Conversations with Columbus seem to be one-sided


Published Feb. 2, 2013, in The Akron Beacon Journal (Link)

People who feel ignored by their legislators in Columbus might not be overreacting.

Editors at The Akron Beacon Journal and The Vindicator in Youngstown asked The News Outlet to create a feature called, “Columbus Conversations.” Each month, the editors and the student reporters would devise a question or two and The News Outlet would get the answers from every state senator and representative.

Easy right? Not so much.

Emails with the first two questions were sent to Ohio’s state representatives on Dec. 10 and state senators on Dec. 11.

There were a few responses, mainly automatic ones citing a large volume of emails and a promise to respond in a timely manner. All were from state senators.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, editors wanted to know what Columbus lawmakers could do to prevent such a tragedy in Ohio.

That question was sent by email Dec. 17 with a reminder email sent the next day.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33rd, the assistant minority leader, responded to the Sandy Hook question.

Other than that – crickets.

By Jan. 21, the staff at the News Outlet resorted to sending out old-fashioned letters and calling every single legislative aide.

That’s when we learned something interesting. Those emails we had sent ended up in a spam folder.

“If we get too many emails it will push them to spam,” said Jennifer Moore, assistant director of communications for the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus. “(During) Senate Bill 5, we received so many emails, some made it through and some went to spam. It’s protecting the computer from harm.”

Moore said the legislature’s tech department had taken care of the issue and The News Outlet emails were no longer to be treated as spam.

However, this didn’t seem to help generate responses from the Columbus crew.

Joshua Eck, deputy press secretary for the Ohio Senate majority, said, “I’ve seen one of your emails. I can’t force anyone to respond.”

Of the 132 state legislators, only three responded by the deadline: Schiavoni; Rep. Nick Barborak, D-5th; and Sen. Nina Turner, D-25th, the minority whip. We did receive two responses after the deadline: Rep. Mike Curtin, D-17th, on Jan. 29, and Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-13th, on Jan. 31.

Following are the questions, their answers and the list state legislators who did not respond.

The Questions

A). What is the most important thing you would like to see accomplished by the legislature in 2013 that will make Ohio a better place.

B). As the state’s rainy day fund grows, what are your thoughts about the excess revenues? For example, should the fund and excess revenues be used to replenish accounts that were cut in the last budget process? Or do you perhaps favor a tax reduction for a particular group? Or some other plan?

C). In light of the Dec. 14 shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., what legislative action, if any, should Ohio lawmakers take? Why/why not?

The Answers 

State Rep. Nick Barborak, D-5th

A). The most important thing that can be accomplished by the legislature is to enact policies that will foster an environment in which businesses will succeed while meeting the needs of our communities, schools, and workers.

B). We must restore funding to those entities that faced harsh cuts under the previous budget, such as communities and schools.

C). I believe that access to mental health care is the best way to prevent future tragedies like the Sandy Hook shootings.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33th, assistant minority leader

A). The most important thing this year will be the state budget. I see great importance in passing a budget that finds a fair and constitutional funding formula for public education, provides our local governments with the tools to keep our communities safe and clean, allows for an expansion of Medicaid to provide health coverage for the most vulnerable Ohioans, and incentivizes economic growth and job creation throughout the state.

B). Excess revenues for the rainy day fund should be redirected to help alleviate the deep cuts made to local government and public education funding in the last General Assembly. In this past election, Ohio saw a record number of levies and tax increases on the local level. While I believe that we need to live within our means, having an excess in the rainy day fund does no good when we could avoid raising taxes on the lower levels of government.

C). The record amount of public shootings we saw in 2012 demonstrates that we need to take a pragmatic approach in the legislature on how to prevent school violence in our communities. Currently, I am focused on collaborating with local safety officials, teachers and administrators, and other leaders throughout my district to develop ideas that I can take to Columbus and develop into potential legislation.

State Sen. Nina Turner, D-25th, minority whip

A.) It is critically important that the legislature continue the work that began in 2012 on reforming Ohio’s flawed redistricting process. The Senate passed a reasonable, bi-partisan plan that could serve as an excellent starting point in the new General Assembly. Having fairer districts means that the people of Ohio will be more accurately represented in their government. That will result in policies that are more reflective of the views of Ohioans.”

B). The first point to keep in mind about the rainy day fund is that its growth is not necessarily due to an improving economy and the subsequent increased tax revenues. It comes mostly from the pass-the-buck budgeting of HB 153, which passed the tough fiscal decisions off to local governments, school districts, and, ultimately local taxpayers.

C). The second point to remember is that for too many Ohio families, the economic storm never passed. We do need to be fiscally responsible and prepare for the tough times that will inevitably come again, but we should also be examining ways to make targeted investments that will create jobs, strengthen communities, and make our state prosperous for all of its people.”

It is deeply unfortunate that it takes tragedies like Newtown and Aurora to focus our society’s attention on these very real – and ongoing – challenges. Nevertheless, we cannot stand by and allow these horrible acts, and ever-present urban gun violence to continue. The Second Amendment and the right to bear arms cannot be held above the right of a young student to grow into an adult. The legislature needs to work to strengthen the provision of mental healthcare, create a better system of background checks, and find ways to keep the hundreds of millions of firearms in circulation out of dangerous hands.

If an incident reaches the point at which we must meet violence with violence we have already failed. The emphasis needs to be on prevention–without sparking a domestic arms race.

State Rep. Mike Curtin, D-17th 

A). A true spirit of bipartisanship in the Ohio General Assembly as it grapples with this state’s most pressing challenges.

