IRONTON -- Two candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination for the 6th District seat in Congress in what the Ohio Democratic party feels is one of only two Republican-held districts where Democrats have a chance this fall.
Jennifer Garrison, 52, a Marietta, Ohio, lawyer and a former three-term state representative faces Greg Howard, 59, a Meigs County farmer, small businessman and civil engineer in the Democratic primary set for May 6. The winner will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican, in the November general election.
In a state that can vote red or blue, the 6th District in Ohio has 72,652 registered Democrats and 94,355 Republicans along with 318,205 registered voters listed as independents. In Ohio, the designation as Democratic and Republicans is based on the number of people who asked for a Democratic or Republican primary ballot in 2012 where President Obama was unopposed and there were a number of Republican candidates for president.
Garrison has been endorsed by the Ohio Democratic party, said Mark McCown, an Ironton lawyer and secretary of the county's Democratic executive committee. "I think she has a very good chance of winning," McCown said. "Her anti-gun control stance resonates loudly among the voters in Southern Ohio."
If elected, Howard pledged to "push for a substantial increase in the minimum wage and the retraining of unemployed workers." He said it also is critical "to extend unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed."
"I absolutely support extension of unemployment benefits," Garrison said. "I'll always vote for and with the people of the 6th district even if it's against Washington Democrats. I'll always support Social Security and Medicare and educational opportunities for our children. Cutting SSI and Medicare is the wrong direction for our country. There needs to be a safety net for our senior citizens."
"Social Security is not an entitlement, it's a right," Howard said. "The American people paid for it. We've earned it. Anyone who wants to privatize it should be banned from running for office." He said he wants to put Congress back on the path of serving the public instead of serving the corporations.
"We need to restore our democracy," Howard said. "When the corporations are in charge, we're close to being a fascist oligarchy." While corporations are valuable economic tools, he said, "they should not be allowed to dominate our political life."
Garrison served six years in the Ohio state legislature. While she owns no firearms, Garrison said she has always been supported by the National Rifle Association in her races.
Howard holds similar views on the right to keep and bear arms. "I probably have a dozen rifles and shotguns," he said.
He and his wife, Gerry, run a small farm in Meigs County. They also manufacture the Gibson Ridge Portable Egg Washer. Howard said he wants to put Congress back on the path of serving the public instead of serving the corporations. "I do not support Citizens United," Garrison said. "I don't believe corporations are people. We're in a place where whoever has the most money gets the most influence. It feels like we're purchasing votes."
Howard called the current U.S. Supreme Court "partisan. They have never ruled against big money. We've lost our democracy. Corporations have more rights than people. I think we need a 28th Amendment saying corporations are not people. Anyone who thinks corporations are people is warped."
He called Obamacare "a good start" to reforming the health care system. "We need to make some improvements in it. We need to add a Medicare option."
Garrison said there are some good things in Obamacare like paying for pre-existing conditions and letting students stay on their parent's health care insurance policies through the age of 26 and eliminating lifetime limits.
There are problems in some areas, though, when it comes to some union construction trade insurance policies not fitting with the law, she said. That needs to be changed, she said.
"I believe people should work together," Garrison said. "I believe in transparency. I have a history of working across party lines to achieve results. We can work out our differences. Let's get it fixed and resolve some of the problems."
Garrison represents the Southeastern Ohio Landowners Association, a group that has brought $300 million to landowners in the area through hydraulic fracking.
"I support unions," Howard said. "Unions are responsible for worker safety. When unions were strong in this country, things were good."
He would like to change some trade laws. "We were sold out on the issue of NAFTA," Howard said. "We were promised 400,000 to 600,000 jobs, but we lost a million. There are a lot of abandoned factories."
Garrison said that women should receive the same pay for the same work that a man does. "When women succeed, America succeeds."