Two candidates in the race to succeed Peggy Lehner in the Ohio Senate are focused on health care and the next generation as their inspirations for a General Assembly run.
The contested primary in the Republican-held seat pits a current member of the House of Representatives, Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, against two newcomers to candidacy, Rachel Selby and Greg Robinson.
The district includes Kettering, Washington Township, part of Dayton, Miamisburg, Riverside, Huber Heights, Centerville, Miami Township, Oakwood, Germantown and West Carrollton.
Selby, who is the vice president of Young Republican Women of Dayton and a part of the county Central Committee, has the endorsement of the incumbent, with Lehner, R-Kettering, saying earlier this year that Selby’s in the race for “the right reasons.”
Selby’s focus on children’s issues is the basis for a good general assembly member, she says, because without a support system for the next generation, the state can’t progress on any issues, such as the opioid epidemic or the economic downturn in some areas of Ohio.
“When you look at the federal dollars flowing in, all to adult programs, to me it’s criminal that we’re not allocating funding to the most vulnerable victims of this,” Selby told the Capital Journal. “And if you look at cycles of addiction, why aren’t we investing in these babies and these children and help end these cycles with them?”
The Washington Township resident felt an urgency to jump into the race after seeing the state “failing our kids” in many areas, including education and child welfare.
“We don’t have a state model,” Selby said. “The joke is there’s 88 ways to child welfare here in Ohio, and I’ve seen that broken-ness and I’ve lived through that trauma with these kiddos and I can’t unsee it.”
She’s seen the experiences as a mother of six children, five of whom were foster children, and as a philanthropy officer at Dayton Children’s Hospital. She also chose to explore child welfare and outcomes within the child health care systems in other states as part of work toward her master’s degree.
“There are options out there, I know that we can do better, and that gives me a lot of hope,” Selby said.
Having such a close relationship with the foster care system, Selby didn’t just learn how to navigate that system, but the winding road of safety net programs in Ohio.
“I thought I understood addiction, or I thought I understood poverty. You have these mindsets until you’re challenged with tough information and facing things that you can’t understand, and you have to navigate that anyway,” Selby said. “It just kind of ripped all that wide open for me and it’s changed how I view the world.”
Robinson says his four decades of experience in health care are what give him an edge in a Senate district that includes Montgomery County, an area spotlighted nationally in the fight against the opioid epidemic.
Having worked at a psychiatric hospital and mental health facilities early in his career, followed by acute care and now his own medical billing company in Dayton, Robinson’s first passion is getting health care issues dealt with in the state, and in talking to voters, he sees that as their priority as well.
“In the state of Ohio, we need to work harder on the legislative side on how we’re delivering health care, that’s the number one issue for folks right now,” Robinson told the Capital Journal.
He said the fact that insulin coverage isn’t state mandated despite the large number of Ohioans suffering from diabetes is “unacceptable.”
Robinson also sees the need to move away from a fee-for-service model in Medicaid, and make health care more manageable.
He said health care stretches to his pro-life views, but abortion is something he sees as more of a risk for people of color, in terms of the number of abortions happening. He did not cite any specific statistics but said abortion was a “poor, black issue” more than a “white issue.”
“I don’t think it’s okay to say we’re fine with killing millions of black babies,” Robinson said. “I don’t like that.”
As a self-proclaimed capitalist, he said the state needs to allow residents to “have a measure of control over their own destiny” when it comes to employment and financial stability.
“If you want to work two jobs seven days a week here, you can do that,” Robinson said.
Robinson said as a self-funded campaign, he’s seeing the benefits to digital messaging and targeted mailings, especially with the older demographic he sees as the largest contingent of voters during a primary election.
Whatever the result, Robinson said he’s encouraged by the candidates on both sides of the race. He doesn’t see the district shifting to the Democrats, considering the seat has been Republican since the mid-80s, but he does think everyone will have their say.
“I think the voters might, for once, have a really broad opportunity to hear defense for both sides on the issues,” Robinson said.
The other candidate in the race, Antani has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2014.
Despite multiple calls to his Statehouse office, several emails to his campaign and numerous social media messages, Antani did not respond to the Capital Journal’s request for an interview.
The Democratic side of the race is also contested, with Mark Fogel and Albert Griggs in the running for the nomination.