Three vying to replace Cera in 96th District
STEUBENVILLE — The three men vying for the 96th District seat in Ohio’s House of Representatives share the same goal, but it’s the way each would achieve it that sets them apart.
Democrat Richard Olivito, Libertarian Oscar Herrera and Republican Ron Ferguson are vying for the seat. State Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, was prohibited from seeking re-election because of term limits.
The district includes all of Jefferson and Monroe counties and a portion of Belmont County. House terms are for two years.
Ferguson, 34, is a small business owner who’s been active politically, though not as a candidate. He’s worked in several capacities–most recently as director of staff training–with Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots organization he said works to spur awareness and “helps pass policies that are good for the American people and good for Ohioans,” like the First Step Act, which required the attorney general to develop a risk-and-needs assessment system for federal prisoners, and Ohio’s recent public defender reform.
As director of staff training, he said it was his job to prepare constituents to lead grassroots lobbying efforts, taking their concerns directly to lawmakers. He said he traveled across the country, visiting 36 states, working on things like improving health care for veterans and criminal justice reform — measures that enjoyed major bi-partisan support.
“(Legislators) exist to pass good policies,” Ferguson said. “I have a good, solid record of helping pass good policies — the same policies I’ve worked on passing are the same policies I would have voted for if I were in office. Those are the same kinds of policies you can expect me to be behind if I’m elected — that’s the only reason I worked for passage of them, because I believed in them. I believe they will make this valley a better place.”
Ferguson said if he’s elected, “When it’s important to just stand up for principles and be solid in your foundations, I’m going to fight for what is right.”
“Too many politicians are more worried about being re-elected than in doing the job they were elected to do,” Ferguson said. “We need someone who puts the 96th District first.”
He said job creation and health care are weighing heavily on the electorate in 2020. While lawmakers don’t create jobs, they do shape policies that can spur economic growth. Ferguson said one of the most important things they can do is streamline bureaucratic red tape.
“People talk about creating jobs, but government doesn’t create jobs, it gets in the way of creating jobs. The amount of red tape they have to deal with is way too much. We need to roll it back and make sure people know (we’re) open for business.”
He also insists too many industries around the state are “being subsidized and propped up” by the citizens of the 96th District.
“We need our money to stay local,” he said. “Our local money should stay here, in our community. For too long the state has taken from Jefferson County and redistributed to other parts of state to subsidize and prop up industries not in our local area. We need our local money to stay here, for our industry and our jobs.”
Likewise, he said health care is always a big deal.
“People want more transparency, they want to know we’re doing things to the best of our ability to lower costs and expand access,” Ferguson said. “We just need to be able to do more of those reforms for all Ohioans.”
Ferguson has been endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, Steubenville, and believes lawmakers need to stand up for police.
“That is what voters have been talking about — they want to make sure they (vote in) people who stand behind police and don’t try to defund them.”
Ferguson, a Jefferson County native and 2008 Ohio State graduate, resides at 299 Orlando Manor, Wintersville.
Herrera, 24, sees “a general dissatisfaction” with the Republican and Democratic parties.
“People aren’t satisfied with the direction those parties are headed,” Herrera said. “As a Libertarian, I’m in neither party but I can represent the best part of the other two parties — from Republicans, that would be their fiscal response and from Democrats, the social awareness aspects of their policies. Doing so, I’m able to reach out to voters across all spectrums. I’m not tied down by the ideologies of either the Republican or Democratic parties. In our time, we need people who will work to unite everyone rather than deepen the divisions that are currently evidenced.”
He said running as a Libertarian is “definitely a challenge, regardless of the year.”
“There are always those entrenched into their political party who won’t give you the time of day because you’re not of their party. It’s different, but once you’re in it it’s easy finding disasffected voters who aren’t happy with either party or have given up on politics.”
As a Libertarian candidate, Herrera has “no Republican base and no Democratic base I can lean on for support.” The key, he said, is to “find people willing to listen to what I have to say and convince them to vote.”
“There were only 20,000 people who voted for state representative out of 80,000 eligible voters in the district,” he pointed out. “Quite a number of them didn’t vote, and if you talk to those 60,000 voters I think you’ll find they really aren’t happy with how Ohio politics is going.
“Myself, I haven’t been too entrenched, I’m not beholden. I’m free to be myself, so I can do what’s right for my constituents. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who vote you in and at the end of the day, they’re the ones you’re responsible to.”
Herrera said the 96th District needs policies that encourage entrepreneurs and organizations to invest in the Ohio Valley. He said he’d like to see tech companies, even green energy and farming.
“We need to make sure we’ve allotted the proper funds to do that, make sure people can go to work and that the people who do know they will get home safely.
