Mark Gooch runs against incumbent Rep. Wiggam to repre- sent Wayne County in the Ohio House of Representatives
Kaylee Liu, News Editor & Holly Shaum, Staff Writer
With the midterm elections fast approaching, the Voice is spotlighting Wooster librarian Mark Gooch who is running to represent Wayne County in the Ohio State House, and incumbent candidate Representative Scott Wiggam. While speaking to Mark, he gave us insight into his job as a librarian, his campaign platform and how his experience as a Wooster student informed his trajectory. This interview has been edited for clarity. The Voice reached out to Rep. Wiggam and his team for comment. The Voice staff called and submitted a request for comment message his office and campaign but did not receive a response from Rep. Wiggam. In the interests of fairness, we have summarized his stance on political issues based on interviews with other news outlets.
I know that you are a Wooster graduate and have since established a family here. What was it about Wooster that made you want to spend your life here?
One thing about Wooster and Wayne County is that when there is a problem, the residents will step up and address it. One of the projects I was involved with was the Christmas Run Park which was going to be closed about 12 years ago because of city finances. I stood up at the City Council and said that we’d raise $50,000 to keep it open. Instead, we raised $100,000. The community joined in and supported it. It’s a caring community, big enough that not everybody quite knows you, but small enough that you know a lot of people.
What are your responsibilities as a librarian at the College of Wooster?
I’m responsible for the collection management department. We order, process and catalog the materials (books, videos, etc.) for the libraries’ collections. I maintain access to various electronic resources such as eBooks, electronic journals, databases and streaming media. I am assigned to specific academic departments where I provide instruction and reference assistance, as well as developing the libraries’ collections in those subject areas. As a faculty member, I also serve on faculty committees and have been an advisor to some student organizations.
Why did you decide to run for office?
I’ve been involved in the Wooster community for a number of years. As a result, I had been considering running for local office, possibly city council or school board. I have long disagreed with the positions of our current representative and became more concerned with his response to the pandemic and the 2020 election results. I have a tendency to speak up when I have a concern and after much consideration and discussion with my family, I decided I should run against him and represent the concerns of many residents of Wayne County I have been hearing over the years.
How did you build your campaign? What was the process like?
I made the decision to run in July 2021. After that, I took my experience from helping in other campaigns, as well as attending webinars and other training including the Demand a Seat program through the Moms Demand Action organization and began planning my campaign. I identified key individuals to help me and began working on the various aspects of my campaign to have my plans in place. Key to my campaign was fundraising and I began making lists of people to contact to help financially. Through several rounds of fundraising letters and the generosity of others interested in seeing me be successful in my campaign, I was able to raise the initial funds necessary while continuing to add funding as needed. I then began to carry out my campaign plans.
How did the values and tools you learned as a Wooster student shape you as a candidate and help to formulate your positions?
Key to my success have been the research skills I learned as a student at Wooster and through the Independent Study process. These were further enhanced through my graduate study in library science and my career as a librarian. I may not know everything I need to know, but I know how to find it. That goes not only for things I don’t believe, but also those positions I do believe in. I find it is important, even for the things I agree with, to research and find multiple confirming sources for my positions. I learned the importance of communicating both verbally and in writing. I also learned to consider and question everything. Lastly, through my work as a student and a librarian with the libraries’ government documents collection and through a legislative history project in a political science course, I came to better understand the legislative process.
As somebody who was in Wayne County during the COVID-19 pandemic, how did you feel about the community guidance that was given and the push and pull between advice given by health professionals versus legislators?
I was happy with Governor DeWine’s initial actions with regards to the pandemic. I think he reached the point where he felt pressured by the more extreme folks in his party to pull back a little on that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence and could even be compared to the world wars, and I think it was fortunate that our economy was in a good position and that the impact was not as great as it could have been. Some of the opposition towards guidance was based on personal rights, and that may be a legitimate issue, but it doesn’t mean you can’t simultaneously advocate for what medical experts are encouraging. A good example of this was our congressman, Anthony Gonzalez. He was very much encouraging people to follow those health guidelines. I think some people took it to an extreme and that, as a result, has dramatically impacted communities like Wayne County. If you look at the county now, I believe that we are at about a 48% vaccination rate and that hasn’t budged for most of the year. My guess is that now that we’ve been through these first couple years of having the vaccine, people have built up some resistance to the virus. It’s always going to be with us and and it’s likely we are going to continue to have a booster shot the way we have flu shots every year, but I think we’re now in a position where the impact isn’t as significant as it was initially because we had no resistance.
I have read that your campaign is emphasizing expanding mental health services, especially regarding opioids. Can you expand on that for me? How would you advocate for making mental health services more accessible to people in Wayne County?
Mental health is something that touches on so many issues, including addiction. The governor has started a program and I am willing to contribute towards that. I would be glad to help support it and see if we can expand it even more. There’s a combined part of the problem. With all the various issues, there’s so much overlap, and we wanted to make it a simple answer of “we’re going to do this and we’ll fix that,” but that’s not how it always works, so there are a variety of things we need to do, including managing staffing to undertake adding mental health resources. They’re having a terrible time hiring and keeping staff, like so many professions, so we need to sort all of those issues out. That’s a different aspect, the issue of jobs and employment, so I think mental health touches on so many things, and I don’t feel as though our current representative is focusing on that. One of the complaints – which is a strength of Wayne Country, that people actually complain – is the homeless group downtown. People complain, “Oh, they all come here because we do such a good job providing services,” and I’m not sure why we think that caring about each other is a bad thing. There’s a group called Children and Family First Council and it’s made-up of most of the major social service agencies in the county and they have a meeting every two months. I sat in on one of those meetings. There must have been three dozen people at that table, and to sit and listen to how they’re working with each other and addressing various aspects of the same problem was incredible. It was really impressive, and we need to continue to be able to do that.
