Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, September 28

Ohio Sen 1st: Mega-Farm Issue Drives Nienberg (D)

Recently I ran across this quote from the current president of the Republic of Chile, Michelle Bachelet:
"Politics entered my life by destroying everything I loved the most."
I thought of that quote this morning when I called up Ben Nienberg (D-Glandorf), a successful investment advisor and insurance agent, to talk about his campaign for the 1st Ohio Senate District seat. It's what motivated Nienberg to first run for public office in 2004 that brought the quote to mind -- the severe injury to the health and property of Putnam County residents from industrial mega-farms that Ohio's Republican-controlled state government has allowed to enter the area virtually unimpeded, without input from area residents or regulation by local authorities.

Nienberg said that his ten-county district in Northwest Ohio is one of the most difficult places in the state to run as a Democrat. He has done no polling to assess the race. However, a number of Republicans have told him they can’t vote for the current slate of Republican candidates for the state offices, so “if that is true it is sounding hopeful.” Nienberg knows first-hand the difficulty of carrying the Democratic banner in this area because he ran against Rep. Ron Hoops (R-Napoleon) for the Ohio House of Representatives two years ago. Hoops lost in the Republican Ohio Senate primary this year to Nienberg’s opponent, Rep. Steve Buehrer (R-Delta). Both Republicans were compelled to seek a new job this year due to term limits, as was Ohio Senate incumbent Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), now running for Hoops' 75th House District seat.

Nienberg decided to run in 2004 because two giant industrial farms moved into Putnam County. He discovered that Buehrer, Hoops, and Wachtmann all supported legislation in 2000 that transferred authority over the farms from the federal EPA to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and another law in 2003 that removed any authority of county agencies (such as the county board of health) over agriculture. Nienberg said that the state has never denied a CAFF permit (required to operate large farms) to a mega-farm, and has stripped local authorities of any control over where they are located. Once a mega-farm comes into an area and purchases land, “it’s a done deal.”

Sixteen area residents became sick from overexposure to hydrogen sulfide due to living in the vicinity of 25,000 hogs. Some of the plaintiffs developed hepatitis D and were told by doctors that they had to move out of their homes. They sued the mega-farm operators but faced another state law that requires non-binding arbitration before a court trial. As a result, the plaintiffs incurred over $100,000 in attorney’s fees and had to wait three years before the case came to court last May. At that point the plaintiffs settled and were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, but it is known that at least some of the plaintiffs are selling their property to the defendants.

Now, a company wants to locate 8 million chickens in Williams County. A group called the Williams County Alliance has been formed to educate county residents on the potential health threat, although county officials concede that they have no authority over agriculture. Nienberg said that polls show 40% of residents regard industrial farms as a serious issue, up from 25% two years ago. When I asked if the public is more aware of the problem due to the shutting down of Buckeye Egg Farm a few years back, Nienberg was quick to point out that the mega-farm in that case didn’t stop operating. It was sold to an affiliated entity with a history of environmental violations in Iowa and remains in business. He said that if you were to ask nearby residents they would say that conditions are not much better, and farm operations still infringe on their property rights without compensation.

Although the mega-farms are clearly a major issue for Neinberg, he is also campaigning on other serious issues facing the state. In particular, he said that Ohio is the third most heavily taxed state and “the Republicans did that to us.” They have “been on a spending spree“ that must be stopped. Nienberg also opposes the proposed sale of the Ohio Turnpike, because there are “too many people waiting in the wings to profit” on the scheme, and they are not even from Ohio. His opponent says he “will look at” the proposal, which Nienberg takes to mean that if it comes up for a vote Buehrer will support it.

Nienberg has a busy schedule of appearances. Tomorrow at 6:30 pm he’ll be at the Democrats of Auglaize County Dinner at the VFW in St Marys, and on Sunday, October 1st, from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm he’ll be at the Putnam County Democrats Fall Dinner at the Glandorf Rod & Gun Club in Ottawa. There is no formal debate scheduled in this race, but Nienberg will participate in “Meet the Candidates” events on October 9 at 7:30 pm at the Chamber of Commerce in Ottoville, October 10 at 7:00 pm at Hilltop High School in West Unity (sponsored by the Sons of the American Legion), and October 11 at 12:00 noon at the Auglaize County Educational Service Center in Wapakoneta (sponsored by the Auglaize County Retired Teachers Associaion).

Nienberg asked me to remind everyone that Ohio tax law allows for a credit of up to $100 for donations to a state candidate, so readers are urged to take advantage of that provision and contribute to his campaign.


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