Herrera said his biggest concern is public apathy.
“People just keep voting for the same type of people in office,” he said. “We seem so tied down into our ‘tribes’ — Republican or Democrat — and there’s no conversation between the two.
“We need to be united for a better tomorrow. In our small towns, people have more in common — a strong sense of community and helping one another. We may not have the biggest city in Ohio, but we have a strong sense of community and helping one another and we should be working together, not against each other, for the common good. It’s kind of a naive idealism, but I’d rather work toward that than settle for what we have.”
Herrera said he’s had a lifelong interest in politics. Though this is his first time running, he’s worked for candidates and presidential campaigns in the past.
He works in human resources at Kroger, a job he said has taught him to focus on character, not resumes, “to find the best fit, the best person for a job, regardless of who they are and where they came from.”
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where they came from, it just matters where they’re going and their character. It would be the same in Columbus — seeing who has the character to do good for the state of Ohio and the 96th District,” Herrera said.
“I’m not a traditional politician who went to law school. I’m just a regular person who works for a living, who understands the needs of people like me. I’d bring the same mindset as a legislator. I will work hard for the people of the 96th District.”
Born and raised in San Diego, Herrera moved to Jefferson County about seven years ago and resides at 173 Gump’s Lane, Wintersville.
Olivito, 61, has been consulting on oil and gas issues for the past eight years. He practiced law for 17 years before that with a background in labor law, plus had a three-year stint in the Ohio Department of Labor as in-house counsel for the wage and hour divisions.
“I have the knowledge and an understanding of government,” he said.” I have the experience, plain and simple, of dealing with the state Legislature. I didn’t just lobby for laws, I literally wrote three laws, (including) the state of Ohio’s first minimum wage law in 1988.”
He also wrote the proposal for Ohio’s teen curfew, “and put it before the labor committee and testified about the need. It took building coalitions to get it enacted.” He said his work on minimum wage and prevailing wages “brought us in contact with small to large corporations. It’s a real education to understand not just labor laws, but the importance of labor laws and prevailing wages.”
He practiced criminal law and personal injury law for 17 years, trying cases in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Youngstown and Steubenville and winning four “very complex” civil rights cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
He concedes his legal status is currently not in good standing, but he said he’s working on getting it reinstated. He said the disciplinary action stemmed from a bankruptcy case more than a decade ago when a clerk noticed his client had failed to sign in one of five places where a signature is required and suggested he sign in the client’s place, so he did, pointing out the document was passed by the bankruptcy judge. Even so, he said a complaint was eventually filed by persons unknown to him, his license was eventually suspended and he was ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination, which he refused.
In February, while testifying in Harrison County on behalf of a friend, he also said he was taken into custody at the request of the prosecutor, not the judge, and cited for contempt. The underlying case has not been resolved, he pointed out.
“I’m not in good standing, but I’m still an attorney, still eligible to be an attorney,” Olivito said, adding he’s completing his continuing legal education requirements with an eye toward returning to the practice of law.
“I haven’t practiced but I am able to consult,” he said.
Olivito said the biggest challenge facing the 96th District is jobs.
“We need good paying jobs to grow the economy,” he said. “To do that, we need infrastructure, not just here in Jefferson County but throughout the district. Some areas still have no Internet access, and we need to work with agencies to bring broadband access all the way through the 96th District. It’s got to be a priority.”
He said the COVID pandemic has been a major concern across the district, pointing out public health policies and front-line workers have done a good job. Small businesses are reeling, however, and he said the state needs to make it easier for workers to claim their unemployment due to COVID.
“I’ll work on specific initiatives for front-line workers,” he said.
He said the coronavirus diverted attention from the opioid epidemic, “but I fully support the idea we need a residential facility here, we need a really good residential in-house facility so we can have a true treatment program, more than just in-house detox,” he said.
“We have to look at it as a community problem, not a problem among certain demographics,” he said.
Olivito graduated with honors from Oral Roberts University in 1981, majoring in history and international relations, then enrolled at Ohio Northern University Law School, earning his law degree in 1984.
“I’ve also worked in steel mills, so I learned firsthand what it’s like be to be injured and see serious injury on the job, to see the type of risk people took every day to produce steel. Going through that, I realized the importance of unions, OSHA and workers compensation.”
Olivito said he’s been endorsed by 14 labor unions across the state, including the United Autoworkers, Teamsters and Ohio firefighters.
“My endorsements speak to my ability, my credibility,” he said. “I only ask people to be fair, don’t put me in a false light.”
Olivito makes his home at 391 Westwood Drive, Steubenville.