A political veteran and three men who have never held office are competing for two local Ohio House seats in the Democratic primary.

Derrick Hall, a lawyer and pharmacist, is challenging state Rep. Vernon Sykes, who has served in the House twice — since 2007 and for 17 years during a previous stint — for the newly formed 34th District seat.

Paul Colavecchio, an attorney who has run for office but never served, and Jason Cowling, a former Statehouse intern and the president of a nonprofit organization, will face off in the 36th District.

The winners of the March 6 primary races will face Ronya Jeanette Habash, a Republican, in the 34th District, and state Rep. Tony DeVitis, R-Green, in the 36th District.

DeVitis, a former Green councilman, was appointed in December to the 43rd District seat to replace Todd McKenney, who was named Summit County Probate Court judge.

Ohio House and Senate district boundaries and numbers have changed with the 2012 elections. The lines were redrawn last year in the redistricting process completed after the U.S. Census every 10 years.

Neither Habash nor DeVitis has primary competition. A Republican write-in candidate planning to run against DeVitis dropped out.

The 28th District Senate seat and other House seats in the Akron area are uncontested races in the primary but will be competitive in the November general election.

34th District

Hall said he has wanted to run for office since he played the role of George Washington in the fourth grade.

“My desire to be a public servant jumped off from that,” he said.

He has nothing bad to say about Sykes.

“I’m not running because I think he’s doing a bad job,” Hall said. “We need a person who can bring different approaches to how to solve problems.”

Hall, 35, of Akron, thinks his broad educational and professional background would be an asset. If elected, he said, he would encourage high schools and colleges to create programs to educate young people for health-care jobs. He said he would try to be more engaged with constituents than Sykes.

“If I got elected, there’s not a single place you wouldn’t see me — schools, churches, community centers,” he said. “We would have open houses at our house and encourage others to open their homes.”

Sykes, 60, of Akron, said Hall’s enthusiasm reminds him of himself when he first ran for office. He is running for the last term he’s permitted under term limits.

“I’m still — hopefully — enthusiastic,” he said. “I’m not running against him. I’m running for re-election.”

He considered a bid for Congress in the newly formed 11th District that extends from Cleveland to Akron rather than trying to return to the Statehouse.

“I wanted to make sure Akron was not overlooked with the combining of the inner-city communities of Cleveland and Akron,” he said.

He said he decided the community would be “best served to take advantage of the experience I have for the time I have left” as a state representative.

Sykes, who sits on several powerful committees, including as the ranking minority member of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee, also is on the Constitutional Modernization Committee that is examining the state Constitution for possible changes that could be put before voters. One of the issues the committee will be studying is term limits.

Sykes, who said he originally favored term limits, now thinks they should be “increased some.”

“I’m not sure how much,” he said.

36th District

The candidates for the 36th District have experience on the fringes of politics, though neither has held office.

Colavecchio, 55, of Cuyahoga Falls, ran against former state Rep. John Widowfield in 2006, earning 49 percent of the vote, and for Summit County Council in 2008 against Gloria Rodgers.

His wife, Diana, is president pro-tem of Cuyahoga Falls City Council.

Colavecchio was an attorney for the United Auto Workers for 20 years and now has a private practice with his wife.

“On all levels — state, county and federal — I’m in the loop,” he said. “For a person who is not an incumbent, I would be able to hit the ground running.”

He said he is bothered by how Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP-controlled legislature have “steamrolled all the issues without having a discussion back and forth between the parties.”

“I would try to get along because it’s for everybody’s benefit,” he said. “People might like divided government, but not to this extent. I’ve never seen any administration be this extreme. I’m not an extremist.”

Colavecchio said he would try to increase funding for schools and local governments and do whatever he could to help create jobs.

Cowling, 37, of Clinton, was an intern for former state Rep. Steve Dyer and helped with his campaign. When he found out Dyer wasn’t running, he said it “seemed like a great time to get involved.”

Cowling worked in the security industry, designing camera systems, and now runs Cybercation, a nonprofit organization that encourages high school students to study information technology fields in college.

“I definitely know how things work in Columbus,” Cowling said. “I’m a small-business owner. I’ve worked in the corporate world. I think I have a lot of good acumen.”

Cowling said he would emphasize the need for retraining the work force, for turning former manufacturing buildings into technology-related facilities and for encouraging the development of alternative energy, like windmills.

“We need to be more future-oriented, rather than past,” he said. “We continue to miss the boat on alternative energy. ... Every year that goes by, we are missing out on potential jobs.”

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com.