LIMA — It’s not Donald Trump versus Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich, but make no mistake, there are fireworks in the race for Ohio’s 12th Senate District.
Both Republican candidates, John Adams and Matt Huffman, are sparing little mercy as they take swipes at each other with Ohio’s primary election taking place next week. Whichever candidate wins the primary will become the next state senator as no Democrat is seeking the office.
Adams actually has been attacking Huffman throughout the race, with the Sidney resident accusing Huffman of being an “establishment” candidate. Huffman, who has been sticking with the issues during the campaign, came out with an attack of his own on Friday with mailed literature that highlighted Adams’ poor attendance record during the eight years Adams served in the Ohio House.
According to public records, Adams missed 122 eligible votes during his House tenure, including 44 — or one-third of them — during his last two years in office. Huffman, meanwhile, missed one session because of an event for his daughter, a session that had three votes.
“Adams’ record, especially for someone in leadership, is pretty extraordinary,” Huffman said. “He was gone on key days, when there was a lot of legislation being voted on. I think what people want more than anything is that if you’re going to be elected and get paid, you need to show up for work, and some of the most important work that we do is vote on legislation.”
Adams maintained that the only days he missed in the House were because of health issues or trips that were approved by the House.
“The only days I recall missing were when I had my hip surgery and a knee surgery, and the only other days I remember missing were when we did a trip to Israel that was part of a legislative delegation,” he said. “I think there was also a trip to Turkey, and both of those trips were approved by the speaker at the time, and both of those trips were with the current speaker.”
Adams has asserted that Huffman’s support has come from lobbyists and special interests in Columbus, making the Lima native part of the “establishment.”
“This Senate seat should not be for sale,” Adams said. “I have received no dollars in this election cycle from Columbus. Matt, on the other hand, has received over $100,000 from those out of Columbus.”
Huffman, however, pointed out that from 2011 to 2014, 31 percent of the money Adams raised while in the House came from outside Adams’ district, with an additional 51 percent coming from political action committees.
“He received a lot of money from PACs,” Huffman said. “It’s a little disingenuous to say, ‘He receives money from PACs and I don’t,’ when for four years, that was most of the money he raised. In addition, it’s easy to say, ‘I don’t take money from PACs.’ If they’re not offering it to you, of course you don’t.”
Both Huffman and Adams served eight years in the Ohio House of Representatives, Huffman ending his time in Columbus as the speaker pro tempore and Adams serving as the minority and majority whip for the 128th and 129th General Assemblies, respectively.
Huffman, 55, is an attorney and served 14 years on Lima City Council, the last eight as council president. He played a major role during that time with downtown development projects involving Lima City School District, St. Rita’s Medical Center and Lima Memorial Health System. He also was the only councilor in 2004 to speak against a proposed city and county income tax increase. The issue eventually went to the ballot with voters overwhelmingly rejecting the tax increase, thus vindicating Huffman’s position.
Adams, 56, owns Francis Furniture in Celina and is a former Navy SEAL.
Both candidates have earned praise for fostering conservative principles, including promoting anti-abortion policies and defending individual gun rights.
When it comes to what priorities each candidate would take with them to Columbus, Adams said that immigration is heavy on the minds of voters.
“People are angry about illegal immigrants, and they’re angry at the Republican Party,” he said. “The only person who ever spoke about illegal immigrants in Columbus is John Adams. I introduced a bill that said that if you’re going to receive illegal immigrants, you’re going to lose your local government funds, because that’s the only thing governments understand. It’s a federal issue, but don’t be dumping illegal immigrants in our state.”
Adams also pointed to reducing taxes as a main priority. “That is the best way to create jobs and draw business to the state,” Adams said.
Huffman pointed to three areas that are on the minds of voters: welfare reform, workforce education and the war on drugs.
