BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
The following is a look at one of two candidates running for the Ohio 82nd District State Representative seat. Today we talk to Independent candidate Pete Schlegel. A talk with his opponent, Republican nominee Tony Burkley, was featured in Thursday's Times Bulletin.
VAN WERT - Pete Schlegel does not have a typical background for a candidate, and he freely admits it.
"That's the first thing I tell people when I go out and speak. I'm not a career politician, and I don't even consider myself a politician. I grew up on a dairy farm in northwest Ohio and we continue to operate a small farm up that way," he said.However, Schlegel is a candidate for the Ohio 82nd District state representative seat this time around - not as a Democrat or a Republican, but as an independent. He explained that there are as many people who are not registered with one of the two major parties and those who are.
He explained, "I think my generation it seems, and I'm starting to learn this by talking to more and more people, they are starting not to affiliate themselves with a party because the parties have either become too extreme to the left or too extreme enough to the right, or they're not extreme enough to the right or extreme enough to the left. So you have a lot of these people who are calling themselves independents... They aren't looking at party affiliation. They care about results, and they care about things getting done that will make their lives better."
In addition to his background as a dairy farmer, Schlegel cites an interesting resume. He graduated from the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy. He then graduated from flight school and became a commercial helicopter and airplane pilot. For a while, Schlegel worked as a medical helicopter pilot. Then in the mid 1990's a hobby began to turn his life in a new direction.
"I started a band for fun, and it really started to be that," he said. "One of my faults that I talk about a lot is, when you are born you strive to walk until you do. Well, I never lost that drive the rest of my life. So whenever I went to tackle something, I just kept striving until I did it at the very best ability that I could. We started a little band to have fun once a month, it turned into taking some time off from flying to go out and play music."
Schlegel's music career began to take off, and he spent time on the road performing his songs all across the country. He released a couple of CDs and a series of music videos. He still plays with his band on occasion, but this year has been focused on winning a seat in the Statehouse.
He also developed his entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. At the age of 28, he and his wife Kathleen built their first Subway restaurant.
"We continued to build some Subways, and once we were in the Subway family, we were able to buy Subways that were in distress and help turn them around. We later went on to make managers into owners, and I found out recently that some of the managers we made owners became owners of other stores. So we helped stimulate the economy," he shared.
Over the past year, Schlegel has purchased a carryout/gas station that was about to close and turned it into a new gas station and convenience store, helping to maintain more than 20 jobs. He noted that his business experience would allow him to bring fresh perspective to Columbus.
Schlegel explained that the government is hurting the environment needed for small business to flourish. "Regulations and red tape and extra fees and all the things that a business has to go through... there are just arbitrary fees thrown on business owners and people trying to start a business. It's about impossible unless you've been in the trenches and built businesses in the past," he stated. "I feel sorry that this younger generation like my kids, unless they have someone to really mentor them or we get some of this government stuff under control, it's really going to stifle growth and job development."
According to Schlegel, the race is about much-needed economic development and job creation. He blames career politicians for not taking the needed steps to clear the way for economic growth. He also acknowledges that some young people trying to get into the workforce are not helping themselves with poor driving records, suspended drivers licenses and the inability to pass a drug screen.
"We're going to have to step up as parents, as neighbors, as citizens, as grandparents... we're going to have to mentor some of this," he declared.
How did a person with Schlegel's background wind up in a race for a seat in the state legislature? Schlegel noted that many issues he cared about seemed stifled by what he termed as "career politicians," so the next step was his.
"One of the things that I thought is if we the people don't start taking more interest in our own government, it's just going to keep getting worse and worse. It's like the parties are getting farther and farther and farther apart, and the country is kind of split in half right now. But the more I talk to people, especially in this area, if we have the same information and it's truthful and factual we normally will make the same decisions in this area because we all grew up in similar type schools, with similar type backgrounds. It seems over and over that when I talk to people from Hicksville, Ohio down to Wapakoneta, Ohio, you hear the same thing. And people are tired of politics as usual."
So the Paulding native has thrown his hat into the ring with no political party on either side to help out. But Schlegel, who promises accessibility to the point of asking that his cell phone number (419) 438-0186 be published, said he is in a better position as an independent.
"I'm not afraid to step on anyone's toes because I'm not worried if the Republican Party is mad at me or the Democrat Party is mad at me," he explained. "I'm going to do what the people are saying they need and that's what is going to help move this district forward."