COLUMBUS, Ohio — Throughout the month of September, Spectrum News will highlight key races in both the state's House and Senate.
On Thursday, we are focusing on the 7th House District in northern Ohio which includes portions of Cuyahoga County. The 7th features an incumbent who has a lengthy legislative career against a political newcomer with her own extensive history of serving our country.
Republican Representative Tom Patton (Strongsville) has served in both the state House and Senate for more than a decade, including once being the Senate Majority Floor Leader. Yet, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and Democrat Joan Sweeny believes Patton is "out of balance and out of touch."
Sweeny, born and raised in Lakewood, served in the army for 25 years during the Gulf War, the U.S. War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. She also served as a police officer while in the Army Reserve.
Currently, Sweeny works at Cuyahoga Community College Veterans Services office. She says when she came back and saw Ohioans being misrepresented, she felt compelled to serve in a different way.
"I have experience with policy (such as) writing policy, implementing policy and working with not just military members but military families, civilian population and I also bring a level of leadership that brings people together," said Sweeny.
Sweeny says, if elected, her top priority would be education because with her global experience, she has seen the difference it can make.
“We have to fix our funding to a system of sustainable legal funding and ensure sure access to accessible public education and I believe from there we can grow obviously the economy, access to jobs, and other really important issues,” Sweeny said.
Meanwhile, Patton touts bills he helped pass this session dealing with telemedicine, as well as protecting first responders who suffer from PTSD.
"It's the most difficult job that I can imagine and, so, we want to give them the opportunity if they do need some help, some counseling, they get it," said Patton.
Moving forward, Patton says his top priority is giving businesses relief during the pandemic.
"There's so many COVID-related things that we need to wrap up and tie up and get completed because it doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon," Patton said.
Both candidates agree the best way to grow the economy is through education and workforce development. On healthcare, Sweeny agrees telehealth is the most efficient way to make healthcare more accessible and affordable. However, when it comes to the issue of systemic racism, the two candidates have differing views.
"I don't hear that. We have a very small minority population. I think it's six percent," said Patton.
When asked if he noticed the issue outside of his district and in the state of Ohio or the United States, Patton responded, "I wouldn't feel comfortable saying yes or no given the limited scope of that."
However, Sweeny says, “I do believe that we have systemic racism in this country, in our state, in our communities, here in the district I am running in, and I believe it is incredibly important to acknowledge it. I think that we have the opportunity to have the conversations right now is critical.”
Patton was elected in 2018 with more than 60 percent of the vote, but it is not a die-hard red district. Cuyahoga County voted blue in the governor and congressional races, while also giving Hillary Clinton her strongest support in 2016.