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Ohio Statehouse candidates discuss education and the presidential election

Whether Trump, Hillary, Bernie or bust, this November, residents of Ohio’s 94th District — Ohio University students included — have another decisive task at hand: deciding who will represent their collective interests at the statehouse.

In this year’s election, Democratic candidate Sarah Grace will square off with Republican Jay Edwards for the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Representative Debbie Phillips, D-Albany. Phillips will reach her term limit this year.

Grace, a cancer survivor and mother of four, runs a real estate business and made her debut in local politics when she defeated then-OU Graduate Student Senate president Eddie Smith in the primaries. Edwards, a Nelsonville realtor, graduated from Ohio University on a football scholarship and ran unopposed in the primaries.

Earlier this month, Grace implored Edwards to participate in an open forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Athens County, before early voting begins Oct. 4. The Edwards campaign, however, contacted Grace and said he would not be available to meet until Oct. 25, when the two are scheduled for a public forum at the Athens Public Library.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than allowing the voters and constituents to have an opportunity to hear where candidates stand on the issues,” Grace said. “And I believe it’s very important to go on the record and answer questions about where I stand on things, and I’m willing to do that.”

Both Grace and Edwards, however, agree education is an issue of immediate and lasting importance in the district.

While Grace advocates placing caps on increasing university tuition and fees, she believes that there is an even more pressing issue at hand — creating a landscape where students will be given access to resources, such as affordable healthcare and equal pay when they graduate.

“They’re soon going to be a part of the work force, and possibly wanting to start families, and so I feel that the issues that impact families impact college students in such a short time,” Grace said.

Having worked with a number of local students while on the campaign trail, Edwards stressed the importance of providing an education worth the investment. Those sentiments, he explained, are echoed by many of his student supporters.

“I’m a supporter of organized labor, for example,” Edwards said in an email. “And I’ve talked before about the building trades and the importance of having a trained, skilled, drug-tested workforce.”

OU College Democrats president Sam Miller said her group plans to get involved in Grace’s campaign in the coming days and highlighted the importance of involvement in local politics.

“When it comes down to it, any Democrat is more qualified than Jay Edwards,” Miller said. “If Athens County wants Sarah Grace, I’m totally going to get behind her. I support her 100 percent.”

Though the presidential election continues to play out on a much larger scale, Grace believes it has undoubtedly impacted the realm of local politics.

“I think there were a lot of very polarized, strong opinions within the Republican Party,” Grace said. “People had very strong feelings either for or against Donald Trump, so that really drove people to vote in the Republican party.”

Edwards, who said that he is not running to be a “partisan politician,” said that in speaking with local voters, he believes many people will vote split-ticket in November.

“When I’m out talking with voters, the consistent message I hear is they’re tired of partisan bickering and finger pointing,” Edwards said. “They want – and frankly deserve – to have their voices heard in Columbus and Washington. They want the people they elect to work together to solve problems.”


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