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Wes Retherford: Focus is on political priorities as term nears end

Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford said he knows a March 2017 arrest for drunken driving cost him his chance at being re-elected to a fourth term.

The 34-year-old Hamilton Republican lost the May GOP primary election to political newcomer Sara Carruthers, who invested $200,000 of her own money into her campaign.

MAY PRIMARY ELECTION: Political rookie Sara Carruthers beats incumbent Wes Retherford in Statehouse primary

Retherford, who will finish his third term at the end of December, was found passed out in his pickup truck parked idling in a fast food restaurant’s drive-through lane.

He was convicted in May on the misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle while impaired, and could have lost his seat last year if the felony charge of improper handling of a firearm had stuck and he was found guilty. He had a loaded, and holstered, handgun in the center console of his truck, but a grand jury declined to indict Retherford on the charge.

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In this May 2017 photo, Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, walks out of court after being sentenced for operating a vehicle while impaired. (MICHAEL D. PITMAN/2017)

“At the end of the day, I had to own up to what happened,” Retherford told the Journal-News in an interview this month.

“People were either going to forgive me or not forgive me,” he said, adding that it was important he own up to the mistake in order to set an example for his children. “I can’t tell them to be responsible for their actions and own up to their actions if I wasn’t willing to do it myself.”

Since that day in March 2017, Retherford says he has changed his life: he’s stopped drinking and lost upwards of 50 pounds .

Ohio Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Cincinnati, said Retherford before March 2017 was viewed as “most likely to get a DUI. … Now, he’s one of the hardest-working legislators (in the Statehouse).”

Retherford said while his lifestyle has changed, his approach to his job in Columbus never did.

“I just think they’re more noticeable because I was under a larger microscope than before,” he said. “I never let it interfere with my job. I showed up, I knew what was going on, I was involved with a lot of different things. With everything that happened, everybody was paying a lot closer attention.”

Ohio Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, said Retherford “has always been a great legislator,” but it was likely “due to political reasons” he hasn’t gotten enough credit.

State Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, casts an early vote with his children in 2014. Retherford says he isn't certain what he'll do after he leaves office in December, but until then he said he'll push his Victims Privacy and Protection Act. (GREG LYNCH/2014)

“Wes is very well-informed on policy and most importantly has always done what’s right for the people, and not special interests. And that is a rare quality in Columbus for a representative, to put the people’s interests ahead of their own interests, their own ambition, the interests of the party,” Butler said.

Butler added: “I’ve always admired that about Wes. He is to me one of the best legislators that we have. It will be a big loss for the people of Ohio and the House of Representatives when he is not going to be there in the next general assembly.”

Another thing Retherford said he’d do differently would be to push harder for the cannabis oil research bill at the start of his second term.

RELATED: Losers appeal Ohio medical pot licensing decisions

“I backed off (the bill) because people back here were getting feisty about it, but at the same time this is a hot topic,” said Retherford. “I think if we had gone with my plan, which would have strictly limited medical universities and children’s hospitals being involved in it initially, we wouldn’t be seeing the mess that we see with the program that did become law.”

Some losing medical marijuana dispensary bidders to the state have filed a lawsuit against the state.

RELATED: Controversy, legal threats mar Ohio’s medical pot launch

In the remaining several months in his third term representing the 51st Ohio House District, Retherford said “probably the single biggest thing I want to see cross the finish line” is House Bill 451, the Victims Privacy and Protection Act.

The bill passed the House in March and had been referred to the Ohio Senate’s Judiciary Committee since April. It’s yet to receive a hearing.

The bill would “end a potentially dangerous loophole in our public records laws,” Retherford said.

“By preventing public access to photos, videos and other images of victims of sexually oriented crimes, we not only prevent them from being re-victimized, but also offer an extra layer of protection that will encourage them to come forward about the crimes committed against them,” he said.

RELATED: Bill would prevent ‘re-victimizing’ of crime victims

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