Straw poll yields winners: Clinton, Strickland, Smith

Hillary Clinton, Ted Strickland and Eddie Smith got wins Saturday morning in the first Athens County Democratic Party straw poll conducted since 2012.

The straw poll breakfast mostly has taken place during U.S. presidential election years, and party Chair John Haseley said that he plans to make it a more regular occurrence, though probably not annual.

Party regulars heard speeches on behalf of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Ted Strickland from local Democrats speaking in lieu of the actual candidates.

Sanders and Clinton are facing off in the U.S. presidential primary. A third Democratic candidate on the ballot, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuenta, did not have anybody volunteer to speak.

In the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate, to face Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, of Cincinnati, in November, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn spoke in favor of former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who also used to represent areas of Athens County in the U.S. Congress.

Nobody volunteered to speak on behalf of his primary opponents, Cincinnati City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld or activist Kelli Prather.

Attendees also heard speeches from the two candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination to replace state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, in Ohio’s 94th House District, Graduate Student Senate President Eddie Smith and local businesswoman Sarah Grace.

The winner of that contest in Ohio’s March 15 primary will go on to face Republican Jay Edwards, of Nelsonville, in November.

In Saturday’s straw poll, Smith received 37 votes and Grace received 31 of the 68 votes cast. Strickland received 70 votes while Sittenfeld received six votes and Prather received two votes out of 78 votes cast. In the presidential primary, Clinton received 45 votes and Sanders received 32 votes of the 77 votes cast.

On other issues considered, a proposed 2.9-mill tax renewal levy for the Athens City School District also passed overwhelmingly in the straw poll, and Paul Price, a primary candidate for the Fourth District Court of Appeals, who attended the breakfast and gave a speech, beat opponent Valarie K. Gerlach, who was not in attendance and did not have anyone speak on her behalf.

Smith spoke about growing up in poverty, studying sociology and public administration at Ohio University and serving on Graduate Student Senate. He also spoke of serving on the Athens County’s energy task force, the city’s transportation task force and his involvement in the local green energy and foods movement.

Smith then turned to the issues that are important to him, highlighting clean energy opportunities, supporting small farmers, supporting unions, and his opposition to horizontal hydraulic fracturing, which he said is an issue on which he has some differences with Grace.

“On this issue, I think someone needs to go to the Statehouse and stand up for our children and our families and the state of drinking water,” he said. “We cannot continue to bring millions of drums of carcinogenic, cancer-causing chemicals to southeast Ohio and continue to turn southeast Ohio into a dumping ground for the gas and oil companies.”

Grace, meanwhile, spoke about the importance of fun, enthusiastic participation in the Democratic Party, and cited legislative experience she gained working as a research assistant in the Florida Legislature. She said patience, communication, listening to all sides of an issue, and making sure everyone has a say are important assets for a legislator.

She also spoke of her experience as small business owner managing rental properties in Athens, as well as her role as a mother of four children. She talked about what she learned planning an educational cooperative and how it’s important to work with others setting goals and developing a plan to move forward.

“I believe that I have the skills to do that,” she said, praising the work House Democrats have already done and noting that the caucus has endorsed her in the race. “We cannot lose this district. We have to keep Democrats in the House. We need to make progress. We need to come together.”