Ohio state representative talks to OC Republicans
“You’re not on anyone’s agenda. You know why? You don’t participate.” This was the stark reality State Representative James Peter Trakas rendered in his lecture last Tuesday evening in King Hall. He said young people are “underrepresented in elections,” and it is not fair to them.
Jim Trakas, a Republican representing Ohio’s District 17 which includes his home city of Independence, was elected to his current post in 1998, and has since been reelected twice. He is currently a hopeful for Ohio Secretary of State in 2006.
The Oberlin chapter of College Republicans, a group recently reformed after a decade-long hiatus, sponsored Trakas’ talk. He was the second speaker brought to campus by the group since its re-founding by Interim Treasurer junior Ezra Temko last semester. Last spring the group hosted a lecture by New Republic columnist Lawrence Kaplan.
Trakas began his speech with a reference to the OC Republicans.
“I think it’s important we add to the debate at Oberlin by having a College Republicans,” he said.
He went on to outline the current state of Ohio’s economy, saying that “Ohio has been at a crossroads for a number of years.” He was referring to the shift away from manufacturing as the state’s economic foundation, and cited the statistic that since 1998, the percentage of Ohio’s economy occupied by manufacturing has fallen from 25 percent to 16 percent.
“We have been really battered by the international economy,” he said. “The China agreements and NAFTA accords were signed during the Clinton era and we’re still feeling their effects.”
In the first part of his speech, Trakas outlined the five initiatives that will appear on Ohio’s ballot in the next election. The first initiative, placed there at the request of Ohio Governor Bob Taft, is what they call the “Jobs For Ohio Initiative.”
According to Trakas, it’s a “two-pronged approach. The first prong is investment in infrastructure.” The other prong is “$500 million... for retention and creation of high technology jobs.” Trakas called technology Ohio’s third frontier, succeeding agriculture and manufacturing.
“Some third frontier initiatives are already paying off,” said Trakas, adding that some technological innovations might even be developed at Oberlin.
“State issue two is called ‘no-fault absentee voting,’” he said. “The people who are too busy to vote on Election Day, they can vote by absentee ballot.”
In discussing this and the rest of the initiatives, Trakas seemed to have in mind equal presentation of both sides.
“Proponents believe this is an effective way to get more people to vote. Opponents say why should this be amended into the constitution of Ohio, it should be in the laws of the state of Ohio.”
“State issue three,” he said, “is a change in campaign finance law.”
This measure would cap the amount an individual could give to a candidate at $1000. One of the concerns surrounding this issue is that labor unions would still be able to give up to $10,000.
“Labor unions would not have to report where they got the money from,” said Trakas.
“The fourth issue,” he continued, “is probably the most controversial.”
The initiative would give over the apportioning of congressional and legisative districts to an appointed board of election officials.
“Proponents say this would take politics out of the process,” said Trakas, “but opponents say since the apportioning board was created in 1966 both parties have controlled the apportioning process.”
He went on to state his own objection to the measure.
“In my view the flaw is it does not promote compactness of districts. The way this thing would rule, theoretically you could draw a line from the Indiana border to the Pennsylvania border and that would be a district.”
The final issue was most important to Trakas, he joked, as it would appoint a committee to replace the Secretary of State.
“That would supposedly take politics out of elections,” he said, “[but] I don’t see how you can take partisanship out of it. We are partisan people. We have opinions.”
Trakas also is against the measure because he feels similar measures passed in other states have not worked, and because a committee in general is not as effective as an individual.
“My own personal opinion,” he said, “someone has to be in charge of everything.”
Trakas ended his speech by outlining the reasons he is running for Secretary of State.
“I have a strong belief in Democracy,” he said, facetiously relating this belief to his Greek heritage.
He emphasized his conviction that participatory democracy in Ohio is flagging.
“I want to educate youth in this state about voter participation,” he said. “We say 76 percent voter turnout is great. [Anything] under 90 percent isn’t great.”
Trakas spoke of some specific issues as well.
“I believe very diligently in electronic voting,” he said.
In answer to criticisms that electronic voting is potentially subject to fraud, Trakas said, that “it is almost impossible to do from a practical perspective.” He also said he would use the position of Secretary of State to champion a “Midwest primary” in national elections, facilitate more efficient use of business registration information, and “create jobs and a dynamic economy.”
“Finally,” he said, “I really truly believe in the
integrity of the election system. Not as a partisan person, but a leader.”