News: Close Race in the Northern Burbs

State rep results could cut into GOP legislative lock

Graham Lienhart

Connie Pillich is running in her first political race.

The race for state representative from Ohio's 28th District pits a Democratic newcomer against a Republican incumbent with a record of ethics troubles.

State Rep. Jim Raussen (R-Springdale) is looking to spend a third term in office. The challenger is Connie Pillich, an Air Force veteran who got to know voters by biking door to door.

The 28th District includes Springfield Township, Forest Park, Springdale, Sharonville, Sycamore Township, Glendale, Woodlawn, Lincoln Heights, Evendale, Wyoming, Lockland, Reading, Arlington Heights, Blue Ash and Montgomery.

Though Raussen found a majority in both 2002 and 2004, he won the last election with 53 percent, trumping his opponent by only 3,542 votes. For a district where nearly 69 percent of voters are registered as independents, the race is expected to be close.

Veteran on a mission
Pillich decided to try her hand at politics because of disappointment with Ohio government.

"Never would I have thought of running for office," she says. "It wasn't even on my radar until I became increasingly unsatisfied by the way things were running in Ohio. Ohio is just a mess.

There's nothing to keep young people here."

Many people believe their current representative is unresponsive, which prompted her to take a "more active role," Pillich says.

The Montgomery resident and mother of two was first brought to Ohio by her work in the Air Force. After eight years of active duty, Pillich left to start a family and develop her law career. She's a partner in Webb & Pillich LLC.

Though this is her first stab at politics, Pillich believes she has the qualifications for the job.

"I certainly have lots of knowledge of legislation, good crafting and poor crafting," she says. "As a veteran, I understand service, sacrifice and duty. I put these things at the top of my list."

The biggest challenge the area faces comes with bringing 21st century businesses to Ohio, Pillich says. One way to help would be to make higher education more affordable. Pillich's proposal is to defer student loans for three years for graduates who stay in Ohio to work.

Pillich is also concerned about the way public schools are funded.

If elected, Pillich says, her first action would be to request a performance audit of all state agencies to see which were performing and divert money that's being wasted.

She says that Raussen votes the party line and has been unresponsive to his constituents.

"I'm not a politician," Pillich says. "I'm not using this as a stepping stone to something else. I'm not pressured to vote the party line all the time, but I am a Democrat and embrace the ideals. (Raussen) doesn't have a comfortable position. He's known to party insiders because that's who put him there, but not to the people."

'Get what you need'
Raussen sees the time he's spent in office as positive, with a chance to do more if re-elected.

"I'm really at a halfway point," he says. "We had some good successes and seen problems you get into when you're dealing with a large body, but it's like the Rolling Stones say, 'You can't always get what you want, but you get want you need.' I'm happy with the things we've accomplished, but there are still opportunities to make a positive impact for the region and state as a whole."

In office, Raussen has helped reform Ohio's tax code to be more competitive for high-tech manufacturing jobs and sponsored Amy's Law, requiring people accused of domestic abuse to appear before a judge for bond hearings.

Most recently, Raussen worked on a new law that will allow consumers to compare Ohio hospitals' costs and quality of care.

He hopes to create incentives for local governments to work together more closely and create opportunities for joint ventures on economic development and enterprise zones.

He's also worked with a coalition to bring public schools flexibility on mandates involving structural requirements, among others, based on performance.

Though recognizing the funding of public schools as an issue, Raussen doesn't believe there's a simple answer.

"There's not a one-size-fits-all formula to education funding," he says. "There are always adjustments in the system and formula we can make."

Raussen, along with four other state lawmakers, failed to declare tickets they received to a Bengals game and dinner last year. The event was part of a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis. Raussen says it was an "honest mistake" and that lobbyist Richard Colby was to blame for not informing the lawmakers that they had to declare the gifts. Colby was fined following the incident.

Pillich sees the event a bit differently.

"One thing I've seen when talking to people is that it doesn't matter if they are a Republican, Democrat or independent," she says. "They don't want to see corruption in government. The government is accountable to the people. If you can ever forget (to declare gifts), then you are not doing your job. To me, it's just common sense. I can breath as easy as I know to report gifts."

Last month the Ohio Elections Commission found that Raussen made a false statement by leaving 12 endorsements from his 2004 campaign posted on his current campaign Web site. In a unanimous decision, the commission cited the violation but decided not to fine or issue a reprimand to Raussen.

"All the old endorsements we had (on the Web site) were from 2004," Raussen says. "When volunteers work on a campaign, you can't really fire them. Certain things hadn't been updated. It was an honest mistake on our campaign, but we're ready to move forward."

Pillich believes voters are ready for a change.

"There's a lot of mess to clean up," she says. "There's been a Grand Old Party for the past 12 years, and it's been a pretty expensive party. We're going to be cleaning up for a long time. I think people are ready for a change in Ohio. I think I have the best chance to unseat an incumbent south of I-70." ©

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