“We need to stop incentivizing people not to work,” Huffman said. “We’re not doing someone a favor by paying them for a long period of time not to work. And there needs to be a substantial shift of financial resources from the state from four-year institutions to community colleges and adult workforce education. We have jobs in manufacturing and construction, but they can’t find people for them. And we cannot stop fighting the war on drugs. We need to enforce the drug laws.”
Both candidates say they want to address the impact state budget cutbacks have had on local government and school districts.
Huffman said he would like to see funding restored to local government and school districts and would like to see the funding stabilized in the future. Agencies have had to juggle budget cutbacks that differ every time there is a new governor or new legislators in the Statehouse, he said, and he wants to tie funding to a clear funding formula for local agencies and schools.
“What we truly need is a formula, a true school funding formula and local government revenue formula, based on a percentage of a particular state revenue,” he said. “If we have that, what happens is the revenue for local governments and local schools will change based on how the economy is doing. But it’s not erratic. Therefore it makes it somewhat predictable.”
Huffman added he would like to have the formula adjusted to account for students who left big districts for small ones, and districts that have a lot of funding from local levies receive less state revenue.
Adams said he thinks “what the state failed to do during the recovery was lead by example.” He said state spending increased 30 percent in the last three budget cycles, while the Consumer Price Index increased 10 percent.
“We asked our local government to cut their spending, but Ohio did not,” he said.
Adams said local school officials need more freedom to determine what is best for students, without excessive government intervention.
“A major problem with education is that our teachers, principals and superintendents have to deal with government intrusion and regulations and changes every few years,” he said. “What teachers want and need is less paperwork and more freedom to teach and have control of their classrooms. What parents want is far less federal control of curriculum. Local control is espoused by politicians, but they have done little to change the status quo.”
Adams added he thinks accepting federal funding to adopt Common Core educational standards “erodes states’ rights.”
Huffman said he did not support the Common Core State Standards, and “the federal government should not be involved in K-12 education.” He said he also doesn’t think a one-size-fits-all approach to education is a good plan for school districts.
He said he would like to see some flexibility in required testing, exempting schools doing well from testing all the time. He said he also wants to look at testing as an appropriate measure for determining student success. Huffman said schools in well-off areas tend to have more parental involvement in children’s lives, so those students tend to do better academically.
“There’s also a population of students, for a variety of reasons unrelated to school, that will never do well on a test, or at least not at that time. That doesn’t mean the school isn’t doing well, or that the teachers or administrators aren’t doing well. We know the No. 1 indicator of how well a student is going to do is how involved are the parents in their education. So the concept of testing as a true measure of how well schools are doing is, in my mind, questionable.”
When it comes to what voters should remember in the voting booth, Adams pointed to his fiscal conservatism and pledges to be a lawmaker who follows through on his promises.
“I believe your word is your bond,” he said. “I vote ‘no’ on budgets that increase spending and taxes. It’s about what you’ll do for your constituents, not what Columbus says.”
Huffman said one of his strengths is convincing others that his ideas are best for the state:
“If you are conservative, and you want to get things done in Columbus, Ohio, you don’t do that by compromising. It’s not about compromising. If you think you have better ideas, it’s about explaining to people why your ideas are better. … The satisfaction you get when you get it all done and say that you got it all done, that’s part of the legislative process. If you are just going to vote and make speeches, I’m not interested in that, because anybody can do that.”
Huffman pointed to his rating with the American Conservative Union, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative lobby group, who awarded Huffman its top award for conservative excellence in 2014, along with a conservative distinction award in 2013.
“I believe I have done a good job of being a legislator who has been very active in terms of getting complex, high-profile legislation that I sponsored passed,” he said. “I look forward to these new challenges.”
Ohio’s 12th Senate District encompasses Allen, Mercer, Shelby, Champaign and parts of Auglaize, Logan and Darke counties. Its current senator, Keith Faber, is leaving office because of term limits.
Casey S. Elliott, of Civitas Media, contributed to this report. Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.