LIMA — The two men seeking the Republican nomination for the Ohio House 4th District race have made the primary election about experience, and experiences.
Bob Cupp, 63, has 30 years on Kurt Neeper and a story for every question about how he addressed a similar issue while serving in one of the three branches of government. Cupp says he’s been there and done that, and that will serve Allen County (and the Ohio Legislature) well.
“I believe I can provide effective leadership and represent people of Allen County in state leadership, and I can be effective from day one. We’re losing our very capable representative Matt Huffman, and I believe I can pick up a lot of that from the very beginning,” Cupp said. “I bring a different perspective to developing legislation. In the judiciary you’re seeing all the controversy over what the law means, what the flaws are in some of the drafting. I can be a voice to make more effective laws, laws that work.”
Neeper, 33, touts already rounded experience in the private sector, non-profit work and government while positioning himself as a candidate with fresh ideas. Neeper says he’ll offer new approaches to get government out of the way of economic growth.
“The economy, by a wide margin, is the biggest issue for Ohioans. The best way to understand what’s important to voters is to stand on their doorsteps and listen to their concerns. Trust me, they will tell you,” Neeper said. “I work in private business every day. I set the strategic course for three independent businesses, manage a staff of about 25 employees, and I’m ultimately responsible for that success or failure.”
Neeper has managed a balancing act, showing he’s experienced enough to go to Columbus but young enough to offer a new perspective. Through the campaign, he’s also not been shy about criticizing Gov. John Kasich and Republican-led Legislature’s decisions on local government fund cuts and Medicaid expansion.
Cupp has repeatedly answered questions about what he would do with answers about what he has done. When Neeper talks about legislation for regulation reform, Cupp reminds he was in the group that reformed the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. When Neeper offers school funding reforms, Cupp adds that when he left the Senate, the state had a functioning, predictable formula. Even his pop culture references are throwbacks, as when he talked about Medicaid swallowing up government like Pac-Man chomping his way through a video game.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Robert “Bo” Huenke in the fall for the seat. The seat is open. Current state Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, cannot run again because of term limits.
Neeper is vice president of business development for Superior Federal Credit Union and served a term on Lima City Council, representing the 1st Ward for four years. Neeper served on council’s Finance Committee and regularly questioned how and why city money was being spent. He has said he would do the same thing at the state level, with a general fund budget that has seen a 22 percent increase through Republican leadership in the House, Senate and governor’s office.
Pushing for jobs
Neeper also believes state regulation is stifling economic growth, especially for small businesses. His first legislative priority would be a bill removing financial incentive of agencies to regulate; his bill would require any fee or fine collected to go back to the state’s general fund and not be used to fund that particular agency. State agencies are engaged in “mission creep,” Neeper believes, using fee and fine collection to fund their agencies and creating a climate of over-regulation for businesses.
“I’ve seen businesses grow, and I’ve seen government bureaucracy suck the oxygen out of the engine of economic growth. I think I can help,” Neeper said.
Cupp has served as a city prosecutor, county commissioner in two separate stints, state senator for four terms, appellate court judge and Ohio Supreme Court justice. He is currently the chief legal counsel in the Ohio Auditor’s Office.
He said that broad experience and institutional history would serve him well representing and protecting Allen County families and writing better law in the Legislature. He would restore town hall meetings previous representatives held in the district, saying he would want to hear from residents about their concerns and cull legislative ideas from them. He also said he would take an active role in economic development in the area, offering assistance to local development officials.
“My priority will be to grow more jobs in the state and Allen County by creating those policies that will allow the private sector to create more jobs,” Cupp said. “Low taxes, limited regulations reasonably applied and a quality education for the development of a skilled workforce.”
On education, Neeper wants to see long-term funding for school districts so they could withstand the changing policies of governors. Neeper opposes Common Core, saying local communities and school boards need to set their own standards based on their needs.
Neeper also said he favors competition and parents having the right to determine what kind of education their children receive. He said a loophole allowing a student to spend only nine weeks in a poor performing district before receiving a voucher should be fixed, and a student should be allowed to move after a school year. He also advocated for holding private and charter schools to the same standards as public schools because tax dollars were flowing there.
Cupp would forward-fund school districts a year in advance, so administrators would know what their budgets would be to help them plan. Cupp has been less specific about Common Core, saying he’s heard concerns about the national standards not being as rigorous as what the state already has.
Both Neeper and Cupp have opposed the recent expansion of Medicaid in Ohio and how Gov. John Kasich and the Legislature used the state Controlling Board to do it. They also opposed Local Government Fund cuts and said they would work to restore funding.
They both have supported JobsOhio, Kasich’s effort to privatize the state’s economic development agency. Neeper has more fully embraced the idea on the campaign trail, often pointing out economic successes he attributes to the new model. Cupp has said the nonprofit agency is beginning to bear fruit. As Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s chief legal counsel, Cupp has been negotiating with JobsOhio and Kasich over an audit of the agency’s finances.