The Primary, The Candidates, and Fracking: A Rundown

Registered voters in Athens County are set to vote in the upcoming primary election on March 15. For citizens who plan on voting with an interest in land issues, Athens Unearthed has culled through interviews, voting records and endorsements to offer this guide to educate voters.

How the Primary Works

In Athens County, registered voters can choose between voting on either a Republican or Democratic ticket. The major elections this year in regard to land use are the races for U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the state Senate and the state House. This guide will break down the candidates by ticket to help voters put together an informed opinion.

The Democratic Ballot

U.S. Senate

For Democrats, the two key primaries to watch are the races for U.S. Senate — between Kelli Prather, P.G. Sittenfeld and Ted Strickland — and the race for a seat in the state House for the 94th district, which is between Sarah H. Grace and Eddie Smith.

In regards to the Senate race, likely primary winner Strickland has financial ties to the fracking industry. According to a report from Common Cause, a nonpartisan governmental research firm claimed the oil and gas industry has donated just less than $90,000 to his various election funds.

Sittenfeld, a Cincinnati city councilman, accused Strickland of being too much of a politico and not stating an opinion on the Keystone XL pipeline.

In The Columbus Dispatch, Sittenfeld said, “Let me be crystal clear. I oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, and I would vote against it.”

Prather has not included any mention of fracking on her campaign website and has not spoken publicly about the issue.

Ohio House

Pivoting to the state House race, Smith and Grace sparred over the fracking issue at a public forum in February. While Grace didn’t offer her own opinion, she did say she didn’t see any likelihood of a bill passing in Athens and deemed it much ado about nothing.

“I’m not about wasting my time,” Grace said, according to reporting from The Athens News. “I believe this is a change that is coming to Ohio. The future of energy and employment is not in the oil and gas industry, but I don’t believe that is a bill that would pass in the Legislature so I don’t know whether I would sponsor or co-sponsor that bill. It would depend on the circumstances.”

Smith, however, took a hard stance against fracking.

“The job growth was largely a myth, but what they didn’t tell us was the history of how unsafe fracking really was,” Smith said, before listing accidents, spills and pipeline ruptures. “I don’t see fracking playing any part of a progressive future here, and I’d work very hard to make sure that legislation did get through. I’d give it my best shot.”

The Republican Ballot

For Republican voters with a special interest in land use, the main race to watch is between Don Elijah Eckhart and Rob Portman for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Portman, a known advocate for fracking, has received $91,000 in campaign funds from the oil and gas industry according to the Common Cause report. He has also repeatedly spoken in favor of fracking in Ohio as far back as 2012.

While Eckhart has never explicitly spoken in favor of fracking in Ohio, he has mentioned a need for the U.S. to decrease its dependence on foreign oil.

Eckhart wrote in a WKBN News op-ed, “The United States must become independent of foreign oil, especially from the Middle East. Our dependence on Middle Eastern oil has limited our policy options. This has many ramifications, including military and economic. I believe that we should do whatever it takes to eliminate our reliance on Middle Eastern oil.”

The Local Pundits

While the candidates’ words can do a fair job speaking for themselves, some local activists weighed in on the matter as well.

Anna Lippincott, president of College Republicans at Ohio University, said a primary vote for Rob Portman is the most efficient way to use the land to stimulate the local and state economy.

“Ohio needs jobs and America needs domestic oil,” Lippincott said. “A vote for Portman will further both of those interests.”

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Jake Zuckerman

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