Equal-opportunities and an environmentally-sustainable economy are just two ideals that Democratic challenger Katie O’Neill is running on as she seeks the 94th Ohio House District representative seat.
O’Neill, an Ohio native boasting three degrees — a Bachelor of History and the Environment from Ohio University, and a Master of Energy Regulation and Law alongside a Juris Doctorate from Vermont Law School — will be facing incumbent Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) during the Nov. 3 General Election.
Her main platform points originate from her own experience, she said during an interview held Wednesday, Sept. 30. That starts with the environment.
“Ohio is a fresh water state,” O’Neill said, noting the Ohio River marking one border and Lake Erie marking another. “We are a state that inspired the Clean Water Act — unfortunately, that’s because the gas and oil industry caught the Cuyahoga River on fire 13 times ... what that history says is we can be a leader in the nation again for our water quality if we prioritize it by electing people into office who really do understand that water is our most valuable resource.”
She noted that Southeast Ohio could benefit from eco-tourism, but if an environment-driven economy was to be implemented, it would also draw in environmentally-minded work and businesses, such as scientists, environmentalists, farmers and more.
“There are a lot of economic opportunities right now available If we could focus ourselves on this renewable energy economy that’s going to clean up our environment,” she said. “This is also going to attract businesses that want to be 100 percent renewable energy. This is also going to attract young people that want to be in an area where they know that their kids are going to be safe playing in the creek or fishing on the river, and just having the ability to have health and pollution not impeding (on that).”
O’Neill said her goal with obtaining her three degrees was to be better trained to pursue this plan.
“Right now we have charter schools that are getting public funding, and yet they are just replicating the same services that are available in public schools. I don’t think they should get public money for replicating what is already provided. If they would like public money, then they should be offering a service of career training. I grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and I am a believer that you should have some kind of training leaving high school that will allow you to get a job anywhere you want so you can do your own self-discovery, create your own independence, or pay for expenses while you’re at school.
“I went to community college my senior year, and was able to get some of my classes done early. My twin brother went to auto-body school, my sister went to culinary school, and my younger brother went to horticulture school. We all had training that allowed us to feel confident by the time we were 18 with a high school diploma. If charter schools want our public money, then they should be training students in a trade, whatever it is. Do something the public schools aren’t doing.”
“In 2010, the frackers came to town and decided they wanted to put their poison in our ground and their business plan was to pollute millions of gallons of our water, before injecting it into the ground. Mind you, the oil and gas industry is now circumventing the Clean Water Act through this practice. They are no longer polluting our surface water, because we can see that, and we can smell that, and by gosh, sometimes it catches on fire. So now, they’re just putting it underground.”
She noted the 2011 4.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Youngstown, Ohio. Anti-fracking advocates have blamed that quake on the wastewater injection well in the same county. She also noted that water moves rock.
“Right, we learn that at a young age, they use rivers as examples,” she said. “But somehow, the oil and gas industry thinks we don’t understand that ... Nelsonville had an earthquake, first time in 100 years, that was near injection wells — but they try to convince us that we don’t understand that the water is moving the rock that’s supposed to contain it.”
“I want to ban injection wells. I don’t think it’s a safe practice at all.”
Personal connection to Southeast Ohio
“I was raised in a family that spoke of Ohio University with great pride,” O’Neill said, noting that several of her close family members have graduated from the school. “I was always told by my family that this is where I would love more than anywhere else — I always knew that, and I waited until I felt called. And that didn’t happen until 2009.”
O’Neill noted that was the timeframe when the DuPont plant, upriver of several Athens County towns, was cited for negligence that led to C8 contamination of drinking water in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
“What I’m saying is that Ohio has got this great responsibility for how we treat our water, because it effects so many people. When it happened to the Cuyahoga River, that was a state issue. When it happened to Lake Erie, that was an international issue and a multi-state issue. But when it happened on the Ohio River, it became a global issue.”
O’Neill argued that the constituents of the 94th District care deeply about the environment and the abundance of natural resources in their region.
“It’s a lifestyle. We have a lot of farmers in the area, and it’s unfortunate that Jay Edwards has never understood the constituents which he represents, but I’m hoping that my candidacy brings to light the greatness of this region, rather than just calling us poor and uneducated and conservative — no, we’ve got three universities here, we have got farmland, river property, a renewable energy economy. We need to legalize marijuana and create a new cash crop for Ohio.”
“The Millennial generation— we are the largest generation that is of working age and voting age. I’m really excited to be a representative of that generation, because I’m part of the eldest of that generation. I think that I understand the struggles. I’m a female, historian, environmentalist. How much money do you think I’ve been making?”
O’Neill noted in passing that she’s been working to not utilize fundraising in any campaign she’s been involved.
“I understand the issues that are facing 1 in 3 of our neighbors in this district that are living in poverty. It’s a difficult lifestyle, but we learn budgets, we learn thrift shopping, and we learn to prioritize food because we know that is a part of our healthcare that we can’t afford. We learn to prioritize exercise that’s free, not in a gym, because who has money to pay $100 for a gym? No, we want a bike path.”
O’Neill also noted that co-counseling, or informal community therapy, as a form of support.
“People have been saying that our grandparents were the greatest generation of this nation. Because they survived two world wars and the great depression and built the middle class, which created the wealthiest nation on the planet, which they gave to the Baby Boomers, and then they gave us a debt economy. But because of that, we are the generation that have chosen to replicate a lot of the great qualities of the Great Generation. We fix things, we’re thrifty, we grow our own food, we use fuel efficient cars or bicycles, we are community-oriented.
“So we are the generation that is expanding upon the greatness that came before us.”
“Electing a woman into office will be empowering to not only women being confident to run for office, but I will also be working on ensuring that women are paid equal, and that our civil rights are protected. My opponent has spent a lot of his time voting against women’s rights.”
O’Neill noted that ultimately, she would like to hold the 94th House Representative Seat for eight years, and eventually become the second female Ohio Governor.
Further articles will explore other candidates in the Nov. 3 Primary Election.
Willard is the assistant editor of the Athens Messenger.