WOOSTER − Republican Scott Wiggam and Democrat Mark Gooch will face off in the 77th Ohio House of Representatives race on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Wiggam is running to retain his seat as Wayne County's representative. His opponent hopes to unseat him.
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While both want to put money into workers' pockets and reduce energy costs, they differ on issues ranging from gun regulations to abortion and green energy.
The two diverge on campaign messages, too.
For Gooch, his campaign is about bridging the partisan divide.
Wiggam said he hopes to stem the "breakdown of society" that he sees in a growing disrespect of law enforcement and officials making allowances for criminal activity.
Gooch, a librarian at the College of Wooster, has worked in the Wooster and Wayne County communities for decades.
From raising $100,000 for Christmas Run Pool to supporting local organizations and schools by organizing lunches during the pandemic, he says, the community comes first.
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Among Gooch's top goals is to increase local jobs and production as a way to bring investment and money into the county with a focus on clean energy.
"If we can produce an excess of oil, why can't we have solar and wind energy production?" he asked. "We know clean energy is cheap."
Throughout the pandemic, Gooch saw the state legislature erode local health departments' authority, which, he said, limits responses to localized health problems like disease outbreaks. To fix this, he wants to return that authority.
As a Democrat in a conservative county, he hopes to be a moderate force from the left that can compromise with people on both sides of the political divide.
"I'm tired of divisive politics; I want to bring communities together," he said. "I'm not a Democrat representing Democrats from Wayne County, I'm a representative representing the entirety of Wayne County."
Wiggam, the incumbent representative and former Wayne County commissioner, like his opponent, wants to encourage investment and jobs in the county.
Among Wiggam's top concerns is reducing inflation and energy costs. This means investing in domestic natural gas production, a cleaner alternative to coal, he says.
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"This would get more money in the pockets of Ohioans while putting people to work," Wiggam, a member of the state energy committee, said.
His other aim is to fully eliminate the income tax while changing unemployment benefits to "get Ohioans back to work."
"People are told to keep a part-time job to keep receiving benefits, Wiggam said, referring to a benefits cliff, which sees a loss of financial assistance when receiving a pay raise, thus becoming ineligible for benefits. This can result in diminished income due to less government support.
Wiggam is also concerned about a "breakdown of society."
This, he said, stems from a growing disrespect of law enforcement in the form of calls for police reform and what he sees as justifying criminal activity.
"We have also walked away from God and our Judeo-Christian values and self-government," he said.
Gun control debate
Both Wiggam and Gooch believe in the Second Amendment. Both go shooting and believe guns can be used safely, but the two disagree on policy.
With both of his boys in Boy Scouts, Gooch's kids are trained in gun safety, so he takes them to the shooting range some weekends.
Beyond recreational fun, he said, guns can be used to cause harm and he criticized recent Ohio gun laws.
"But law changes have made people less safe," he said, referring to an Ohio law that does not require a permit for concealed carry weapons. "Police groups like the Fraternal Order of Police are opposed to this legislation."
He said such laws increase the chance of deadly gun-related incidents while background checks for all sales would ensure guns stay out of the wrong hands.
Wiggam takes another approach to gun laws. He believes the term "universal background checks" means the government will take away all guns.
"When people aren't free, there is tyranny," he said about background checks for gun purchases. "Drug dealers and gang members are getting illegal guns through the black market, friends and family; criminals don't care about gun laws."
He was one of 58 Republican representatives to vote yes on Senate Bill 215, which established permitless conceal carry.
Wiggam on abortion access
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Ohio has become one of the many centers of the abortion debate running down party lines.
Wiggam agrees with his Republican colleagues that abortion is less about women's rights and more about saving the lives of the unborn.
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"I want to save as many lives as possible," said Wiggam, who co-signed the Heart Beat Bill, which bans abortions after six weeks of gestation, nearly halfway through the first trimester. "I believe that being is a human being."
The law has an exception to save the life of a patient but no exceptions for rape or incest, according to a Columbus Dispatch report from June.
She crossed state lines into Indiana where she could legally receive an abortion.
The Indiana doctor who performed the abortion told the IndyStar that she received a referral from a doctor in Ohio who felt they could not perform the procedure in the state.
But for Wiggam, the main issue surrounding the 10-year-old girl is lost on Democrats who, he said, are not fully investigating the situation.
"We don't know if she was part of a sex trafficking ring," he said. "We also know that her mother was likely an illegal immigrant."
If the 10-year-old girl carried the pregnancy to birth, he said, she could have put the baby up for adoption.
Gooch on abortion access
Gooch takes the opposite approach to abortion access, stating it is a women's rights issue that is up to the individual. The government should not be involved.
"It should be a private decision made by the women and their families and doctors," he said. "There are women who may be pregnant but don't want to be or cannot be pregnant"
He said abortions should be available in the case of rape or incest and to save the mother's life.
"My religious views should not be included in this," he said. Instead, religion and politics should remain separate when it comes to abortion access.
If elected, he hopes to improve abortion access as a way to give women more choices over their bodies and futures.
Gov. Mike DeWine's police reform package that included provisions like a partial ban on chokeholds is "dead," the Cincinnati Enquirer reported in September.
With this latest attempt at police reform to fail in the state, both Wayne County candidates weighed in on the issue. Both dismissed defunding police as an option but disagreed on reform packages.
"I'm against police reform," Wiggam said. "I'm okay with investigations of force, but police are not systemically racist."
The movement for police reform, Wiggam said, is an erosion of respect for the police.
"If a criminal puts a police officer in a chokehold, they should use whatever force they need to get out of that," he said.
Wiggam is co-sponsoring House Bill 109, which will increase criminal penalties for "certain assaults, vandalism, and riot offenses, to allow peace officers (police) to bring civil suits against persons participating in a riot, and to prohibit bias-motivated intimidation of first responders."
The bill would make vandalism and certain offenses against first responders during riots felonies.
While Gooch is against defunding the police, he said, he would encourage training like crisis intervention to teach law enforcement how to confront individuals with mental illnesses.
Unlike his opponent, Gooch is in favor of other reform options like a central database that tracks police-related activity across Ohio.
"I participated in Wooster Police Academy, so I get that those split-second decisions are incredibly difficult, especially as an untrained individual like myself," Gooch said. "But we are lucky to have a good law enforcement presence in Wayne County."
This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: 77th House District candidates Wiggam and Gooch talk policy issues