Two Democratic hopefuls faced off Tuesday night at the Athens Community Center during a forum hosted by the Athens County League of Women Voters.

Daniel Kilgore and Joel Newby are both hoping to win the March 17 Primary Election to face either incumbent 15th District Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) or Republican candidate Shelby Hunt. Both Stivers and Hunt were invited to join the Feb. 11 forum, but both declined.

Hunt has agreed to appear at a forum to be held at Trimble High School on Feb. 18 for Athens County Treasurer candidates and 78th Ohio House District candidates. Stivers has said he will not be able to attend this forum, and was also unable to attend a separate date set for just the Republican candidates for the 15th District.

Newby, Kilgore and Stivers all reside in Franklin County. The 15th District includes 12 counties in Southern and Central Ohio, including nearly all of Athens County. The subject of how to represent this large, varied district was one of the main topics of the forum.

Newby, a native of Pickaway County, tried to hammer home the point that he is a candidate “made by this district.” Newby spent seven years in Athens earning a Bachelors and a Masters degree, both in political science. He now works as an attorney in Columbus. Newby spoke to the feeling that Appalachian Ohio “feels left behind,” and promised to fight for better internet access, as well as investing in sustainable, renewable energy sources.

Kilgore was raised in Huron County. He described how he worked two jobs in college to support not only himself, but his grandmother after his grandfather passed away. He moved to Columbus in search of better job opportunities, and became homeless. However, he bounced back and is once more working two jobs. He advocated for single payer health care, and encouraged voters to vote for him as he is “just an average person.”

Both candidates sought to show themselves as candidates of the people, who understand Athens County’s issues and will balance the needs of this area with the rest of the district.

Newby in particular noted his roots in the district, from his youth in Pickaway County, to his college years in Athens, to his current life in Franklin County. The candidates were asked how they would remain connected with the district once elected, something Newby feels will be easy for him to do.

“You’re going to have to gerrymander me out of this district,” he joked, noting that he has many friends, family and acquaintances throughout the area that will keep him coming back and connected for years to come, regardless of the election.

Kilgore called Stivers a “phantom” for how little he is seen in the southern portions of his district. He said to combat becoming disconnected, he hopes to establish offices in each of the 12 counties in the district.

“That’s how I always operate: it should be easy to find me or reach out to me,” he said. “I’ve been to Athens many times, I love spending time down here. It reminds me of where I come from, but more congressional offices are needed down here to allow access and open pipelines of communication.”

He advocated for bringing the seat of power out of Columbus and “back to the counties.”

“Right now, we have nothing, a ghost,” he said. “I will bring a voice back to this area that has been neglected for 11 years now.”

Here are a few of the other questions asked at the forum, and edited version of the candidates answers for brevity and clarity:

What are your funding priorities?

Newby: Infrastructure is a big one. Let’s talk about getting rail into Ohio, as it’s a cleaner type of transportation. Let’s talk about building a clean energy grid. Let’s talk about incentives for farmers to start producing solar or wind energy, because young people aren’t going into farming, they’re going to cities where there are opportunities to make money. But that goes back to the internet: small towns need good internet to export goods and services.

Kilgore: Like Joel, I think infrastructure should be our main focus. It would take $1.6 trillion to get the nation’s infrastructure up to date, and that would take 80 years to finish. We need to bring coal miners who have lost their jobs into the solar, wind and hydro-electric power sectors. We’re working with infrastructure and energy sources that were designed in the 1960s, and we need to bring things up to date. We’re falling behind the rest of the world, so we need to build up our infrastructure and catch up and hopefully surpass them.

How is your campaign different from other Democratic candidates for this seat, and how would it defeat Steve Stivers?

Kilgore: I listen. I sat down with a Republican family, and the mother’s healthcare was their main concern. We talked together as Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. I won over that family’s support.

If I listen to just one party, I’m ignoring everyone else. I’m going to talk to everybody, and treat everyone as humans, not as their political beliefs.

Newby: We need somebody who can actually win this district, and I am that candidate. Out of the four people running for in this race, I am the only one who went to high school in this seat. I’m the one who went to college in this district, the one with that hometown feel that will be able to get the job done.

I’ve talked a lot tonight about farmers, independents — that’s because those are my family, friends and neighbors that have been hurt by Trump’s policies. Maybe I can be that one Democrat to get through to them, because I can speak to the issues they are facing. I have a 12 county strategy, winning each one separately. No one else has tried this.

Issues they agreed upon

The candidates had several items they agreed upon, including women’s rights issues. Newby noted his support of the Equal Rights Amendment, which Kilgore said is an important legislative measure, but that the statute time on that amendment has expired so he is not supporting it.

Newby noted his support of reproductive health care rights, as well as the importance of childcare and equal pay. He noted that paid family leave is not required and many workers don’t have access to the benefit, and advocated for expanded paid family leave legislation.

Kilgore, like Newby, noted that equal pay is an important topic, especially for rural workers who may not have access to resources that are found in areas like Columbus. He noted that race also plays into that inequality, and agreed with Newby that paid family leave is an important benefit that should be legislated and protected.

Both also stated they were most similar to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, and take inspiration from her policies and work.

The candidates were asked how they would help small farmers access federal funding. Kilgore noted the monopoly large farms have on the federal funding.

“Family farms do most of the work, and I will do everything I can to advocate for them,” he said, noting he would work to help farmers either keep family farms or grow, if they so chose.

Newby said he would try to implement a new formula for how the funding is allocated, and advocated for setting up a matrix that would benefit small family farms. He said using just acreage for this formula does not make sense, but did not state which other factors he would like to include.

Both also noted their belief in climate change and advocated for sustainable energy. Newby noted that it is his belief that pivoting to sustainable energy sources would help create jobs for the area.

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