NEWARK – Jay Hottinger and Melinda Miller each mention the financial struggles they’ve experienced in life during the campaign for Ohio’s 31st Senate District.
Hottinger, the Republican incumbent, recalls growing up poor in the East End of Newark. Miller, a Democrat in her first campaign for public office, discusses the low-wage jobs she has worked. Their views on the issues, however, are not so similar.
The district includes all of Licking, Perry, Coshocton and Tuscarawas counties and part of Holmes County.
Hottinger, who has rotated from the Ohio House and Ohio Senate since 1995, began serving the community in his preteen and teenage years, when he volunteered at the Salvation Army and soup kitchens. He has won 11 elections, nine at the state level and two in the city of Newark, where he was a city councilman.
“I came from a poor, working-class family,” Hottinger said. “Living in a poor family embedded in me at an early age, public service.”
Miller, who grew up in Columbus, has worked as a waitress, cook, chef, retail clerk, massage therapist and instructor. She currently helps her husband, Tim, in his small web services business.
“A lot of that work was for low wage and long hours,” Miller said. “And I really struggled to make ends meet. This is the experience of too many people in our district and in our state, and I understand these challenges because I’ve lived them.
“I want to see hard work valued, and I want to see everyone in Ohio have what they need to live a good life.”
Miller wants to see the minimum wage raised to $15 per hour. It is currently $8.30 an hour in Ohio. She said it’s a myth that minimum-wage jobs are filled by teenagers.
“The problem is with the wage, not the jobs,” Miller said. “We’re not valuing the work, regardless of what the job is. The typical minimum-wage and low-wage worker is a single mom.”
Hottinger said the key is filling Ohio’s 178,000 unfilled jobs, half which pay $50,000 or more.
The state unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in September, down from 5 percent a year earlier. State officials said the number of people working non-farm jobs in Ohio hit an all-time high in September, when more than 5.6 million people were employed.
“I’m not opposed to raising the minimum wage,” Hottinger said. “Most people want a job better than a minimum-wage job. Our goal is to lift people up to a higher wage job. If people want to aspire to higher-wage jobs, they ought to be able to do it.
“Every manufacturer in Licking County is trying to hire, but there’s too many people living in poverty. We see too many people still can’t bridge that (skills) gap. In Ohio, we have the best of times and the worst of times.”
Miller, who describes herself as a mom, homemaker, school volunteer, community organizer and a candidate for the Ohio State Senate, said she couldn’t let the senate seat go unopposed. She identifies some of her key issues as school funding inequity, accessibility to affordable health care, and regressive tax policies.
“I’m running for the seat because I believe it is critical for a healthy democracy that voters have a real clear choice in every election,” Miller said. “I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the direction of our state, dominated by one party too long, prioritizing wealthy special interests over working families.”
Hottinger, a lifelong Newark resident, said his experience helps him get things done. He said he had more bills signed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland than any other governor.
“I get more done by accident today than I did years ago by working hard,” Hottinger said. “But, I still work hard. The question in this election is who is in the best position to serve this community and senate district.”
Hottinger co-sponsored Senate Bill 119, also known as Daniel’s Law, to help address Ohio’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. The bill, which passed the senate, allows pharmacists to distribute the drug naltrexone, with a five-day emergency prescription, if certain conditions are met.
The winner of the election will serve a four-year term, earning a salary of $60,584, with additional compensation for chairing committees or being in a leadership position.
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