Sixteen candidates for local, state and federal offices fielded a variety of questions Friday at the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce's Meet the Candidates and Legislative Lunch event.
The growing oil and natural gas boom in the region was a topic discussed by individuals running for Washington County Commission, the Ohio General Assembly and Congress, while Sheriff Larry Mincks and independent challenger Chris Forshey continued to spar over the department's hiring practices, as they did at a televised forum Thursday.
"This department is lacking in those hiring processes, as is evidenced by some of the employees that they have now," Forshey said, saying some current workers have criminal backgrounds.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
State Rep. Debbie Phillips, front left, and Sen. Lou Gentile, both Democrats, listen during a Meet the Candidates event at the Marietta Country Club Friday, along with Republican candidates Mark Kerenyi, back, second from right, running for Common Pleas court judge and David White, running for county commissioner.
Mincks chastised Forshey for making "slanderous remarks without backing up who he's talking about."
"We have an excellent group of employees working here. I'm proud of every one of them," he said.
Forshey declined to name the employees to which he was referring, and Mincks said he was not sure who the former deputy and Pataskala police chief was talking about.
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"Whenever he comes up with a name, I'll be more than happy to respond," Mincks said afterward.
The four candidates running for two county commission spots and six individuals seeking three seats in the General Assembly were asked their opinions on an increase in the severance tax Gov. John Kasich has proposed on oil and natural gas extracted from deep shale formations as horizontal hydraulic fracturing expands in the state.
Shane Thompson, a St. Clairsville Republican running for the 30th District Senate seat, said he appreciated the governor's goal of using the severance tax revenue to reduce income taxes but felt the risk was to competitiveness was too great. His opponent, Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said the tax would affect property owners as well as businesses and divert resources from the region to be dispersed around Ohio.
"We need to find a way to keep that wealth here in our part of the state," he said.
State Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, and Charlie Daniels, the St. Clairsville Democrat running against him in the 95th House District, said they opposed the tax on similar grounds to their Senate race counterparts.
State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, said a severance tax could help offset local funding cuts made at the state level.
"I think that as long as what we're talking about is as low as or lower than what's in place in the other oil and gas-producing states, then we have an opportunity," she said.
Her opponent, Republican Charles Richter of Little Hocking, said he opposes the tax, adding that jobs the industry creates will expand the state's tax base.
"As everybody starts to become employed, it's going to bring the water up," he said
Multiple candidates also pointed to the shale boom as a means to draw the attention of state leaders when asked how they would keep the region from being overlooked.
"We need to parlay that into compensation from Columbus," Daniels said.
Thompson said that attention might not be the best thing, referring again to the severance tax.
"If you're going to ignore us, keep ignoring us, because we have economic opportunity right now," he said.
County commission candidate Peg Littler, a Democrat, said she didn't necessarily favor a severance tax but thought there should be some way to offset the cost of activities like water testing that would be necessitated by the oil and gas industry activity.
"I don't want the extra expense to be put on the landowner or the small businessperson," she said.
Littler mentioned a severance tax on larger companies rather than small, local companies and individual landowners, a position incumbent Commissioner Cora Marshall, a fellow Democrat, discussed during Thursday's candidate forums at Marietta College. Republican David White, running against Littler, said he opposes any severance tax, but especially disagrees with the concept of a tiered one.
"If there were to be one, it would have to be universal," he said.
Marshall and Republican challenger Ron Feathers were asked if they supported leasing the mineral rights to land the county owns around the Washington County Home.
"Absolutely," Feathers said. "I don't see this really as a tough choice, but (I favor) keeping it open to the public and (their) input."
Marshall said it is worth considering, but what the land is used for now and what it might be used for if leased must be taken into account.
"We need to have a lease that is taking into consideration that we are providing a place for our less fortunate," she said.
U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, had the spotlight to himself for a few minutes, answering questions posed by chamber President Colleen Cook with his opponent, Democrat Charlie Wilson, running late. Wilson arrived in time to field three questions, with both candidates agreeing on topics related to funding the Appalachian Regional Commission and pursuing traditional energy sources along with wind and solar.
When asked about the role of the federal government in regulating the coal industry, Wilson said federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations shouldn't stifle the industry, then quipped that he represented coal miners while Johnson represented coal company owners. Johnson responded by criticizing Wilson for never making a floor speech or contacting federal agencies to defend Ohio's coal industry from burdensome regulations when Wilson was in Congress.
Common Pleas Court judge candidates Randy Burnworth, a Democrat, and Mark Kerenyi, a Republican, answered questions about their experience and judicial philosophies as well.
Chamber member Larry Schwendeman said he found the event useful.
"Each (candidate) discussed their differences, and I think spelled out a lot of things that really needed to be spelled out," he said.