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Published: Friday, 10/18/2002

46th District contest pits change against experience

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Listening to the radio in the backseat of a car when she was 11 years old, Abbey Mortemore decided that she wanted to hold public office someday.

“I was in the fifth grade,” recalled Ms. Mortemore, who was influenced by the news she heard that afternoon: Sandra Day O'Connor had been appointed to the nation's highest court. “She was the first female Supreme Court Justice. I wrote a paper about her. I still have it.”

Today, Ms. Mortemore, 31, is writing campaign speeches, researching issues, and knocking on doors as she pursues the 46th District Ohio House seat. The district covers western Lucas County.

A resident of Springfield Township, Ms. Mortemore is offering voters a “fresh, new voice in Columbus” in contrast to her opponent, incumbent Lynn Olman (R., Maumee), who is highlighting his experience and accomplishments during his tenure in Columbus.

Ms. Mortemore, a Democrat running for elected office for the first time, said she has made connections with many people in the district through her work, community activities, and her grassroots campaign.

She compared her campaign to a “nine-month-long job interview with 115,000 people,” during which she has heard first-hand the issues facing residents, including the costs of higher education and urban sprawl.

Voters, she said, are worried about encroachment of big-box retailers. She promotes “smart growth” as a way to make sure plans are developed to prevent sprawl.

Committed to making higher education affordable in Ohio, Ms. Mortemore contends that lawmakers must make better decisions about spending tax dollars. “It is a matter of priorities,” she said, and making college affordable to avoid “brain drain” should be a top priority.

Education issues always have been the No. 1 priority of voters in the district, said Mr. Olman, 55, a State Farm Insurance agent and former Maumee councilman, but so far in the campaign “there does not seem to be a single definable issue that everyone is bringing up,” he said.

Mr. Olman, a state representative since 1995, said during his tenure he has been directly involved with northwest Ohio's shift into a position of prominence. “The goal is to maintain the elevated status northwest Ohio now holds,” he said, noting that this area is at or near the top of the list for state funding for economic development, capital projects, and transportation.

Chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee, Mr. Olman said it took time for him to develop strong relationships with key state officials. As an incumbent closely connected with decision-makers in Columbus, Mr. Olman said he can work to accomplish “good things for the region and the community.” He noted that he lobbied for the $250 million in funding for the new six-lane I-280 bridge over the Maumee River.

Mr. Olman, who sponsored the mental health parity bill as part of his fight to end discrimination against the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse in insurance coverage, described his job as state representative as a “joyous experience,” but there have been downs as well as ups during his tenure.

In February, 2000, the Ohio Elections Commission dismissed a complaint accusing Mr. Olman of violating state law by soliciting campaign contributions from state workers who are lobbyists too.

The elections complaint stemmed from a fund-raising letter that was supposed to be sent to private-sector lobbyists, but instead was mailed by a campaign aide to all lobbyists registered by the state. In response to the complaint, the aide and Mr. Olman said they were unaware that the state departments had registered lobbyists. Mr. Olman returned two contributions from state workers who were lobbyists.

More recently, Mr. Olman sponsored, along with Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), a bill to plug the controversial “double-dipping” loophole through which some elected officials have positioned themselves to draw simultaneous public pensions and salaries for the same jobs.

The loophole should be closed, said Mr. Olman, and his opponent agreed.

“I support legislation to close the loophole,” said Ms. Mortemore, community relations coordinator for Life Connections of Ohio, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and education of organ donation.

“For the record, never in the past, not today, nor in the future would I consider the double-dip,” Mr. Olman said. “I wouldn't do it if opposed in a race, unopposed, or even in the face of term limits when the public can't do anything about it. It's not a political decision, it's an ethical one.”



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