Ohio House 64th: Letson (D) Takes on Law (R)
At the ODP 2006 State Dinner last Saturday I had the opportunity to meet Warren attorney Tom Letson, the Democratic challenger to first-term incumbent Randy Law (R-Warren) in the 64th Ohio House District. I've heard that this race is very much on the mind of Ohio Democratic Chairman Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island). The party still feels the sting of Law's unexpected victory over incumbent Daniel Sferra (D) in 2004 and is determined to win back the seat this year with Letson.
Letson practices law in the Warren firm founded by his father, Letson, Kragalott and Stack, mostly in municipal and domestic court, but he is no stranger to electoral politics. He says he has been interested in state politics since his youth. He ran against Michael Verich in the primary election for state representative in 1982 (the district had a different shape and number then), and against Peter Kontos for common pleas judge in the Democratic primary 10 years ago. Apparently believing that the third time is the charm, Letson said in an newspaper interview when he declared his intention to run, "I'm the most qualified person to do the job for the people of the 64th district because I've had more time interfacing with the real problems of this district than anyone else that's going to run."
Letson has lived in the Warren area for over fifty years and is married and has a grown daughter. He earned his bachelor's degree from Kent State University and his law degree from the University of Akron. He worked his way through law school by working at Copperweld as a machinist. Letson cites as relevant experience his work as a house parent for mentally retarded adults, and as a Workers Compensation representative for the United Steelworkers Union, jobs which have shown him "the problems that people face in very real life in our community."
I asked Letson what were the biggest issues on the minds of residents of his district, and he answered without hesitation: employment, education, and healthcare. He talked about how critical it is to keep jobs here in Ohio, and to have the kind of high quality educational system that will encourage qualified workers to stay in the state. (He mentioned that his own daughter has obtained a law degree and is feeling the pull of pursuing opportunities in attractive locations out of state.) He also talked about the tragedy of retired steelworkers who get informed that they have no healthcare benefits. However, he said, there are prospects for revitalzing the economy of the area, and he mentioned that efforts are underway to lure Leedsway Telecommunications Limited, a manufacturer of computer monitors and notebook computers, to build a new manufacturing facility in the Warren area. Asked to identify his role model as a legislator, Letson thought it over and mentioned former Ohio senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), two leading moderate voices.
Letson said that his campaign web site would be greatly expanded from its current state, but it already features a fairly detailed statement of his positions on the economy, education, healthcare,and living wage. On the economy, he cites statistics to show the mess that the Republican administration have made, and pledges to work to diversify Ohio's economy in order to strengthen it:
Ohio must adapt to new economic realities if we want to be a national leader. Our state continues to rely heavily on manufacturing and agriculture, the foundation of Ohio's economy, and we must remain committed to these legacies and to the labor unions and other organizations designed to fight for our citizens. However, it is important to diversify our economy. And that's why I pushed to develop and expand Ohio's high-tech industry, while advocating for job retraining programs designed to assist citizens switching careers.On education, Letson decries the Republicans' failure to fix the unconstitutional educational funding system, and says that "test results clearly show the charter school experiment to be a failure" and thus no solution to school funding problems. He says that he believes that "health care is a right for all people," and it is "immoral for seniors to have to choose between living costs and prescription drugs." Keeping healthcare costs low "is just good economics," and "the state has a responsibility to look after the sick and the elderly, the poor and the disabled, and those who cannot look after themselves." Finally, as to the issue of a living wage, Letson supports the proposed constitutional amendment to raise Ohio's minimum wage to the federal rate of $6.85 an hour.