MARIETTA - The candidates for U.S. House of Representatives 6th District and Ohio Senate 30th District played to a full house during debates at the Marietta College McDonough Auditorium Monday night.
Sponsored by the Marietta and Washington County League of Women Voters, The Marietta Times and The Anchor, Monday's debates featured incumbent 6th District Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and Democratic challenger Charlie Wilson, as well as 30th District Democratic Sen. Lou Gentile and Republican hopeful Shane Thompson.
First up were Johnson and Wilson who traded barbs throughout the debate that brought several rounds of applause and other response from the audience of more than 120 who attended Monday's event.
MARIETTA DEBATE — Sixth District candidates Democrat Charlie Wilson, left, and Republican incumbent Bill Johnson debated Monday night at Marietta College.
Wilson wants to see the oil and gas industry succeed and create "null"jobs for Ohioans, but not at the expense of the environment.
"I would be in favor of doing all we can to move the oil and gas industry forward, to have this as a new way of employment, however I do feel that as we move forward we have to make sure it is going to be safe for our environment. And I would like to see more hiring of people from our area," he said.
Johnson said he believes there already is enough regulation of the industry.
"I think when it comes to oil and gas, we have a state that has regulated oil and gas very successfully since 1965. We don't need the federal government coming in telling the people here in Ohio how to protect our water and how to protect our air," he said. "There's not one single instance in the history of hydraulic fracturing where it's contaminated the drinking water."
Asked what can be done to reduce the current $16 trillion national debt, Johnson said government regulations have played a role in creating that debt.
"We've had to clean up the mess that Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and (former) Congressman Charlie Wilson put in place. It's been the largest debt increase that we've seen in American history," he said. "The problem is that Washington spends too much. We're borrowing 40 cents on every dollar we spend."
Johnson said the budget bills he's supported included $6.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, which is $5.3 trillion more in cuts than came out of the president's own budget.
But Wilson said Johnson went to Washington to drop the deficit, but instead the deficit has gone up.
"Talk is one thing, performance is another," he said. "We need to have all people paying their fair share of tax. Right now my opponent's voting for 2 percent of the people in the district who are millionaires so that they get a tax break while the other 98 percent of us that are here don't get a tax break and our taxes go up. I'm for the 98 percent of people in this district who pay their fair share and would like to see that 2 percent pay their fair share."
On the topic of the national Affordable Healthcare Act, Wilson said the legislation would be adjusted over time, but the bill is "a good first start."
"There are good things in that bill, but you can't vote for half a bill, you have to vote for the whole thing. There will be changes as we go forward, and I think we will do that," he said.
But Johnson accused Wilson of believing that Washington bureaucrats should make health care decisions for citizens.
"This health care law is the largest tax increase on the American people in history," Johnson said. "Seven hundred billion dollars cut out of Medicare. That's a $1.8 million reduction in Medicare benefits for people who live right here along the river."
He said increased health care accounts, competition and tort reform are needed. And he agreed college students should be able to stay covered by their parents' medical insurance until they're 26 years old. But he said that's because college grads can't find jobs due to legislation supported by Democrats like Wilson and Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi.
Both Wilson and Johnson are reportedly scheduled to appear before the Ohio Elections Commission next month.
Johnson has filed a complaint that Wilson lied in a YouTube campaign video that claims Johnson would kill Medicare.
On Monday Wilson's campaign filed a counter-complaint against Johnson, claiming a news release from the Congressman's campaign stated if the elections panel finds false statements were made in the YouTube video it would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
In the complaint, Wilson campaign spokesman J.R. Starrett said that statement was false because if a statement is found false the elections commission can either choose to refer the matter for possible prosecution or it may choose not to refer the matter at all.
The second debate Monday evening pitted Democrat incumbent state Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville against Republican Shane Thompson.
The 30th Senate District candidates had differing opinions on how a projected surplus of up to $1 billion in the state budget next year should be spent.
"I think one-time money should be treated as such, we should not use one-time money for ongoing government operations," Thompson said.
Gentile disagreed, saying the current state budget has been balanced on the backs of public education and local governments.
"Local governments and public education are still reeling from state funding costs," he said. "The government needs to put that money back into the public services where it came from in the first place."
On improving Ohio's school funding formula, Thompson said he would ask, "What do we want children to get from education? And how can education help them become more productive and lead better lives?"
He said if that can become clear then the funding we need to accomplish that becomes more clear.
"There are problems. Relying on a property tax only formula has shortcomings, but we also need to understand what our schools want to do. I guess I'm cautious about looking at this as a funding-only issue," Thompson said.
Gentile said the Ohio Supreme Court has called the current school funding formula "broken."
"The court has ruled we need to move away from the property tax formula, and we need to get a handle on this," he said. "I'm for coming up with a bipartisan solution, but we have not seen any comprehensive plan to deal with school funding other than promoting school choice. But a kid growing up here in Marietta should have the same opportunities as a kid growing up in Cleveland or Cincinnati."