MOUNT VERNON — Ken Harbaugh, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House 7th District. spoke unopposed at the Mount Vernon News General Election Debates at Foster Hall in MVNU’s Ariel Arena Thursday.
Candidate Bob Gibbs declined to attend the debate stating that he would be in Washington working. However, Gibbs did attend the Tuscarawas Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidates event earlier Thursday.
Gibbs has accepted an offer to debate with Harbaugh at a later date at Ashland University.
Opening his time, Harbaugh spoke about the biggest issue he has seen facing the district since his primary win — health care.
“We are at ground zero of the national opioid epidemic in the Ohio 7th. We have lost more people to heroin overdoses last year in this country than we lost during the entire Vietnam War and we have political leadership that is not treating it with nearly the degree of seriousness it warrants.”
Harbaugh stated that the first step in addressing health care is to “shore up the Affordable Care Act and to shore up the exchanges to re-establish some predictability in the markets and bring those premiums down.”
“But I would go two steps beyond that,” Harbaugh noted. “I would allow early Medicare buy-in for older Americans and I would expand access to the FEHBP (Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan) for younger Americans.”
Harbaugh also shared his views on rebuilding Ohio’s infrastructure. Infrastructure rebuilding starts with “buy Ohio, hire Ohio” and an infrastructure investment that starts with Ohio bridges and roads, and using Ohio “based or owned” companies to complete these projects. The burden to ensure that these projects are completed by Ohio companies will fall on “partly the shoulders of the state house,” Harbaugh said. Beyond bridges and roads, Harbaugh said that infrastructure needs to include high speed Internet, noting that “the Ohio 7th has 411th worst connectivity in the nation out of 435 congressional districts.” Beyond roads, bridges and Internet, Harbaugh said, schools should be the most fundamental part of rebuilding infrastructure.
“We have got to start thinking of schools as the foundation of our infrastructure investment,” Harbaugh said. “We have got to double down on public education.”
Harbaugh also addressed statements from Gibbs’s chief of staff that he was a “carpetbagger,” a political candidate who seeks election in an area where they have no local connections, and the chief of staff’s statement that “we need honest leaders in Congress, not people who cheat on their taxes.”
“I make no apologies for having grown up in a military family,” Harbaugh said explaining that he moved around a lot but met an “Ohio girl 25 years ago” and chose Northeast Ohio as the place he would call home to raise his family. Harbaugh stated that the accusations of cheating on taxes was an attack by “dark money in politics.”
“Annmarie and I have always paid our taxes and I’m proud to take the veterans exemption on a home that we own in Connecticut, but this is just an example of dark money in politics attacking Ohioans,” Harbaugh said, “Bob Gibbs’s biggest corporate donors funding hit ads and trying to disguise them. We take zero dollars in our campaign on corporate PACs, Bob Gibbs gets nearly 90 percent of his money from corporate PACs.”
Harbaugh asserted that it is wages and the health of working families — not the stock market that indicate the health of the economy.
“Wages have not kept up with the growth of corporate profits, with the cost of inflation itself. And they especially haven’t kept up with the cost of health care,” he said. “We are forcing people, seniors especially, to make decisions about filling their prescriptions or putting food on the table everyday, across the Ohio 7th and across the country.”
Country Over Party
Harbaugh’s campaign has been based on his mantra “country over party,” which he said is based on how he lives his life. Harbaugh said that he asks every audience he speaks with to look at the lives candidates have lead rather than taking them at their word.
“For my part, I raised my right hand as a 22-year-old, I swore an oath, not to a party certainly not to anyone individual, but to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Harbaugh said referencing his service as a United States Navy pilot. “The oath of office is going to keep me honest, because I put my life on the line for it. My family is going to keep me honest… and finally I’m counting on you. I’m counting on the thousands of people I’ve had the privilege of talking to over the last year and a half to hold me accountable and to hold me true to my word and to tell me when you think I’m going astray and not working for you anymore. My promise is, I will keep listening, I will keep doing town halls, I will keep showing up.”
The debate was sponsored by the Mount Vernon News, with media partners KnoxPages.com, WNZR and WMVO/WQIO. The evening was hosted by Mount Vernon Nazarene University.