NORWALK, Ohio - The candidates running in the Republican primary for Ohio's newly created House District 58 present a study in contrasts.
Kathleen Walcher of Norwalk has a long resume of county service, including the last 10 years as clerk of courts. She stakes out few hard positions on issues, saying she would be guided by her constituents and a desire to work with other lawmakers.
Jack Williamson of Bellevue is a retired tool-and-die maker who is making his first run for public office. His platform includes enacting tougher sentences for violent felons, cutting state spending, and telling the Ohio Supreme Court to butt out of the debate over school funding.
One of the two will face off in November against Democrat Ken Bailey, a Norwalk High School senior who is unopposed in the May 7 primary.
Whoever wins the seat will be the first person to represent District 58, which includes all of Huron County and parts of Seneca and Lorain counties.
Under the legislature's current salary structure, the base pay for House members is $53,017 a year.
Ms. Walcher, 53, said working for Huron County has given her the experience to move up to state government.
Before she was elected clerk of courts, she worked as clerk for the county commissioners and was a sheriff's deputy for several years in the 1970s.
“Government isn't like running an ordinary business,” she said. “It's different, and I think my involvement in county government has prepared me for what I might find in the state legislature.”
Ms. Walcher said she gained experience working cooperatively with a group, as a legislator does, as a member of the Ohio Clerk of Courts Association.
“Working on different committees ... gave me an insight into what it was like to work with other people who are trying to achieve a goal,” she said.
Pressed to offer a platform, Ms. Walcher said, “I'd like to see less government involvement in our lives.”
She said she's puzzled why the opposing sides in the fight over school funding have been unable to narrow their differences and strike a deal. Ms. Walcher said she's not sure more money is the way to improve the state's schools.
“There has to be give and take with these people in making these decisions,” she said. “You're there to think of the end result for the people, and that doesn't mean you just keep throwing money into the schools, money into the system.”
Her opponent, Mr. Williamson, calls himself “very conservative, even by Republican standards.” He retired in September, 2000, from the Ford Motor Co. plant in Sandusky. Mr. Williamson has been a GOP precinct committeeman for several years.
Mr. Williamson thinks state government should be shrunk.
“Government's too big, and really the only way to control the size of government is to control the money,” he said. “I don't foresee myself voting for any state tax increase.”
In particular, Mr. Williamson believes the Ohio Supreme Court has too much power. He points to the long-running battle over school funding, arguing that the legislature alone should determine how much is spent on schools.
The court has twice ruled the state's system of school funding unconstitutional.
Asked how lawmakers, should respond, Mr. Williamson answered: “There's three ways you can deal with it. Probably the simplest way is to ignore them. They're out of bounds. The second's more difficult. There are probably constitutional provisions, they can probably be removed from office. And third, the House and Senate could do a joint resolution affirming their right to legislate and telling the court to butt out.”
Mr. Williamson acknowledges that “there's some inequities” in the state's school funding system, and he suggests setting aside part of the state's income tax, or another levy, to support primary and secondary education.
Despite his call for smaller government, Mr. Williamson would consider higher taxes in certain circumstances.
He said he might vote in the May 7 primary for the 0.25 percent sales tax that would fund a renovation of the decrepit Seneca County Courthouse. And he might be persuaded to support a tax to build prisons so violent felons can serve longer sentences.
“I sure hate to spend tax money that way, but when you weigh that against having these people loose preying on other people, maybe you've got to bite the bullet and do it,” he said.