With the announcement Dec. 5 that State Representative Rob McColley will fill the District 1 Senate seat vacated by Cliff Hite, at least four candidates are presently vying for McColley’s office in the 81st House District.
Former Napoleon mayor Steve Lankenau, Village of Leipsic Administrator Justin Barnhart, former state representative Jim Hoops, and Putnam County Republican Party Chair Tom Liebrecht have issued letters of interest for the position. Brad Miller, spokesperson for House Republicans, said as of last week only Lankenau’s letter was formally received.
The House Republican caucus will name McColley’s successor following a Dec. 15 deadline to apply for the office. Candidates’ documentation will be forwarded to the House speaker’s office, after which candidates will meet directly with a panel of five legislators. The panel will make recommendations to the 66-member caucus.
Miller said interviews will be held the beginning of January, and a candidate will be appointed during the House’s first 2018 session on Jan. 17.
McColley was recommended by a Senate committee to replace Hite, who resigned as District 1 Republican senator after admitting to inappropriate behavior toward a state worker and citing health issues. McColley’s term expires at the end of 2018.
The 81st House District includes the southeastern portion of Fulton County.
With undergraduate and master’s degrees in the areas of political science and public administration, Lankenau professes a passion for public service. The owner of Re/Max Exclusive in Napoleon said now that his children are grown, “that changes the dynamic quite a bit. The timing is really good. I’ve been anxious to get back, looking for the right and best opportunity.”
He said he’s been encouraged to run, and thinks his collaborative approach will work well to represent the district.
“We need people that strike the balance between really representing the district and people who can work within our system of state government effectively,” Lankenau said. “I have an interest in my community, in the world, in education. I think I can do the job given the time to learn from individuals already there.”
And while he would take office with no agenda, “If I’m conservative on anything, it’s fiscal matters,” he said. He said a priority would be to help ease the tax burdens shared by farmers and small business owners.
“Ohio has made strides toward being business friendly, and we need to keep moving in that direction,” Lankenau said.
If he is not Republican caucus’s choice for McColley’s former seat, Lankenau will not challenge the appointee if they run in 2019. “I will respect those in leadership,” he said.
Barnhart serves as village administrator for Leipsic in Putnam County. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education, with minors in political science and history. He was formerly a senior legislative aide for State Representative Jim Buchy.
“I have a passion for helping people. I think I would be very helpful as a legislator to help build up the local communities,” Barnhart said.
He said, while not a farmer, growing up on a farm in Cloverdale, Ohio, has given him a background in agriculture, an area lacking among most state legislators.
“I believe I would be a very good and knowledgeable assistant in agriculture in the State of Ohio,” he said. “(Agriculture) is what makes our communities so strong.”
Barnhart said he wouldn’t have a particular agenda going into the office, but would focus on the economy, jobs, and using proper resources in combating the state’s opioid scourge.
“Clearly, something’s not going right with the way we’re working on the opioids. We have to focus on our schools, and make sure our students are educated,” he said.
He cited a dearth of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programs in schools, and believes making athletics and youth programs like Boy Scouts and 4-H a priority could result in solutions to drug abuse.
“I have some principles that guide my thought processes, and I’m anxious to learn a lot more,” Barnhart said of the position he seeks. “I’m sure there are very good experts to help resolve these issues, and they’re right here in our district.”
If appointed to fill McColley’s vacancy, he would run for re-election next year. If not, he won’t challenge the victor in the next election.
“I’ll look at the person who got the position with consideration. I believe that there’s enough local consideration being made that we’ll get the right (person),” he said.
The state representative for the 81st House District from 1999-2006, and former Henry County Auditor, Hoops graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Computer Programming. A Napoleon resident and Patrick Henry High School graduate, he currently serves as vice president for Strategic Initiatives at Northwest State Community College.
While term limits ended his service in government, Hoops began thinking several months ago he’d like to pursue a new political opportunity if one presented itself. He said eye-opening experiences in the private sector have given him insight he didn’t possess before.
“The things I’ve learned in these 11 years being out of it, I wish I would have known those things back when I was a legislator,” he said. “You look at things from the outside, and there are just a lot of things I feel I can offer as far as with workforce development, health care, and Medicaid. I want to be involved in those decisions…I want to be in the room to do that.”
Calling Medicaid “the Pac Man of the state budget because it just keeps eating it away,” Hoops said his priorities in office would be health care and shoring up the state’s workforce. “Because of my past experience, I can hit the ground running on some of these issues,” he said.
As an example, he explained, “We can’t continue to increase taxes. What we need to do is create an atmosphere where jobs will come here to the State of Ohio to increase the tax base. We have to be smarter and more efficient in what we’re doing.”
Hoops would also work to keep what he says can be bad legislation being enacted into law.
“There’s a lot of interesting ideas that are (in Columbus) that may not be good for northwestern Ohio,” he said. “You gather the information (and) you try to make the best decision you can based on the information you have at that time.”
He’ll also concentrate on the needs of his constituency, something Hoops said he worked hard for during his tenure as a state representative.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a call from your state legislator to get things moving for somebody who may have an issue…You’re going to see me a lot around the district, working with elected officials, working with the private sector,” he said.
Should he not be appointed, Hoops said he would not oppose the winner in next year’s elections. “If they can’t support the principles that I stand for (now), then I don’t feel that I want to waste their time running for it,” he said.
The chair of the Putnam County Republican Party plans to send the state a letter of intent by the deadline. He said he wants to give back to the community in an elected office, and the time is right after gaining political experience over the past five years.
Born and raised in Columbus Grove, Ohio, Liebrecht served in the U.S. Air Force after high school. While in the military he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting.
Liebrecht was vice president for a real estate development company in Tampa before returning to Putnam County. He’s now the owner of Marketing Quarterback Consulting, a marketing firm in Ottawa, Ohio.
His main order of business would be increasing employment in the 81st District through the promotion of skilled trade jobs. He wants to increase awareness of their availability and encourage recent high school graduates to consider them.
“I have businesses coming to me, saying, ‘We can’t fill these jobs,’” Liebrecht said. “Kids aren’t aware of the quality of jobs that are out there. There are great-paying jobs within this district that can provide quality of life. That will be my focus.”
Too often, the country’s culture expects its citizens to gain a four-year college degree, he said. And that leads the district’s citizens to leave for bigger urban areas to find those types of jobs.
“There needs to be more awareness (of skilled labor),” Liebrecht said. “There’s open jobs out there right now, but people are not there to fill them, aren’t aware of them, or don’t have the qualifications to fill them.”
Spreading awareness will take action by the educational system and private industry, “and if government can be the catalyst, that’s my mission,” he said.
An equally important priority is to keep the lines of communication with his constituency wide open, Liebrecht said. “I can implement and take action on their interests,” he said.
If he’s not selected to fill McColley’s vacancy, Liebrecht will consider running as an opponent in the 2018 election.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.