COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the next month, Spectrum News 1 will preview key contested races in both the state's House and Senate.
On Tuesday, we are highlighting the 96th House District in eastern Ohio, which includes all of Jefferson and Monroe Counties and portions of Belmont County. There are three candidates vying to fill the open seat.
In a little more than two months, the 96th House District will have a newly-elected official. Democratic Representative Jack Cera, who served the area in the 80s, 90s, and the last eight years, is term-limited.
Two of the three candidates say they are running to better represent the district, while the other says his experience will keep things going in the right direction.
The three-way race to the Statehouse is made up of a former lawyer and Democrat Richard Olivito, Republican Ron Ferguson who works for a conservative lobbying group, and Libertarian Oscar Herrera, a previous social media coordinator for Gary Johnson's 2016 presidential campaign.
"I have a lot of experience in advocacy and strong dedication to public service," said Olivito.
Olivito is in favor of Medicaid expansion and job creation through education, but he says his main focus has always been civil rights.
"We have moved significantly forward, but there still is systemic racism in this country and I think it's more subtle," said Olivito.
Ferguson, a former news reporter, says the media is making the current racial unrest more than what it actually is.
“The things that sell in news are the conflicts and the confrontations. There’s a lot more positivity going on right now than people are seeing. It certainly is getting better, not worse, in this country,” Ferguson believes.
Ferguson previously ran for this seat in 2014, but lost to Cera. He says he wants free-market solutions to health care and does not believe in government creating jobs. Ferguson's most important issue is making sure there are energy production jobs seeing as his district is the coal, gas and oil hub of the state.
“It’s something that we need to protect our coal industry, expand our gas and oil industry, and I know that we have the ability to do that,” said Ferguson.
As for Herrera, who founded the Libertarian Hispanic Caucus in 2017, he received just 18 votes in the primary. He believes in lowering taxes and, like Ferguson, wants open competition in the health care sector. Herrera says his main focus is making sure small businesses can open up safely during the pandemic.
"We can't afford to have so many people unemployed, and the backbone of any strong economy is the people. As long as the people are working, the economy is strong," said Herrera.
Ferguson could have the edge in the end considering the 96th District is one that President Trump won by a three-to-one margin over Hillary Clinton back in 2016.