Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) is pictured during the Developmental Disabilities Awareness March held March 8, 2019.

Jay Edwards is the incumbent representative of the 94th Ohio House District, initially winning the seat in 2016.

In 2018, the Nelsonville native won the seat again, and in the second half of that term was named Majority Whip for the 133rd General Assembly. Edwards was allegedly tapped for the position by now-indicted Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Perry County. The two’s involvement has been the subject of much speculation, as Householder has been accused of racketeering in what officials have called the ”largest bribery scheme” in Ohio State History.

The 94th Ohio House district includes all of Meigs County, most of Athens County, the western portion of Washington County and the eastern portion of Vinton County.

Before being elected, Edwards graduated from Nelsonville-York High School. He then attended Ohio University with a football scholarship where he studied mathematics. In college, Edwards earned his real estate license and began a career as a realtor, which he continued post-college.

Edwards will face candidate Katie O’Neill, a Democrat, this fall for the representative seat.

As a whip, Edwards was responsible for overseeing legislation and securing votes for legislation on the House floor and is tasked with organizing support for a certain political position — either for or against a given piece of legislation, depending on the subject. He mentioned several items that he helped with, including House Bill 6.

The bill has been subject to scrutiny, as well as repeal, as Democrats argued it was corporate bailout legislation, and has been the subject of an FBI investigation into an alleged $60 million public corruption scheme led by Speaker Householder. It’s the largest corruption and money-laundering scheme ever in Ohio.

The bill was designed to do four things: first, create a monthly surcharge for electrical users starting at $0.85 for residential customers, which would be used to subsidize two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio, owned by Energy Harbor, a former FirstEnergy subsidiary. Second, it would create another surcharge for customers to help pay for two coal power plants, starting at $1.50 for residential customers. Third, it would require utility companies to obtain 12.5 percent of the produced power through renewable energy sources by 2027. Finally, it aimed to require utility companies to reduce customers’ energy use through energy efficiency programs.

Edwards noted the in-state renewable energy priorities he said the bill included, and spoke highly of its goals.

Here’s what Edwards had to say on a few other topics:

Police defunding and Black Lives Matter

“I think (citizens) have a right to protest, they have a right to do that. My problem is, regardless whether its the Black Lives Matter movement or whatever...I want to sit down and have a talk. What do you want? What is the conversation? Educate me. I’m willing to admit, I didn’t go to school with a lot of African American people. The one African American person that was in my class, I happened to be best friends with, maybe I did things that were inappropriate — I don’t know, but I can self reflect.”

Edwards noted conversations with team members from when he played football for Ohio University, noting that he believed publicizing a fireside chat with such individuals could be beneficial for his constituents. He also noted an incident from early July where he attended a “Defend the Police” rally, and a counter-protest also occurred. There, Edwards was not wearing a face mask, despite COVID-19 restrictions, and a group of individuals allegedly spit on, bumped into and otherwise harassed the representative.

He noted that he found the event discouraging, as he hoped for more productive interactions with counter-protestors.

“The problem is, a lot of people won’t even have a conversation (about racism),” he said. “If people want me, or representatives, as a white caucasian male, or whoever to be a part of the solution, we have to be a part of the conversation. My problem is, when do we become part of the conversation, and not being scared of saying something wrong that we may be identified as a racist or whatever? I’ve never had anyone approach me to actually have that conversation on a local level. But I’m willing to have it — I’ve never had it come up in Columbus either.”

Edwards noted he is not in favor of any police department defunding measures.

“Defunding the police is a terrible thing. I think from an unbiased lens, that it’s an absolutely terrible idea,” he said, adding that he believed such matters should be made by local governments.

COVID-19 and mask ordinances

Edwards was appointed to a bipartisan task force aiming to re-energize Ohio’s economy post-COVID-19 restrictions, called OHIO 2020.

However, Edwards has been criticized for his public appearances where he has not worn a mask in photos with constituents and at events. He said that he respects the right for private businesses to implement mask ordinances, but also noted his right to shop at a different business so as to not wear a mask.

“People know if they’re in jeopardy, if they’re in one of these diagnosis, and they can take the certain precautions to protect themselves,” Edwards said, adding, “just like people who are allergic to peanuts avoid peanuts.”

Edwards said it would be a good time to talk about healthy habits in a holistic manner.

“I have auto-immune diseases, but I think that if I get COVID that I will certainly be ok because I try to exercise every day, eat healthy, pay attention to my diet and health, and I think that goes a long way,” he said. “There are better ways than having a mask to avoid the virus, and that is staying away from people. I think some people are playing politics with this virus, particularly people who want to come close to you to yell about you wearing a mask. I think that’s extremely hypocritical.

“I think education is a big thing, we need to tie more education into our SNAP benefits program,” he continued, noting that he has begun working on an initiative including previous Athens County Job and Family Services Director Jack Frech, who is a noted Appalachian advocate. Edwards said the initiative would provide personal hygiene items to individuals receiving food distributions.

“These sorts of things are very important in staying healthy across the board,” Edwards said. “We should look at what you’re able to buy with SNAP benefits — I’m not sure anything should be eliminated, but trying to educate (SNAP users) on other options. Fruits and vegetables rather than Lil Debbie cakes — if they want to buy them, that’s their right, but they should know what it will mean for later on, what this means for your healthcare and healthcare costs.”

Approach to the potential third term

Edwards noted he spent much of his first two years in office learning about the processes, people and strategies that he would need to know during his tenure in the Ohio Statehouse. During that first term, he was also known to visit many local events, which critics have said was just a photo-op.

He rebuked the notion, saying that his time visiting the constituents of the region has helped him shape the policy he fights for in the Statehouse. He noted in particular that new leadership will be incoming to the house and senate in Columbus, which he called a great opportunity for bipartisanship.

“We’ve got to continue — There are things I’ve made a lot of progress on that I haven’t been able to get across the finish line,” he said.

How time in office has shaped his perspective

“It has changed in knowing how difficult it is to put us on the map. It’s really tough to get people to know what it’s all about,” Edwards said. “The strategy that I take is much different, and it’s specific on what we’re trying to get done.”

Edwards said that he believes his constituents’ core values are similar to his, saying that he would voice the values as “working with common sense to get things done. Getting away from what’s right and left and toward what’s right and wrong.”

Further articles will explore other candidates in the Nov. 3 Primary Election, as well as further aspects of the race for the 94th Ohio House Representative seat.

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