In recent years, the General Assembly has become far too partisan, mimicking the U.S. Congress far too much and allowing ideological rigidity to trump old-fashioned pragmatism and compromise. As the legislature debates school funding, tax policy,  hydraulic fracturing and job creation, it should park the partisanship and focus on finding common-sense solutions.

B). The state’s rainy day fund should match the amount recommended by the nation’s leading credit-rating agencies.

Achieving the highest-grade credit ratings lowers borrowing costs and saves money for current and future Ohioans.

Once the rainy day fund reaches the recommended amount, the state should make certain it is meeting its constitutional obligations to operate  a “thorough and efficient” school system and provide for the health, safety and welfare of its residents. Tax simplification should be a higher goal than simply tax reduction. Among the 50 states, Ohio has the most complicated system of state and local taxes. If tax reform is approached in a bipartisan way, Ohio could lower tax rates by broadening the tax base and eliminating or greatly reducing the number of tax preferences and giveaways.

C). At a minimum, Ohio should ensure that background checks are uniform and consistent, so that individuals who are legally prohibited from purchasing firearms are not doing so.

Senators Not Responding

Cliff Hite, R-1st; Randy Gardner, R-2nd; Kevin Bacon, R-3rd; Bill Coley, R-4th; Bill Beagle, R-5th; Peggy Lehner, R-6th; Shannon Jones, R-7th; Bill Seitz, R-8th; Eric Kearney, D-9th; Chris Widener, R-10th; Edna Brown, D-11th; Keith Faber, R-12th; Gayle Manning, R-13th; Joe Uecker, R-14th; Charleta Tavares, D-15th; Jim Hughes, R-16th; Bob Peterson, R-17th; John Eklund, R-18th; Kris Jordan, R-19th; Troy Balderson, R-20th; Shirley Smith, D-21st; Larry Obhof, R-22nd; Michael J. Skindell, D-23rd; Tom Patton, D-24th; David Burke, R-26th; Frank LaRose, R-27th; Tom Sawyer, D-28th; Scott Oelslager, R-29th; Lou Gentile, D-30th; Tim Schaffer, R-31st; and Capri Cafaro, D-32nd.

Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-13th

A). Job creation and improving education.

B). There should not be a tax reduction and rainy day funds should go to help local governments and education.

C). Mental health funding, smaller magazine sizes for guns, and a ban on certain assault weapons.

Representatives Not Responding

Ron Amstutz, R-1st; Mark J. Romanchuk, R-2nd; Tim W. Brown, R-3rd; Matt Huffman, R-4th; Marlene Anleski, R-6th; Mike Dovilla, R-7th; Armond Budish, D-8th; Barbara Boyd, D-9th; Bill Patmon, D-10th; Sandra Williams, D-11th; John Barnes Jr., D-12th; Nickie J. Antonio, D-13th; Mike Foley, D-14th; Nicholas J. Celebrezze, D-15th; Nan A. Baker, R-16th; Michael Stinziano, D-18th; Anne Gonzales, R-19th; Heather Bishoff, D-20th; Mike Duffey, R-21st; John Patrick Carney, D-22nd; Cheryl L. Grossman, R-23rd; Stephanie Kunze, R-24th; Kevin Boyce, D-25th; Tracy Maxwell Heard, D-26th; Peter Stautberg, R-27th; Connie Pillich, D-28th; Louis W.; Blessing III, R-29th ;Louis Terhar, R-30th; Dale Mallory, D-32nd; Alicia Reece, D-33rd; Vernon Sykes, D-34th; Zack Milkovich, D-35th; Anthony DeVitis, R-36th; Kristina Roegner, R-37th; Marilyn Slaby, R-38th; Fred Strahom, D-39th; Michael Henne, R-40th; Jim Butler, R-41th; Terry Blair, R-42nd; Roland Winburn, D-43rd; Mike Ashvord, D-44th; Teresa Fedor, D-45th; Matt Szollosi, D-46th; Barbara R. Sears, R-47th; Kirk Schuring, R-48th; Stephen Slesnick, D-49th; Christina Hagan, R-50th; Wes Retherford, R-51st; Margaret Conditt, R-52nd; Timothy Derickson, R-53rd; Peter Beck, R-54th; Matt Lundy, D-55th; Dan Ramos, D-56th; Terry Boose, R-57th; Robert F. Hagan, D-58th; Ronald V. Gerberry, D-59th; John M. Rogers, D-60th; Ron Young, R-61st; Ron Maag, R-62nd; Sean O’Brien, D-63rd; Tom Letson, D-64; John Becker, R-65th; Doug Green, R-66th; Andrew Brenner, R-67th; Margaret Ann Ruhl, R-68th; William G. Batchelder, R-69th; David Hall, R-70th; Jay Hottinger, R-71st; Bill Hayes, R-72nd; Rick Perales, R-73rd; Bob D. Hackett, R-74th; Kathleen Clyde, D-75th; Matt Lynch, R-76th; Gerald L. Stebelton, R-77th; Ron Hood, R-78th; Ross W. McBGregor, R-79th; Richard N. Adams, R-80th; Lynn R. Wachtmann, R-81st.; Tony Burkley, R-82nd; Robert Sprague, R-83rd; Jim Buchy, R-84th; John Adams, R-85th; Dorothy Pelanda, R-86th; Jeff McClain, R-87th; Rex Damschroder, R-88th; Chris Redfern, D-89th; Terry Johnson, R-90th; Cliff Rosenberger, R-91st; Gary Scherer, R-92nd; Ryan Smith, R-93rd; Debbie Phillips, D-94th; Andy Thompson, R-85th; Jack Cera, D-96th; Brian Hill, R-97th; Al Landis, R-98th and John Patterson, D-99th. is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, The University of Akron and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).