The Ohio Senate 19th District seat will be up for grabs on Election Day as Republican incumbent Andrew Brenner seeks reelection to a second term, while Democrat and political newcomer Heather Swiger hopes to bring a new voice to the state government.
Along with Delaware County, the 19th District also represents Knox, Coshocton and Holmes counties.
Brenner brings extensive political experience to the ballot, having served two terms as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 2011-18 prior to joining the Senate. Before serving at the state level, Brenner held the Delaware County recorder position from 2005-10.
Currently, Brenner serves as the chairman of the Primary and Secondary Education Committee for the Ohio Senate, and he is also on the Finance, Insurance, Rules and Reference, and Energy and Public Utilities committees.
Brenner, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from The Ohio State University (OSU) and a master’s degree in education from Liberty University, said his path to politics began when he got involved in student government while attending OSU in 1992.
“I got involved in student government with College Republicans in 1992-93,” Brenner told The Gazette. “I attended all of the Republican events that were on campus and in the area for George H.W. Bush. That was kind of my foray into it, and I went to the (national) convention that year and just fell in love with the idea of helping others.”
Brenner added he is also a Rotarian as a longtime member of Sunbury-Galena Rotary Club, which he said carries a motto of “service above self.”
Asked what his favorite accomplishments have been during his time with the state government, Brenner said one of the first votes he was able to cast during his freshman year as a state representative was on the state budget. “We eliminated the death tax, so that was one of the first key votes,” he said.
He added, “I carried College Credit Plus for the governor. That was House Bill 487. … That bill basically set the guidelines of College Credit Plus, which I was also instrumental in setting up some of the rating systems for the schools. This last year, we revised the school rating system, and I was instrumental in making the changes to the Star Rating System. I’ve also helped with school funding since day one, pretty much helping to try to bring funding back to Delaware County schools like Olentangy. We actually got an amendment in this year that gave Olentangy funding because according to federal law, it was based on poverty and Olentangy received nothing.”
Brenner said that prior to running for state representative, he received some advice from late state Rep. Jon Peterson encouraging him to find an area in which he has a lot of compassion and become an expert in it. For Brenner, that focus has been in education.
“When it comes to education, I think that is the number one way to get kids out of poverty,” Brenner said. “I also heavily supported school choice. We have a lot of kids who are in severe poverty in our urban schools and even in rural schools. If you can get the kids out of poverty through education, I think that is highly important, so I’ve been very vocal to some of the response that we had to even the COVID stuff where we kept kids out of school or did things with remote learning that haven’t helped these kids, so we’ve had a lot of learning loss. … I think Ohio’s prosperity is based upon the kids being able to learn and having choices in school, including career education. I think career tech is another thing I’ve supported heavily, including our local career center. Those things are very vital for our students to be able to go on and prosper down the road, raise a family, and live and stay here in Ohio.”
As for why he decided to seek reelection, Brenner said the decision is rooted in his passion for wanting to serve the public.
“I do want to serve four more years in the Ohio Senate to help the public and help the district,” he said. “I very much like meeting the constituents. I travel throughout the district. … It’s something that I will continue to do to continue to work with constituents.”
He added, “I think the number one thing that we have to do as a state is, due to the learning loss caused by the pandemic, we have to get kids caught up. Kids are way behind. … All kids have fallen behind.”
Brenner went on to say the state is seeing “skyrocketing” chronic absenteeism in schools, which he said needs to be remedied. “Kids don’t learn if they’re not in the classroom,” he said.
Swiger didn’t reach her decision to run in the Democratic primary easily after being approached by the party. Admittedly, having never been involved in the world of politics, she had to weigh the current state of politics, which typically runs counter to her natural disposition.
After receiving the encouragement of her family, however, Swiger entered into the race for the Democratic nomination for the Senate 19th District seat and was successful. Now, she takes on Brenner in the Nov. 8 general election having gained considerable experience in politics and the details of running a campaign.
“It’s been very educational,” Swiger told The Gazette. “I’ve learned a lot about the ins and outs of the political arena. I haven’t lived in the political field —I’m a nonprofit director — so this is a whole new world for me. I have absolutely loved the community aspect of it. I’m an extrovert, so I love going out and meeting new people and discussing issues, so I have really enjoyed that, as tiring as days can be.”
Swiger said the beginning stages of her campaign were “such a learning curve,” but after she found her footing and dived into the root of why she was running, she acquired more of a taste for campaigning for an elected office.
Speaking with The Gazette prior to the primary election, Swiger identified abortion rights as, perhaps, the largest platform on which she chose to run and, hopefully, make a difference.
“Everybody tells you to find three issues and stick with those three issues, and that’s hard because there are so many issues that impact the people in our community,” she said. “And of course, the right to choose has not changed in terms of where I stand on it. I believe women are the ones most impacted by the new laws, and I still stand by all of those thoughts.”
While the right for women to make abortion decisions for themselves continues to be one of her most passionate stances, Swiger said she’s also gained “a better feel” over the past six months for the issues facing public education.
“We raised our children in public education, so public education being fully funded and representative of everyone is huge,” Swiger said. “Being a nonprofit leader, I see the effects and the outcomes that a lack of access to education leads to and how it affects people.”
She added, “They kind of all intertwine with each other. Abortion rights and women’s rights to choose, people living in poverty and not having access to good public education, it all kind of intertwines with each other, and I’ve learned that more in the last few months than I probably knew prior to becoming a candidate.”
Swiger went on to say the issues most important to people ranges throughout each county the seat represents, which she’s enjoyed because it’s allowed her to discuss a wide range of issues.
“That’s great because if elected in November, I’ll represent everyone, not just Delaware or Coshocton. Being out in the community and speaking with everyone and getting everyone’s issues gives you foresight into what the horizon will be,” she said.
Swiger said she’s always been reluctant to disparage her opponent throughout her campaign, but asked about the contrast between her and Brenner, she said the differences on issues such as abortion rights are clear between the two candidates. Swiger went on to say she believes she’s the candidate who is most willing to work with all types of people in the district.
“I believe in working with everyone in the community, no matter what political affiliation,” she said. “I think we have become so divided that the D or the R after your name means more than who the person is. I have met with school board leaders who have told me they researched me before we met, and they didn’t know what party I affiliated with until after they started reading my platforms. And that’s what it should be. We should be able to talk and work together. We have more in common than we don’t, and I believe that is a contrast between (Brenner and I).”
Swiger concluded by saying, “Lies have no place in politics. I know they exist, but I wasn’t raised that way. I don’t lie. I didn’t raise my children to lie. I won’t lie to win. I just think there needs to be more integrity in running for office, and I’m working for that. That’s me, that’s who I am. I will be straightforward with people, probably to a fault. … I think that has given us more confidence in this race.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.