Newcomer challenging veteran in Ohio 12th district senate race

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

Ohio’s 12th Senate District residents will have the opportunity on Tuesday to choose between a political newcomer and a veteran politician to represent them in Columbus for the next four years.

Democrat Ken Poling, who has never held public office, faces incumbent Matt Huffman, a Republican. Both men are Lima residents.

Ken Poling, candidate for the Ohio District 12 senatorial district seat./Contributed
Ken Poling, candidate for the Ohio District 12 senatorial district seat./Contributed

Poling, 28, is a carpenter who is in favor of Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed gun reform bill. He also supports the state’s public health orders to shut down Ohio during the COVID-19 pandemic, as long as health officials recommend those orders, he said.

Huffman, 60, is an attorney who has held public office for a combined nearly 30 years. He’s been a member of city council and the Ohio House and Senate.

Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima.
Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima.

Huffman is opposed to DeWine’s gun reform bill, saying the governor’s approach to reducing gun violence is an “inherently flawed way of approaching a problem.” In addition, the state’s handling of the coronavirus is illegal, he said.

Champaign, Allen, Mercer and Shelby and parts of Auglaize, Darke and Logan counties make up the 12th Senate District. Senators representing the district can serve up to two, four-year terms, and are paid $63,000 annually.

Following is a Q&A with the candidates. For an extended version, go to

Q. SB221, the governor’s Strong Ohio gun reform package, isn’t likely to pass this legislative session and will likely be re-introduced next session. Where do you stand on the basic elements of the package?

Poling: I agree with the basic elements of the package wholeheartedly. As a firearm owner, I believe it is the responsibility of all firearm owners to be sure that making a private sale will not increase the level of danger a person may be facing. Yes, it will be less convenient, but a mild inconvenience is worth every life that is saved by the measure.

Huffman: I think that any process that attempts to take away the rights of lawfully active citizens in response to illegal actions by other citizens is an inherently flawed way of approaching a problem. By definition, people who are committing violent acts with guns illegally, they’re not going to follow whatever laws there are. So simply putting more gun control laws in place isn’t going to benefit, at best. Now, I would also say specifically as it relates to the bill, there were provisions in there ― which I was very concerned about; I asked a lot of questions about it in committee ― which in effect allows them to have their rights, taken away without notice to the court, particularly on an ex parte basis. That’s very disconcerting. Of course, one of the problems is that this allows for guns to be taken away but not other weapons. So I think there are problems with the procedure as it’s laid out, there’s problem of constitutionality. I would finally say that we go through this process time and time again, where something tragic happens. A bill gets passed, and everyone pats themselves on the back and acts like they have solved the problem when it happens. Sometimes that causes the problem to be even worse than it was before. So I’m not generally in favor of it. There are probably some good elements in the bill, but I don’t think it’s something that certainly I would vote for in total.

Q. Do you support or oppose the state authority to issue public health orders to shut down businesses, schools and other activities during a pandemic?

Poling: I support the state’s authority to issue public health orders when those orders are recommended by state health officials.

Huffman: The way that it’s being done in the current situation, I do not support it. I don’t think many of the actions of the state’s health department are constitutional, and in fact, I think they are illegal. Several decisions by judges around the state (support) the same things that I just stated. I think one of the problems is that we’ve never quarantined healthy people or people who haven’t been exposed to a virus, or shut down businesses as a result. With quarantine, you are supposed to be keeping people who are sick, or people who are vulnerable, away from everybody else. So, the way that this shutdown has been conducted, I don’t think it’s been particularly successful. Obviously, there are some good things that are happening and, frankly, a lot of the things that have happened are things that we should always be doing, like washing our hands all the time, or staying home if we’re sick and things like that. But no, I don’t support the way these shutdowns are implemented in the state of Ohio.

Q. Ohio and other states saw sustained demonstrations this summer against racial injustice and police brutality. Protesters called for a slate of reforms. What do you think are the most important changes we should make? Where do you stand on the following reforms?

• Ban or severely limit choke holds

• Ban or severely limit use of tear gas

• Increase police officer basic and ongoing training, particularly for de-escalation and recognizing implicit bias

• Require independent investigations of officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody

• Require centralized reporting to the state of use of force incidents

• Increase transparency for officer discipline and disciplinary files

Poling: I agree with the proposed reforms, and also believe in removing qualified immunity for police officers across the state so they may be held accountable for unjustified shootings in court

Huffman: Improvements in tactics, when to use tear gas, when not to use tear gas, how to best handle de-escalation situations and things like that; those things have always been led by members of law enforcement. And so I think how those things are done, in what way they’re done, needs to be determined by police force. I would say my No. 1 priority is the protection of the public, and that includes the police officer who’s on the front line. We can’t have police officers being injured and attacked while they’re trying to maintain calm and peace. And secondly, the protection of innocent lives, people who are not involved in any way, who are protesting peaceably. And then if people act in a violent way toward police officers especially, or anyone else, they need to be prosecuted for that, and sometimes they need to be dealt with. We should not use the police force as a revenue generating device. And unfortunately, many cities (have policies that lead ) police to write more tickets and stop people, and I think that’s the big source of (revenue). I think that causes more problems.

Q. The FBI and DOJ is charging former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and four other men in a racketeering scheme that allegedly involved $60 million in bribes to elect Householder and pro-Householder lawmakers, make him speaker, pass House Bill 6 and defend the bailout bill from a referendum. Have you received campaign donations or any support from Friends of Larry Householder, Larry Householder, Jeff Longstreth, Neil Clark, Juan Cepedes, Matt Borges, Generation Now, FirstEnergy PAC, any other FirstEnergy sources? If so, have you or will you donate that money to charities?

Poling: I have taken a grand total of zero dollars in donations from anyone at all. Money should not be involved in the political process in any way. Politicians should be civil servants, and taking donations from corporations or political action committees can create a conflict of interest, with politicians voting for corporate interests instead of the interests of those they represent.

Huffman: The answer is yes. I already (returned the contributions) back in early August, when all of this came out. I directed the treasurer of my campaign to look into any campaign contributions in 2019 and ’20. (Contributions from) anybody like that or any other entity or person that may be affiliated with that, to donate any amount to charity. The campaign treasurer sent a check to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the West Ohio Food Bank.

Name: Ken Poling

Age: 28

Hometown: Lima

Political Party: Democrat

Political Experience: First time candidate

Education: Elida High School

Name: Matt Huffman

Age: 60

Hometown: Lima

Political Party: Republican

Political Experience: Served on city council for 15 years, was in the Ohio House of Representatives for eight years and has been in the Ohio Senate four years.

Education: 1982 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he earned Bachelor’s in government. He also earned his JD at the University of Cincinnati.

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