What is your stance on abortion, given the recent Supreme Court decision?
I believe that women should have the right to make their own health decisions. Starting a family is one of the most important decisions somebody makes, and that’s a decision between a woman or family and their doctor. I don’t think the government should be interfering with that. Each situation is unique, and we can’t just make a blanket catch-all law. Women have rights just like everybody else and they should be able to exercise those rights.
How do you see a small, more traditional American town like Wooster that has been more dependent on natural reserves like oil and gas transitioning to being clean energy dependent?
The district that I would be representing isn’t just Wooster, it’s the entirety of Wayne County. When people talk about energy independence, they only talk about fossil fuels, and I don’t understand why we can’t also include new energy like wind and solar, for one. They’re a lower cost for consumers and are reliable sources, so we don’t have to worry about them running out. They also have potential for economic gain because many of the solar panels that are currently used are made in China, as we discovered during the pandemic. That can be problematic so we could potentially create jobs in the United States by opening more factories to create those jobs.
Finally, what do you have to say to young people to encourage them to vote in this upcoming midterm election?
I don’t feel like I should have to encourage you to vote. It’s your right and your responsibility in this country. We need to get away from this idea that my vote doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter, the government doesn’t do anything. Political goals can be accomplished broadly through legislation and changes come slowly, but if we continue to have that attitude, we’re not going to have anybody voting. You can check this after the election, but I bet that we’re going to have less than 50% of registered Wayne County residents voting in this election and that’s ridiculous. Young people actually have the power to make all these changes collectively, and the idea that it doesn’t matter and that no one listens is wrong. Support somebody who can make the change you want or we’re all in trouble. The old people that have old ideas regularly rally elderly voters, who do vote regularly, because they understand the impact it has on them for things like Social Security, Medicare and taxes. Young people need to get past the idea that their vote doesn’t matter. I have voted in every election since I’ve been eligible, except for one primary because I forgot, which is unusual for me. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. You do need to check your sample ballot ahead of time so you know who’s on there and who you want to vote for, but it’s something that we all have to do or we’re going to have people in office who are only interested in dividing us and maintaining their power. This is the only way we can change it because we’re working against incredible amounts of money and power that go into supporting high-profile campaigns.
Scott Wiggam (R-Wayne County) Positions How would you continue guidance regarding COVID-19 safety protocols?
Wiggam has pushed back against sweeping restrictions that were put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. A bill was introduced in March 2021 to walk back public health orders issued by Governor DeWine or the Ohio Department of Health. According to News 5 Cleveland, “Wiggam and the majority of his GOP colleagues have reiterated how the actions that were taken by DeWine and the health department over the past year have been overreaching and detrimental to the freedom of Ohioans.” Wiggam further stated his support for the bill, “This body has given the administrative branch of the government a lot of power, and it’s time to review that power…”
In June 2021, Rep. Wiggam introduced a bill that would establish penalties for schools that inquire about a student’s COVID-19 vaccine status. The proposed law would prohibit, “…any school that gets state funding from requiring, asking or discriminating against students or staff regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.” Wiggam believes that students should take the time to discuss the potential ramifications of receiving the COVID-19 vaccines with their families to determine what works best for them. According to Spectrum News, Wiggam stated, “We already know that there are public universities trying to force this on their students before they come back and trying to give them different living arrangements, trying to continue forcing masks on people based upon their COVID status and quite frankly, it’s just simply unnecessary.”
Do you plan to expand access to mental health services?
Rep. Wiggam has supported bills containing expansion of mental health resources. In 2018, Wiggam co-sponsored a bill in 2018 to improve school safety measures, which included training for school staff to better identify and help students struggling with mental health issues. Wiggam co-sponsored an additional bill the same year to expand mental health examinations performed by advanced practice registered nurses.
What is your current stance on abortion, given the recent Supreme Court decision?
Rep. Wiggam believes that the issue of abortion is more about protecting the life of an unborn child than women’s rights. Wiggam co-signed the Heartbeat Bill, “…which bans abortion after six weeks of gestation, nearly halfway through the first trimester,” according to The Daily Record. Wiggam’s campaign website states, “Every child has a right to life. For the past eight years I have sat on the board of Ohio Right to Life and worked with others to expand protections for the most vulnerable among us – those yet to be born. As your State Representative I will continue to work to expand protections for unborn children and to eliminate policies that seek to end human life in the womb.”
How do you intend to transition Wayne County from oil and gas to clean energy practices?
Rep. Wiggam is a member of the state’s Energy and Natural Resources committee. According to The Daily Record, “Among Wiggam’s top concerns is reducing inflation and energy costs. This means investing in domestic natural gas production, a cleaner lternative to coal, he says. ‘This would get more money in the pockets of Ohioans while putting people to work.’”