MOUNT VERNON — The three candidates for the 68th District State Representative race faced off in a debate at the Mount Vernon Memorial Theater Tuesday night.

Joining Republican Rick Carfagna and Democrat John Russell onstage was write-in candidate Douglas Crowl. The roadway superintendent of Kingston Township, Crowl called himself a constitutional conservative who believes the best government is the one that governs the least. He said he would provide “true representation” for the district and wanted to provide people an opportunity to vote for a non-party candidate.

Carfagna, a Genoa Township trustee, said he had the right balance of public and private sector experience to expand job growth and fight the opioid epidemic.

Russell, a farmer from Galena/Westerville, said after 50 years of the same party in control of the district, a change is needed.

After the opening statements, the first question was regarding Death with Dignity. Carfagna said as a Roman Catholic, he was opposed to it. Russell said he supported it, but wondered why this “hot-button topic” was asked, since none of the thousands of people he had visited in the district had mentioned it as a priority.

Asked about fixing the top three “problem areas” facing the district, Crowl mentioned two — the rapid growth in the southern portion of Delaware County and the dormancy of Knox County. Russell mentioned a statewide cut in local government funding, retraining workers in a changing economy and opiate addiction.

Carfagna noted economic development, the drug issue and school districts’ funding.

Interestingly, all three candidates live in Delaware County. The 68th District consists of Knox County and the eastern portion of Delaware County.

When asked how they would help represent Knox County while serving in Columbus, Crowl said the only time he would spend in Columbus would be to vote. “I plan on making it very easy for constituents to contact me or meet with me,” Crowl said.

Carfagna said he’s been canvassing and attending meetings in Knox County, even visiting a hog farm. He said he also often attends First Friday events in Mount Vernon.

Russell said he’s knocked on 8,000 doors in every corner of the district during the campaign.

Each candidate said they can use social media to be more accessible, but Carfagna said there’s no substitute for being at meetings.

In their closing statements, Carfagna touted his endorsements.

“We need to have a seat at the table where decisions are made in Columbus,” Carfagna said. “What you’ll get from me is someone who will make an earnest effort on our behalf at the statehouse, someone with a reputation of working hard with a collaborative spirit.”

Crowl said that none of the candidates have had any prior experience as a state representative.

“This election presents the opportunity to break the never-ending cycle of politics as usual,” Crowl said. “I am not running to be a team member. We are the majority, and it’s time we exercised that fact. Of the almost 85,000 registered voters in the district, more than half are registered as non-party.”

Russell said on Nov. 8 there will be a choice on “who is going to speak for you in the statehouse. This choice is going to be between new ideas and old ideas. It’s going to be a choice between a campaign built on working hard and people talking to other people, versus a campaign that’s funded by insiders, that’s built by insiders, that will legislate for insiders.”

The debate lasted about an hour. Although Russell landed a mild jab at Carfagna for holding a day job at Time Warner Cable, things were civil and without interruption, unlike the Vice Presidential debate later that night.

Incumbent Margaret Ann Ruhl, a Republican from Mount Vernon, will vacate her seat due to term limits.

The candidates for the 68th District State Representative race face off in a debate in the Mount Vernon Memorial Theater Tuesday evening. From left are Douglas Crowl (write-in); John Russell (Democrat); Rick Carfagna (Republican). candidates for the 68th District State Representative race face off in a debate in the Mount Vernon Memorial Theater Tuesday evening. From left are Douglas Crowl (write-in); John Russell (Democrat); Rick Carfagna (Republican).

By Gary Budzak

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Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.