MINSTER — Residents of Auglaize, Mercer and Shelby counties had the opportunity to hear from three Republican candidates for office during the Ohio Farm Bureau’s Candidate Forum, Thursday, March 8, at the Knights of Columbus hall in Minster.
About 40 people attended.
Aaron Heilers (R-Anna), Susan Manchester (R-Waynesfield) and Travis Faber (R-Celina) were present and will face off in the May primary for the Republican spot in the 2018 general election, at which time they will be up against unopposed Democratic candidate Joe Monbeck for the District 84 seat of the Ohio House of Representatives.
The candidates were posed five questions throughout the hour and 15 minute forum and given three minutes, respectively, to answer each. The questions had been prepared beforehand by members of the Auglaize, Mercer and Shelby County farm bureaus based on topics that are considered pertinent to residents throughout these counties.
Topics included regulatory reform, the opioid crisis and local government funds.
On the topic of regulatory reform, moderator Tony Seeger, director of state policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau, asked the candidates their thoughts on ways to make sure “ever-growing” regulations within agriculture do not adversely affect a farm’s ability to operate productively.
Manchester was first to answer and began by stating, “I don’t think it’s the state’s job to regulate ourselves out of a problem, especially when it comes to farming.”
Manchester continued by saying regulations can be costly to farmers and stressed that it is unfair for the state to mandate the ways in which a farmer runs a farm without giving him any ability to do things differently.
“I think it’s the state’s job to get government out of your way,” she said.
Faber said the first step would be to get farmers involved in creating the regulations or “drawing back” any of the current regulations. He then emphasized the importance of the Ohio Farm Bureau’s advocating on behalf of farmers in the arena of lawmaking and regulation-drafting.
“At the end of the day, farmers know how to farm better than anybody else, especially better than the people in Columbus or the people in D.C.,” he said.
Heilers commented on the fact that regulations can often lead to the demise of small farms.
“You either have to get bigger to comply with those regulations, or you go out of business,” he said.
Heilers currently works as project manager for the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network and said one of his jobs in this position is to work with policy-makers and discuss the effects regulations have on farms.
He said these policy-makers are often out of touch with the ways in which a farm operates, with very little knowledge of what farmers do on a day-to-day basis.
On the topic of Ohio’s opioid crisis, Seeger asked the candidates whether or not they feel the state is doing enough to help counties that are dealing with the challenging issue.
Faber began by saying he does not believe states are doing enough and thinks more could and should be done in terms of policing and treatment.
Faber then spoke about Mercer County’s drug court diversion program, which allows those charged with felony opiate possession, who wish to be rehabilitated, to complete the program in order to get the felony removed from their records.
According to Faber, the diversion program stipulations are unique to each offender, but include reporting to the judge, attending counseling and demonstrating a will to recover from opioid dependence. This allows offenders the opportunity to become productive members of society after a felony conviction.
Heilers began his answer by stating, “Unfortunately, I don’t think this a problem that the state is going to be able to fund their way out of.”
He would like to shift focus a bit toward the reason people are getting hooked in the first place. Heilers pointed out that people who are less likely to get addicted to drugs usually have four things in their lives: “good faith, good family, community and meaningful work.”
“Government can’t solve this problem alone,” he said. “Society has to take a look at itself and start to look at those four areas … Let’s try to keep people from getting addicted in the first place.”
Manchester said that during her time going door-to-door throughout her campaign, she has asked what people feel is the number one issue facing Ohio, and “by and large, the response is the opiate epidemic.”
“It is crushing our small communities,” she said. “It is crushing our potential as a state.”
Manchester stressed that she does not believe the answer lies in creating a state-wide program to address this issue, but in providing adequate funding to those already working at the county and local levels, who “know exactly how to treat addicts and just need the resources to be able to do so.”
The candidates were also asked if they have a solution to the ever-mounting pressure being applied to local governments by the loss of local government funding from the state budget.
Manchester began by stating that each local elected official she has spoken with has seen significant cuts in local budgets.
In terms of restoring the lacking funds, she said, “If we take a look at the bureaucracy in our state government, there are so many cuts that could be made. I would personally like to take that on and just see how much we could cut the fat so that the people on the local level can get what is rightfully theirs.”
Faber said little discretionary spending is left in the state budget after the funding of its most expensive programs: Medicaid, prisons and education. Just under 1 percent of the state’s overall budget goes toward local government funding.
Faber said money can be saved on the state level by cutting the inefficiency and waste that occurs on “every single level of government.”
Heilers began his response by stating, “If you hear a politician say they have a solution to a problem, you should run the other way.”
Contrary to the ideas stated by Manchester and Faber to “cut waste,” Heilers said the solution is not that simple. He pointed out that even if cuts were made, the money saved would not necessarily go toward local governments and may “get chewed up by some other politician with another pet project.”
Instead, Heilers believes the answer lies in being an advocate in Columbus for local elected officials, who often have their own ideas about workable solutions, but who are unable to initiate the necessary change on the state level.
The candidates also answered questions about water quality, ballot initiatives and beginning farmers.
The primary election will take place May 8, and the general election will be Nov. 6. The winner will replace current Ohio State representative of District 84, Keith Faber (R-Celina).
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.