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Jul. 23—LIMA — With Ohio Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, set to leave the Ohio House of Representatives at the conclusion of this term, he may not have suspected that his potential successor was already at the statehouse.
Thanks to the ongoing redistricting process, that may be the case.
Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield, having served two terms in what was the 84th House District, covering all of Mercer County and portions of Auglaize, Darke and Shelby counties, is now running for what in the new district map is the 78th District, covering all of Allen County and the northern portion of Auglaize County, with the vote on that primary coming Aug. 2.
However, Manchester is not the only Republican looking to succeed Cupp. Lima-based medical pathologist JJ Sreenan is also looking to represent the new district in Columbus. With no Democratic candidate in the field, the race for the Republican nomination is currently the only obstacle standing between these two candidates and the House seat.
Both candidates have roots in the region, both being born in Allen County. Manchester grew up on her family's farm outside Waynesfield, while Sreenan stayed in Lima and worked in the healthcare industry in pathology lab work before working to get Mercy Health-St. Rita's graduate medical education program off the ground and serving as the program's director.
Reasons for running
Manchester's experience in politics goes back to her time in college, during which she took an internship working for U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana. After completing her studies, she worked for Jordan for four more years before coming back to work with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Lima. She then began her tenure in Columbus, being elected to the House in 2018, keeping her experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters in mind, she said.
"A huge need was foster caregivers," she said. "So the first bill that I introduced and that got signed into law was House Bill 8, which dealt with foster caregiver training standards and made some necessary reforms to give the state more flexibility and agility in creating caregiver training standards so that more parents could become foster caregivers."
Sreenan has had a longtime interest in policy issues, having served as president of the Ohio Society of Pathologists and working with lawmakers on medical issues. For him, the decision to run for the state House grew out of his frustration with the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"What pushed me was all the ridiculousness of COVID," he said. "I was thinking we need more people who understand this material, and I felt I should step up to the plate. The other thing is concerning the erosion of our freedoms in this country. We need to get back to what the original constitutional framers wanted."
Plans for Columbus
For Sreenan, one of the biggest priorities he would have in Columbus is continuing to promote "medical freedom" for Ohioans.
"To me, it is to prevent government intervention into the patient-physician relationship," he said. "Your medical decisions should be between you and your healthcare provider."
In practice, Sreenan said, that would mean eliminating vaccination mandate requirements in the state, especially when it comes to employment.
"We already have a shortage [of workers]," he said. "Why are we getting rid of people?"
Sreenan also cited as a priority what he described as an alarming cultural trend toward encouraging gender affirmation through drugs and surgeries.
"We have so many children's hospitals here in Ohio, and they all have a [gender affirmation] program," he said. "Our first duty as physicians is to do no harm, and there is no literature backing giving 7, 8 and 9-year-olds puberty blockers and destroy the rest of their lives because they temporarily identify [as transgender]."
During Manchester's two terms, she has served on the House Health Committee and the House Education Committee, and she has also chaired the House Families, Aging and Human Services Committee, and if re-elected, she would keep her focus on those priorities.
"Healthcare has been an area of focus for me, and ensuring that Ohioans receive a high standard of care," she said.
She is also a proponent of eliminating the state's personal income tax, following in the footsteps of states like Texas and Florida.
"It would be a huge boost, especially when it comes to the impact of inflation, if Ohioans aren't hit with that burden of paying personal income tax," she said. "Ever since I've been elected, every state budget we have dropped one of the tiers of the personal income tax levels. So we're not taxing at certain income levels, but I would like to see that go down to zero because I don't think you should be punished for making more money."
Manchester maintained that the Ohio government has operated at enough of a surplus to withstand the reduction in revenue combined with cuts in state government spending.
What sets each candidate apart
For Manchester, her prior experience in the statehouse, combined with her commitment to smaller government and conservative values, including supporting anti-abortion and pro-gun ownership policies, make her the best choice for voters going forward.
"Unfortunately, in the past couple of years, we have seen too much government in our lives, and it has rightly upset people," she said. "The government actually prevented people from earning a living for a time, and that is not okay, in my opinion."
Some of that government intrusion, she said, came from the state government, forcing her and several of her colleagues to push back against Gov. Mike DeWine.
"At the statehouse, we took action," she said. "We passed Senate Bill 22, which would limit the governor's authority on mandates. Not only did we do that, but we had the guts to override the governor's veto. To my knowledge, we were the only state legislature in the country that was willing to go against the governor who was in their own party."
Sreenan, however, maintains that the pushback should have come much sooner.
"The length of the lockdowns and the lack of sense with the lockdowns was horrible on our economy and made no sense whatsoever," he said.
He also points to his time in the private sector, his community service with his church and community organizations like the Boy Scouts and his life experience as qualities in his favor, describing Manchester as someone whose life has been spent in government.
"What sets me apart is that I have no desire to be a career politician," he said. "She basically went from being an intern for Jim Jordan right into the statehouse."
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0391 or on Twitter @cmkelly419.