Justin Barnhart - Putnam Sentinel
Justin Barnhart
OHIO — Last week, a steering committee with the Ohio Republican caucus selected Robert McColley to replace former 1st District Senator Cliff Hite, who abruptly resigned his position on October 17 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

McColley, who until he was sworn in as Ohio’s newest state senator on Tuesday, served as House Representative for the 81st District, a district that encompasses Putnam, Henry and Williams Counties and a portion of Fulton County. On McColley’s admission to the Senate, the Ohio Republican Party is once again seeking a replacement, this time in the House of Representatives.

With an established deadline of Friday, Dec. 15, for all interested candidates to throw in their hats, three possible replacements have emerged, all three of whom should be familiar to Putnam County residents and voters.

Two of the three — Leipsic Village Administrator Justin Barnhart and Putnam County Republican Party Chair Tom Liebrecht — are residents of Putnam County. The third, Jim Hoops, served as Representative of the 81st District from 1999 through 2006.

All three men expressed strong conservative beliefs, maintaining and supporting pro-life and pro-gun stances commonplace among adherents to a modern Republican party philosophy. As for priorities should any one of these three achieve their goal, here, too, there is a certain amount of crossover. Both Hoops and Liebrecht prioritized first a need to both encourage private industry expansion and advancement and provide residents of the 81st District the opportunity to thrive and succeed in that environment.

“I’m currently working with Northwest State (Community College) right now and we’re doing a lot of stuff with workforce development and just a lot things I feel are important for Northwest Ohio,” the 58-year old Hoops said on Monday. “All you hear out there is that manufacturers are trying to find people. I see two things. One is to make sure the current employees are up-skilled enough because of the change in technology. The other thing is, how do we find new people to put in the mix?”

For his part, Liebrecht, 49, who operated his own marketing consulting firm, concurred.

“They’ve got a challenge filling jobs,” Liebrecht said. “I want to make sure our quality of life continues to grow. To do that, we have to address the needs of employers and employees both.”

Though proclaiming himself a strong advocate of private enterprise and industry, Barnhart, 30, acknowledged agriculture as his number one priority.

“Agriculture is the number one issue we should be focused on,” Barnhart said. “This district’s the number two agricultural district in the state and if you look at the right receipts, you could probably say it’s the number one; certainly the top in soybean and corn production. We’ve got to have a state representative who can talk about agriculture, who understands agriculture and who has a farming background.”

Turning to social issues, both Hoops and Liebrecht expressed a growing concern about Ohio’s — and the nation’s — opioid epidemic and the toll it has taken on residents of the 81st.

“The opiod drug problem continues to be an issue that threatens the values and way of life we have here,” Liebrecht said. “We need to do what it takes — whatever it takes — to address that.”

“Drugs,” Hoops agreed. “The pharmaceuticals people use to stay healthy, well now we have these other issues with the opioids that we’re dealing with.”

Here, too, Barnhart expressed a different sentiment.

“We’ve got to keep government out of the hair of individuals,” Barnhart said. “We have the best communities in the world and they all know what they’re doing. Government needs to get off our back and let us do what we do best.”