Sen. Lou Gentile delivers lesson in public service

JANELL HUNTER – Times Leader Staff Writer , Times LeaderBridgeport High School

BRIDGEPORT – Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, delivered encouragement and inspiration to Bridgeport High School student, teachers and administrators Thursday in an informative speech. He also took questions from several students.

Gentile, who grew up in Steubenville, began by saying he entered public service to give back to the community. The senator was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2010 and was subsequently appointed to fill the vacant 30th Senate District seat in 2011. He was elected to that office in 2012 and is currently campaigning for another term. He represents Belmont, Harrison, Monroe, Carroll, Jefferson, Noble, Washington, Meigs, Athens and Vinton counties for a total of 365,000 constituents.

He gave an overview of what he does as senator, which is serving on several committees, such as Transportation, Energy and Natural Resources, Public Utilities, and Financial Institutions; writing legislation and traveling to the 30th District counties and talking with his constituents about the issues that are important to them.

He relayed to the students that the “most rewarding” part of his job is interacting with the people of his district. He said most of his ideas for legislation come from talking to people about their very real challenges. He gave the example of a Senate bill that he introduced that helps veterans take their experience and skills and turn that into college credit to help them find good jobs. The senator said he got the idea from a veteran in his district.

Gentile said he believes the most important issues facing Ohioans now are job creation and economic opportunity, strengthening public education and infrastructure investment. He stressed that his goal with public service is to use his position to improve the lives of the people he serves. He encouraged the students to stay in the Ohio Valley area and give back to their community. He told the kids to do what they are passionate about instead of focusing on money, urging them to “pursue things in life that are meaningful to you, and you will be successful.”

Gentile then took a series of questions from the students on several subjects, including standardized testing. He said although testing sometimes can be a “useful measure,” it is “not always the best indicator of student performance.” The subject of assigning letter grades to school districts came up soon after that, and he said it is “not fair to assign an arbitrary letter grade” and that it tends to stigmatize districts that do poorly. He does, however, support a reasonable accountability system for school districts.

One student asked, “Do you think the government is doing enough to fight poverty?”

Gentile responded with an emphatic “no” and explained that the biggest problem is stagnant wages. To combat that issue, he supports legislating a higher minimum wage. He also said that giving more support to education and allotting more money to fund infrastructure improvements will give job- and wealth-creating private sector businesses more incentive to locate their businesses here.

Another student asked what steps can be taken to end the heroin epidemic. The tone of the room was somber as the senator explained that this is a very serious issue, not only for this area but across the whole state. He said there is no “silver bullet” to stop the epidemic, and added that we can’t “legislate our way out” of the problem. He said it will take the whole community working together at the grassroots level to make a positive change.

Wrapping up the question-and-answer portion of his presentation, he spoke more about his duties as a senator and stressed the importance of listening to all sides and perspectives before making any legislative decisions.