A career social worker and advocate for change is challenging a two-term incumbent Nov. 3 to represent the District 47 portions of Fulton and Lucas counties.
Democratic candidate Nancy Larson is vying for the state representative seat currently held by Republican Derek Merrin. Merrin was appointed in 2016 to fill the remaining term of District 47 Representative Barbara Sears, who resigned to accept a position as director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid. Merrin won his second term in 2018.
A resident of Sylvania, Larson, 66, has no political experience, and said that’s exactly what District 47’s constituents need.
“I consider myself a free and independent person,” she said. “Because I haven’t been in politics before, I’m coming at this with fresh eyes…I am not a politician.”
The Pittsburgh, Pa., native attended Carlow University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and theater and a Master’s degree in social work. Over the past four decades she performed social work in various capacities, including as counselor to convicted felons at Harbor Behavioral in Toledo and as a medical social worker at Fresenius Dialysis. Larson also did hospice work in areas including Fulton County, and most recently operated a private therapy practice.
She was inspired to pursue politics after living at a time with no job and no insurance. She became covered through the Affordable Care Act, “then watched Republicans continue to try to appeal that. My whole life I’ve been working with clients who had to deal with fallout of these poor policy decisions, and it’s aggravated me for my entire career. When I personally had to face that stuff myself, I was like, enough is enough. I need to get to Columbus so that I can fight for everybody to have health care, which I believe is a basic human right.”
Larson said the most pressing issue facing District 47 is the coronavirus. She said people are frightened, and need medically accurate leadership to pull residents safely through the pandemic. She said she’s addressing the need “for having people in place that are going to pay attention to the medicine so that we can get the economy back up in a consistent way, (but) we’re doing it in fits and starts. It’s just insane, and it didn’t need to be that way.”
Larson does not support shutting down businesses during the crisis but said if they are to stay open people must wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings. She said whatever the solution is, it must involve both medical advice and business. “Both sides have to be equally represented,” she said.
But Larson is also concerned for the women forced to leave the workforce to home-school and care for their children during the pandemic. “They’re deciding now, with the pandemic and school, that they can’t work. If that goes on another year, there are going to be serious economic consequences, for those women, not just in lost wages but in retirement income,” she said.
Employment is also a major concern, particularly jobs in renewable and clean energy. Larson didn’t agree with the state’s bailout of nuclear power, saying it cut off subsidies for wind and solar power and subsidizes coal plants. She suggested creating work through installing wastewater treatment plants for concentrated animal feeding operations.
“There are jobs, plus environmental benefits to Lake Erie, if those farms are made to process the waste that they are creating, and it’s not ending up in Lake Erie,” she said.
She also encourages creating work through rural Internet broadband access, and said small businesses would be best helped by universal health care. She said her opponent listens to a small minority of people – mostly corporate interests – to form his judgments, not the majority.
She also criticized her opponent’s push for limitless gun carry and his objections to women’s reproductive rights. “He hasn’t focused on things like the economy and sound leadership and health care,” she said.
People in the district have expressed worries about schools, Larson said, adding, “The incumbent is all about siphoning money out of the public school system and diverting it into private and charter schools. There are a lot of people that are not okay with that, and want that addressed.”
Larson said although she would pursue a second term as state representative if elected, she is not pursuing a life as a career politician.
“I am not trying to get myself elected year after year after year. (The incumbent) wants to move up in the Republican system. I want to be there to represent people. I don’t owe anybody anything,” she said.
Her goal would be to find common ground with other legislators in order to move forward for Fulton County citizens, Larson said.
Among his accomplishments over two terms as a state representative, Merrin, 34, lists a repealed sales tax on prescription eye wear that saves taxpayers approximately $45 million annually. He was also responsible for the Fuel Tax Transparency Act, which requires the information to be available at all state gas pumps.
A New York State native, Merrin earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toledo and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Bowling Green State University. He won a seat on Waterville City Council at age 19, and was elected mayor of the village two years later. He also served with Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, and is a real estate investor.
Merrin believes the economy is District 47’s top issue.
“We have an unemployment rate above 10%, and that has to be fixed,” he said. “We have to have economic prosperity, we have to have more jobs and higher wages. And a strong economy solves a lot of problems.”
He wants a return to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic, get restrictions off of businesses, and get schools reopened. “It’s very important that we get back to a normal school schedule,” he said.
Merrin said the successful re-opening of schools in Fulton County shows that returning to the classroom can be safely accomplished.
However, he wants the state’s school funding formula reformed to allow for equitable distribution. “Our suburban and rural school districts are not getting the needed support they deserve,” he said. “We’re subsidizing a lot of the urban school systems. I want the rural and suburban schools to not be forced to rely so heavily on property taxes, and to, of course, have a fair funding formula.”
As for the economy, Merrin wants lower taxes and reduced regulations. He said reforms to licensure would make it easier for people to enter the workforce.
“We had one of the greatest economies in the world until we shut down businesses. And we need to make sure this is only temporary, and not a permanent economic depression,” he said. “Over 10% unemployment is completely unacceptable.”
And how economic costs affect social problems is not being considered, Merrin said. Educational learning deficiencies, suicide, drug abuse, and other problems develop within a poor economy, and are causing a huge drain on mental health services, he said.
“We have to consider all the things happening under COVID,” he said. “We have young people that are staying home all by themselves, alone. How is that good for their health? We have suicide up, we have depression issues up, we have substance abuse issues. When you talk about someone’s health you have to take a holistic approach, and realize that there are multiple facets. I think we need to take into consideration the secondary effects that are really damaging Ohioans.”
Regarding gun issues, Merrin does not support efforts to restrict people’s access to the Second Amendment. “With what we’ve seen with the riots and a breakdown of protecting private property, this isn’t the time to be waiving people’s constitutional rights,” he said.
“And I’m completely opposed to these radical efforts to defund the police. That’s completely inappropriate,” Merrin added. “I want to support our law enforcement, I want to support our local communities to keep our communities safe.”
A pro-life advocate, Merrin said he has stayed true to all of his campaign promises, “and what I believe in and what I stand for. I will continue to fight for limited government, more economic prosperity, and common sense governance that supports our community.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.