Matthew Kirk (D)

Biography: Kirk describes himself as a “newcomer” to the world of politics but not public service. Kirk has worked for the State of Ohio and the City of Columbus as a tax and economic development expert, “a career made possible by a lifetime of public education culminating in my Bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Miami University and extensive coursework in accounting and business at Columbus State.” Kirk is an Economic Development Finance professional and is currently the Vice Chair of his town’s Economic Sustainability Committee.

What is the biggest challenge facing the state, and what would you do to help resolve it?

“The biggest challenge facing the state right now is our economy. Ohio’s recovery has been uneven. Although the jobs lost during the recession have been replaced, many of them pay less. Unemployment is low and while on the surface this seems good, it is actually really bad because our pool of available workers is shrinking. The baby boomer generation is retiring. They not only represent a large number of workers but they also are very experienced.

With unemployment already low and us losing more workers than we are adding, growing our economy will be difficult. In order to meet the demands of our economy we are going to have to step up and fix our failing education system. The first step is going to be accepting education as a public responsibility unfit for outsourcing to charter schools.

I will lead the effort to integrate social services into our school systems to help our students combat their noneducational challenges. I will also lead an effort to institute a statewide one day a week internship program for high schoolers. I believe it is important for us to prepare our students for life after high school, whether or not that means pursuing a college degree.”

When it comes to the state’s budget, how would you change spending priorities for services?

“As a state I believe we are only as strong as our weakest links. I would realign our budget priorities to focus on rebuilding our most downtrodden small towns and neighborhoods.

Governor Kasich often talks about balancing the budget and how great everyone is doing in Ohio. Yes, the budget is balanced and yes, I am sure the people in his bubble are doing great. The hard truth is that the budget was balanced on the backs of small communities, many of which have been ravaged by a steady loss of jobs over the last several decades and most recently by the heroin epidemic.

It is time to stop leaving people and places to waste and bring the pride back. We will need to break down the silos that exist between law enforcement and social services to get people back on track. We need to create local jobs by improving access to opportunity through education and innovative approaches to our agricultural and Main Street economies.”