Political newcomer faces off against seasoned incumbent in race for Ohio House 79 seat

A political newcomer will face off against a seasoned statehouse incumbent for a seat that represents a large portion of Clark County.

Democrat Cynthia Richards, who is running for her first political office and is a longtime professor at Wittenberg University, is challenging Republican Kyle Koehler, who co-runs a manufacturing business with his family and is a Ohio house representative, for the Ohio House District 79 seat.

That district includes Springfield, New Carlisle, Enon and South Charleston.

It is a position that Koehler has held since being sworn into office in 2015 and if he wins the election in November he will be serving a fourth-term in that role.

The winner of this state house race will serve a two-year term beginning in January. The annual salary for the position is $67,493.

Early voting for the general election started on Tuesday. Election day will be held on Nov. 3.

Richards, who has lived in the Springfield area for 25 years, said she was inspired to run in this year’s election due to some of her students' having concerns about their future.

“I saw my students losing faith in their future. They no longer believed they would have a stable job, affordable health care, their own home, a safe world to raise children in, and a planet that was sustainable,” said Richards, who formerly served as the chair for the English Department at Wittenberg.

Richards said that she started to hear similar concerns from some members in the community, further prompting her to run for political office.

Richards added that she has served in multiple leadership positions during her time with Wittenberg, including chairing two faculty committees. In addition to that, she said she serves on the Executive Board for the Rocking Horse Community Health Center in Springfield.

Koehler, who is a lifelong resident of Clark County and part owner of K.K. Tool Co. in Springfield, said when he first ran in 2014 for the position that he currently holds, he made a pledge to voters.

“I will work to send as little of your hard earned money to Columbus as possible. I will fight to bring as much of it back to Springfield and Clark County as possible. I will make sure we spend what remains as judiciously as possible," Koehler said.

Koehler said that he believes that he has earned the respect of his colleagues in Columbus and said he is the longest serving Republican member on the State House Education and House Agriculture Committees.

“I have successfully fought to reform payday lending in Ohio. I have brought your tax dollars back to Springfield and Clark County in the form of increased public school funding and many capital improvements,” Koehler said of his time in office.

Both candidates said they have a strong agricultural background. Koehler currently serves as the chairman for the State’s House Agriculture Committee. Richards said both her parents came from farming families.

Koehler said he was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a degree in Computer Science from Wright State University. Richards said she was the first in her family to earn a Ph.d and was a former Fulbright Scholar and Fulbright Ambassador.

Both candidates said their experiences in the community inspired them to run. They said that has also made them the best candidates to represent the community in the Ohio statehouse.

Richards said she chose the Springfield area as her home and has raised her children there. Koehler said he left a career in software development to work for the manufacturing firm started by his family in the 1970s.

Both candidates received a list of questions from the Springfield News-Sun. Some of the questions they were asked as well as their answers follow:

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? Do you agree with or oppose measures taken by the state regarding the coronavirus pandemic?

Koehler: While I supported the initial efforts by the Governor to “flatten the curve” so that hospitals had the capacity to help those who experienced debilitating (even deadly) reactions to contracting the virus, we have somehow transitioned to trying to stop the public from contracting the virus at all. As I listen to the doctors and medical professionals, I don’t believe that to be a possible task. As we enter the seventh month of this shutdown, I believe we been successful in flattening the curve and have the medical capacity to help those that have extreme adverse effects from contracting the virus. We desperately need to start reopening Ohio and trusting citizens, business owners and public officials to make the right decisions that will keep everyone healthy and restore our hurting economy.

Richards: I support public health directives during the current pandemic. We must listen to science to save lives. I recognize the difficulty public safety measures place on homes, businesses, and schools. But not controlling the pandemic has increased those difficulties, not decreased them. We cannot have a normal life until we bring the pandemic under control. Wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and hand washing have reduced the spread of COVID-19, and have saved lives and improved our economic outlook. The health and overall well-being of our community must be our top concern.

I agree with Governor DeWine’s measures to control the pandemic by initially issuing stay-at-home orders and then gradually re-opening businesses and other services once the curve had been flattened. I also support his mask mandate. These measures have been shown to reduce infection rates, save lives, and improve our economic outlook in the long run. I also value his commitment to working with experts on these issues and following science.

Q: What measures can be taken to further contain the coronavirus pandemic. Do you believe that the state legislative can do or should do more in that effort?

Koehler: I believe current orders are more than enough to slow the spread of the virus. I believe science and medical professionals tell us that we cannot stop the virus. Our efforts to flatten the curve have worked. As late as last month, we had 5,080 ventilators in Ohio and only 179 were being used for COVID-19 patients with thousands more sitting idle. This tells me we have the capacity to help those who will get the virus in the coming months and years.

Richards: The state legislature should be providing resources to counties to better test and contact trace. Businesses and nonprofits should not be worrying that they cannot afford additional testing. With that information, a more robust group of contact tracers can more effectively identify those who are potentially exposed. I have also been told that schools do not have the resources necessary to bring students back safely. The Statehouse should have been having hearings this summer to determine where schools need help and what they need to return to work. Instead, they took a long summer break. More broadly, the Republicans in the Statehouse should stop undermining health authorities and stop sending mixed messages. The science is clear: mask wearing is effective. Yet they publicly contradict this and appear in the Statehouse without face masks. Some members of the public have interpreted that to mean that public health officials must be wrong. This is prolonging the epidemic, and it is creating mistrust and divisiveness at a time when we need to be working together.

