2 potential 6th District challengers

A couple of familiar political faces are mulling a run for Congress in 2014.

Former state Rep. Jennifer Garrison of Marietta and state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, both confirmed Tuesday they’re considering seeking the 6th District Congressional seat currently occupied by Republican Bill Johnson, a Marietta resident.

Garrison, an attorney who served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010, said she’s been encouraged by people in recent years to seek a return to political office.

“I’m giving some consideration to running for the 6th Congressional District,” she said, adding she expects to make an announcement in the next couple of weeks.

Last month, Garrison accepted an invitation to meet with members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which provides financial and strategic support for Democratic House candidates. Garrison said one thing she wanted to make clear to them was that she is “much more concerned about representing people versus party.

“I represent the district. I represent the people. I don’t represent a complete platform of the Democratic Party,” Garrison said.

In fact, it was reportedly concerns over some of Garrison’s more conservative stances that contributed to her decision to leave the race for Ohio Secretary of State in 2010.

Area voters learned more about Gentile in 2012 after redistricting put Washington County in the same Senate district for which he was running. The Steubenville resident was appointed to the 30th District seat prior to redistricting after serving a year in the Ohio House.

Gentile said he, too, has been encouraged to run for the Congressional seat but won’t decide until after the state’s biennial budget has been settled.

“I haven’t made a decision yet as I really want to fulfill my obligation at the statehouse,” he said.

Gentile said the focus of his decision-making process would be whether a run would put him in the best position to serve the people of the region.

“My primary interest here is to be the best possible advocate I can be for our region,” he said.

Gentile, who worked for then-Congressman Ted Strickland and served as assistant director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia when Strickland was governor, said he’s always had a passion for public service.

“I’m flattered that people would approach me and even consider me for such an important office,” he said.

Washington County Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Varner called Garrison and Gentile “terrific” and said she’s been pleased with Gentile’s performance as a senator. While the responsiveness and concern he’s demonstrated in that office reflect the kind of representation she’d want in Congress, Varner said she’d like to see him continue in the Senate.

“Personally, just as a voter in Washington County, I would like to see Senator Gentile stay where he is,” she said. “We’ve got excellence, so I want to keep it.”

Varner said she’s among those wanting Garrison to run.

“I believe Jenny Garrison would be an excellent Congressional representative,” she said.

Veto resident Gary Barnitz, 71, said he’s only heard about Gentile recently but has voted for Garrison in the past.

“She seems to be pretty level-headed and consistent,” said Barnitz, a Democrat. “If she stands behind something, she’s behind it all the way. I like people like that.”

Garrison, Gentile or whoever ends up the Democratic nominee for the 6th District seat would likely face incumbent Congressman Bill Johnson in the general election. Johnson campaign spokesman Mark Weaver said Tuesday the congressman probably will seek a third term.

“We’ve not made an announcement yet, but it’s a fairly safe bet,” Weaver said.

As for speculation about a potential opponent, Weaver said Johnson is more focused on the job he has to do in Washington.

Johnson was first elected in 2010, unseating Democratic incumbent Charlie Wilson, who he also beat in a rematch in 2012. Wilson, who passed away earlier this year from complications following a stroke, was a political mentor of Garrison’s.

Barlow Township resident Barb Arnold, a registered Republican, said she isn’t committed to voting for Johnson again but would need to learn more about Gentile or Garrison before deciding if she would support one of them.

“I don’t care if they’re Republican or Democrat,” she said. “As far as we’re concerned, everything has to do with morals and values and Christianity.”