LISBON - Two Salem men - Dan Bailey and Nathan Walker - are running for the Columbiana County commissioner seat occupied by incumbent Republican Mike Halleck.
Bailey and Walker are seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 6 primary election, with the winner taking on Halleck in the November general election. Halleck is unopposed in the primary.
Bailey, 31, owns a video game store in Salem, while the 37-year-old Walker works as a chef at Mount Union University for AVI Food Systems
Bailey first ran for public office last year as an unsuccessful candidate for Salem City Council. Bailey said he ran as an independent candidate after having missed the deadline to file as a Democrat.
Bailey said he still wanted to get involved in politics, which is why he agreed to run for commissioner after being approached by county Democratic Party Chairman Dennis Johnson.
Walker moved back to the county in 2009 and decided to run after talking it over with his friend, former county recorder Craig Brown. "I was tired of not seeing any change," he said.
He originally considered running for Salem council last year, "but I felt this was the best chance for me to get into politics. I know this is a big step."
While neither one has any specific plans or projects if elected, Bailey said he would focus on improving the county's IT infrastructure.
"The one major area we seem to be lacking is ... which is now becoming a national issue, is technology infrastructure, broadband access ... The focus has to be on infrastructure (traditional and technological). It's hard to bring in business here that don't want to (locate) here. So we need to bring our infrastructure up to date," he said.
Bailey would also look to the state for help in obtaining the kind of tax breaks used to attract IT businesses in other parts of the country.
"They're going to move where the infrastructure works for them, and they're going to where the taxes work for them. And that is something we can do," he said.
Walker said he would bring accountability to the job of commissioner and for that reason opposes making promises he cannot keep.
"I want to bring unity to all of the offices the county deals with so we're all on the same page. I want us to work together as one group," he said.
Walker said this cooperative effort is needed to address issues that will result from the oil and gas boom, such as increased crime, drug activity and skyrocketing rents as local residents are forced to compete for rental property with transient workers.
"That means the person I'm working with making ten, eleven bucks an hour can't rent the same as the person coming in from out town if they're charging $1,200 (per month) for a house right now," he said.
Walker has also made drug-testing for public officials a focus of his campaign, challenging his opponents and all candidates this year to voluntarily be tested. "It's all about having an equal playing field" between public officials and their employees, he said.
During the campaign, Walker issued a new release telling Bailey he should withdraw from the race because of his business-related debts since Bailey has referred to his experience as a small-business owner as his biggest asset.
According to court records, a total of $27,509 in tax judgments were obtained against Bailey and his former business partner in early 2012. They also had a $10,060 judgment against them based on a 2011 lawsuit filed by Joe Hand Promotions Inc.
Bailey said his first attempt at starting his own business did not go well. "Things went bad, really bad, and we ended up even closing down. We owe back taxes, but we have worked out a plan with the IRS to pay most of it back, and that's what we're working on," he said, adding they were able to reopen the business last year.
He does not believe this should disqualify him from running for office, as Walker suggested, and actually makes him more sympathetic with others who have also experienced money problems.
"I mean 8.5 percent of all Americans owe back taxes, and way more than that are in debt. It's a reality we have to deal with now, and it's nice to have someone there (as commissioner) that understands you can work around that," Bailey said.
Walker has his own issues. In 2007, he was found guilty of public indecency for urinating in public behind Jackson's Market in Guilford Lake. Walker, who described the incident as "embarrassing," said the convenience store's bathrooms were not open to the public, and he could no longer hold his bladder.
In the news release announcing his candidacy, Walker repeatedly said his greatest asset is the fact he's not Halleck, who he described as a career politician comfortable with wearing a suit and hanging out at the Salem Golf Club.
Walker said he has never actually met Halleck or had any personal dealings with him and was just trying to draw a distinction between himself and Halleck.
"I didn't mean it to sound personal. I just was trying to explain that I'm not a career politician, and I'm concerned for the county," he said.
Walker has also come under some scrutiny for his close association with Brown, the former county recorder who lost his 2012 re-election bid after a female employee filed a complaint accusing him of making improper comments to her. Brown claimed Halleck played a role in the complaint.
Walker described Brown as friend since high school and someone he turns to for political advice. "He's not telling me what to say or how to say it. He's just helping me with putting it all together," he said, adding that Brown had a solid record as recorder.
"I like to put tools next to me that give good advice, and Craig Brown is an awesome tool," Walker said. "He's well spoken, and he's nice guy. He may have rubbed people the wrong way, but that has nothing to do with me."