Q: Ohio and other states have seen a wave of demonstrations starting this summer against racial injustice and police brutality. In some areas they have continued and have raised questions about the country’s reckoning with Racial injustices. Protesters called for a slate of reforms. What do you think are the most important changes we should make?

Koehler: I believe the City of Springfield is leading by example with “The Community Policy Advisory Team” they have formed. This board creates the mechanism that will allow these important issues to be addressed. I believe everyone needs to be heard when situations arise that point to injustice involving police brutality. I believe the School Resource Officer (SRO) programs in our local schools are also helping young people today have a better understanding that 99.9% of all law enforcement officers are good men and women who are on duty every day to serve our communities.

Richards: I believe that as a country we must reckon with racial injustice. We know that racism affects health outcomes, economic opportunities, and enforcement of our laws. I believe we must institute police reform. So did former Governor John Kasich, and in 2015, a bipartisan commission recommended a series of reforms. Our Statehouse has not acted on those reforms. Those 2015 recommended reforms included accountability and oversight; community education; community involvement; a review of the grand jury process; adopting hiring policies; creating state-developed standards for law enforcement policies, including the use of deadly force; and a greater investment in training. I also support the more recent proposals of the House Democratic Caucus, and their focus on training in de-escalation techniques, and the use of mental health professionals and other appropriate experts when addressing community safety needs.

Q: Do you support or oppose the repeal of House Bill 6?

Koehler: I voted “no” on House Bill 6 and the bailout of a private company with taxpayer dollars. I have co-sponsored two bills to repeal House Bill 6. I am currently the only Republican that has signed onto a “Discharge Petition” to bring a bill to repeal House Bill 6 immediately to the House Floor for a vote. I opposed House Bill 6 from the start and I am fighting for a full repeal.

Richards: I support the repeal of House Bill 6. On issues of public trust, we cannot allow legislation allegedly purchased with bribery to remain law. But the legislation is also bad. It undercuts renewable energy and will cost consumers more both with the added surcharges and increased costs with less efficient appliances. Ohio taxpayers will support coal plants in Ohio and Indiana while hurting jobs in renewable energy. We need to look toward the future.

My opponent claims that he is not responsible for House Bill 6 because he did not vote for it. But money used in Republican campaigns statewide allegedly came from this bribery scheme. The Republican supermajority has neither repealed House Bill 6 nor expelled Householder. We need change in the Statehouse, and we need an end to a culture of corruption.

Q: Would you vote to increase income, sales and/or business taxes to avoid drastic cuts to state programs? Why or why not? Especially given the economic impact of the COVID pandemic.

Koehler: Increasing income taxes, sales tax or tax on business would be an incredible mistake during this time in Ohio. At this point, cuts in state spending have been offset by CARES Act money. I believe the economy is returning quickly and increasing taxes will only hurt individuals and businesses. I believe increasing taxes will make Ohio less competitive as we return to the pre-COVID economy.

Richards: I would not vote to increase income, sales, or business taxes. Instead, the Statehouse needs to revisit its tax breaks that have not generated new jobs. Over time Ohio’s tax code has become regressive, with lower-income people paying a higher proportion of their income than higher-income residents (Columbus Dispatch, April 2020). The Statehouse needs to reverse its drain on state coffers. In the short term, Ohio should use its rainy-day fund to cover some of its losses. But I also have publicly advocated for another stimulus from the federal government. When states face a catastrophe of this magnitude and have to balance their budgets, the federal government should provide a short-term stimulus to avert an economic depression

Q: What can be done in your opinion to foster economic growth in the region?

Koehler: Two words: “Workforce Development”. Ohio only grows when we produce products that are sold outside of our border. Even in the midst of this pandemic, Ohio companies that produce products can not find skilled workers to fill good paying jobs. Whether it is agriculture, manufacturing or technology – employers need individuals who are ready to enter the workforce and help produce what Ohio sells. Whether you are a high school graduate or a college graduate, Ohio businesses are struggling to fill positions. I talk to business owners everyday who are looking for individuals who will simply show up, work hard and be responsible. We need to make sure our schools and colleges are producing individuals who understand the miracle of hard work.

Richards: We need more investments from the state. We need Jobs Ohio to invest in cities like ours, not just the big three. We need more flexible public transportation that fits a mid-sized city. We need more job training, and infrastructure investments in all our neighborhoods. We need affordable, quality housing and equitably funded public schools that attract businesses that pay good wages. We need state legislators who work to empower local governments and grassroots community organizations. We need the state not to make large cuts now in order to balance the budget. Those cuts would mean cuts to local jobs, which would contribute to a downward spiral.

Every local race, every local issue

The Springfield News-Sun is the only place for complete local election coverage.

Hear from the candidates

Leadership Clark County Forum

6-8 p.m. Thursday

Livestreamed from Leadership Clark County’s Facebook and YouTube pages

Kyle Koehler

Hometown: Springfield

Family: Wife, five children, one grandchild, two foster grandchildren

Political Party: Republican

Political experience: State House Representative since 2015

Education: Wright State University

Cynthia Richards

Hometown: Owensboro, Kentucky

Family: Husband; two children

Political Party: Democrat

Political experience: First time running for elected office

Education: Brown University, New York University

About the Author