Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford’s challengers for his 51st Ohio House District say he is not an effective representative for the central Butler County district.
Former state lawmaker Greg Jolivette, 66, and Hamilton philanthropist Sara Carruthers, 55, both say Retherford has not done what is needed for the district, and both feel they are the best person to get the job done for the 120,000 residents in district that includes the cities of Hamilton and Fairfield, Ross Township, and portions of Fairfield, Hanover and St. Clair townships. All are vying for the GOP nomination for the 51st Ohio House District in the May 8 primary.
“Unfortunately, Wes Retherford didn’t take his job serious,” said Jolivette. “He went to Columbus and had a good time.”
He said the district “needs to position ourselves” to have a voice in Columbus to get money back into the district, and he’s “ready to do the job day one.”
“We need a representative that’s going to be serious,” said Jolivette, referencing Retherford’s reputation as being “lazy” and “least principled,” according to a Columbus Monthly anonymous survey. “Those are labels that signify that Wes doesn’t take this job seriously. So we need to restore the leadership and respectability back to the district.”
Carruthers said she’s in the race “because it’s a mess.”
“About the time things went crazy for this office, I got angry,” she said referring to Retherford’s March 12, 2017, OVI arrest when he was found in the early morning hours passed out in his pickup truck parked idling in a fast-food drive-thru lane.
She believes she can make a difference.
“I love this place,” she said. “This place pumps through my veins, and I want it to succeed.”
Retherford, 33, defends his record, where several bills have been since his first year in the House, has been passed into law, including requiring Ohio’s occupational licensing agencies to apply an individual’s military training and experience toward the requirements to receive that license.
“I have a wide plethora of substantial policies done on behalf of my constituents, and I’ve voted against leadership on behalf of my constituents,” he said. His most notable dissension against party leadership was the medical marijuana bill in 2016.
One of his latest bills, House Bill 451, the Victim’s Protection and Privacy Act, just passed out of an Ohio House committee and should be up for a floor vote in a week or two, Retherford said. That bill would prevent photos, videos and images of a victim of a sexually oriented crime from being accessed via a public records request. It was prompted by Retherford’s conversation with a Hamilton police detective.
Retherford, R-Hamilton, said the Columbus Monthly article was by political insiders, and he said he’s always been outside those circles and has “ruffled a few feathers.”
“I’ve always put my principles and the people of this district ahead of party politics,” he said.
This will be a difficult election for Retherford because of his opponents’ popularity and name recognition within the district, but Cedarville University political science professor Mark C. Smith said, “In general, incumbents win.”
“Scandal can certainly pull down an incumbent, but not all scandals are created equally,” he said. “Scandals linked to official conduct — corruption, bribery, misconduct on the job — are most damaging, but scandals or illegal behavior that is not linked to the job seem to have a differential impact.”
The further away from Retherford’s March 2017 arrest and subsequent conviction in May 2017, the better it is for the incumbent.
‘“All things being equal, unless a scandal persists, gets lots of news coverage, and happens to a vulnerable candidate, many politicians can ride them out, especially if they have strong relationships with their constituents,” Smith said.
Retherford has apologized several times since his arrest and conviction, and says, “I truly regret what happened.”
He insists “people deserve second chances when they are truly remorseful and they take the steps and the time to show they are remorseful.”
While Retherford says he will continue to talk with constituents and work on legislation that improves the quality of life for people in the district, Jolivette and Carruthers both have platforms they’d like to push.
Jollivette said in the era of term limits, a potential legislator needs to have some background either in government or running a business or organization, as well as the experience in understanding and addressing constituent problems.
“I have done all three of those things,” Jolivette said.
The former county commissioner and former Hamilton mayor said he plans to work to develop two new bridges, one replacing the Black Street bridge in Hamilton as Spooky Nook comes online and one in the Fairfield and Ross Twp. area. He also plans to introduce a bill that would allow local governments, when necessary, to tap into the state’s multi-billion rainy day fund.
Carruthers said if elected in November, she will focus on several topics, including education and school safety. She also wants to focus on bringing a job force to light.
“We have the jobs,” she said. “What we can’t do is fill them because right now too many people don’t really want to work at a job, and I can’t understand that. You can get more money by just hanging at your house and collecting, why would you go to work.”
She also said a person’s ability to pass a drug test “is a huge issue.”
“If you get somebody that’s never been in there before, that’s doing it for the right reasons, needless to say they’d be excited about what they’re seeing and try to help,” Carruthers said.