivers, state-tested nurse aides and home health aides to do so at livable wages and regulate their workloads. Another is to “tackle the disparities” in infant mortality rates among women of color by professionalizing doulas, midwives and other perinatal support.
Bennett, who was a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits filed against the Ohio Redistricting Commission over the state legislative maps, said if elected she plans “to push back the Republican attacks on voting rights.”
That includes supporting efforts to expand voting rights by sponsoring legislation allowing people to register to vote and vote on the same day. Republicans, who control state government, eliminated a week of permitting that to happen in 2014.