October 26, 2020

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Garrett Westhoven in the 76th Ohio House District

A veteran Republican officeholder and a Democratic software engineer in his 30s are competing to represent Greater Cleveland’s 76th District in the Ohio House of Representatives. The district pulls in a large section of Geauga County, including Burton, Chesterland and South Russell, and northern Portage County, including Aurora, Garrettsville and Hiram.

The incumbent is Rep. Diane V. Grendell, 75, a Chesterland Republican named to the seat last year by a GOP screening committee assembled by then-GOP House Speaker Larry Householder to finish out the term of departed Rep. Sarah LaTourette. The panel picked Grendell even though the Geauga County Republican Party had recommended South Russell Councilman Dennis Galicki and Grendell had not appeared before it, cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer reported.

Coincidentally or not, Grendell arrived at the Statehouse on May 29, 2019 — the very day the Ohio House cast its first vote for House Bill 6. HB 6 is the nuclear bailout bill championed by Householder and now focus of federal allegations it was the poisoned fruit of a $60 million criminal conspiracy allegedly led by Householder and involving five other named defendants.

Grendell cast one of 53 “yes” votes on the House floor that day in favor of HB 6 and, two months later, one of 51 ‘”yes” votes in concurrence with the Ohio Senate version that sent the bill to Gov. DeWine’s desk for signature into law. She says she’d do so again, saying she strongly believes in saving the state’s two nuclear power plants for their carbon-free emissions and for the jobs they provide, including about 700 jobs in the 76th District she estimates are tied to the Perry nuclear power plant.

Grendell’s opponent, Democrat Garrett Westhoven, 38, also of Chesterland, says he is “probably somewhere between repeal and heavy modification” of HB 6 but told our editorial board the bill’s real deficiency was in failing to require the plants’ owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, to open its books to prove that a ratepayer bailout was needed. He said the bill also removed incentives for the creation of more good-paying clean-energy jobs.

A software engineer, Westhoven advocates for a more “data-driven” approach to legislating to set state policy on a more effective, future-oriented footing.

The two candidates offer voters clearly distinct perspectives on a number of issues, including capital punishment, which Grendell supports and Westhoven opposes; and abortion, which Grendell opposes, while Westhoven supports a woman’s right to choose. They agree, however, that Ohio’s property tax can be a crushing burden for older Ohioans – a burden the General Assembly must address.

They also agree that dark money doesn’t belong in politics. Among the federal charges against Householder et. al. is that they used the $60 million pool of “dark money” – money from unattributed sources – to promote HB 6 1/4 u2032s passage, including via in-kind and other campaign support.

The July 21 federal affidavit and complaint alleges that, in support of this goal, “Householder’s Enterprise selects political candidates and supports their election efforts. That support comes in a number of forms, including individual campaign contributions, money and staffing from HRCC [the House Republican Campaign Committee] ….”

Grendell says her campaign committee received no donations from FirstEnergy-related entities and noted that she introduced House Bill 762 last month to curb dark money.

But her campaign also reported receiving nearly $43,000 from the Householder-controlled HRCC in February 2020, when she was facing a GOP challenge in the primary,.

“That money was in-kind contributions,” Grendell told our board, adding, “I did not have a say, I did not control it nor did I get any money directly that I could do anything with. The Republican caucus, the committee ran the ads.” Grendell said all such contributions were fully disclosed on her campaign reports.

Grendell, whose husband is Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Judge Timothy Grendell, served in the Ohio House from 1993 through 2000, then was an 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals judge for 18 years, retiring in 2018. She graduated from Baldwin Wallace University with business and psychology degrees and earned a law degree at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. She’s also a registered nurse.

Westhoven was Democrats’ unsuccessful candidate for Geauga County auditor in 2018. He’s a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he majored in mathematics.

There’s no discounting Grendell’s experience and commitment to constituent services. We endorsed her candidacy in the primary. Her approach to policymaking might be seen as more-of-the-same. In fairness, that can be a sound choice – were Northeast Ohio not plagued with long-term challenges.

Given those challenges, the Statehouse needs the perspectives of younger Ohioans conversant with technology and focused on Ohio’s lagging economic competitiveness. That’s why the 76th District’s voters should elect Garrett Westhoven to the Ohio House of Representatives on the Nov. 3 ballot. Early voting has begun.

The two candidates for the 76th Ohio House District — the incumbent state Rep. Diane V. Grendell, a Chesterland Republican and former state representative and state appellate court judge who was appointed to the position last year, and Chesterland Democrat Garrett Westhoven, a software engineer — were interviewed by the editorial board of The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com on Oct. 13, 2020, as part of the board’s endorsement process. Listen to audio of this interview below:

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer — the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.

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* Send a letter to the editor, which will be considered for print publication.

* Email general questions about our editorial board or comments or corrections on this endorsement editorial to Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, at [email protected]

Other resources for voters:

League of Women Voters vote411.org voters’ guide.

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