Prizm News / October 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
In Ohio and across the nation, members of our community are stepping up and entering the political fray.
(Correction: In the October issue of Prizm, we mistakenly reported that Democrat Taylor Sappington is a candidate in the 91st Ohio House District. He is running in the 94th District, which covers areas of Athens, Meigs, Vinton and Washington counties.)
By Bob Vitale
On a sidewalk in Wapakoneta, at a restaurant in Dayton, in a library in Oxford, they talk about what made them decide to run.
During a drive to Nelsonville, at a Starbucks in Oakwood, in a college cafeteria in Granville, they talk about their plans if they win.
Eleven LGBT Ohioans—truly LGBT, as the list includes the state’s first openly transgender candidate—are running for office in next month’s elections. They’re vying to become a county auditor, a U.S. congressman, state senators and state representatives.
They’re part of what The New York Times has dubbed a “rainbow wave” of LGBTQ candidates across the country, more than 400 largely first-time politicians running for local, state and federal office in 38 states.
And they’re motivated by the same things that have people showing up at campaign offices in the state where the Human Rights Campaign has set up shop to supply equality-minded volunteers for equality-supporting candidates.
“We’re seeing a large amount of folks who are coming in to the offices and saying, ‘I want to do something,’” says Shawn Copeland, HRC’s state manager in Ohio. “It’s absolutely a response to Trump-Pence. These attacks are telling everyday folks they can do something about it.”
We drove nearly 1,200 miles this summer to meet candidates in every part of Ohio. They include a high school senior who’s challenging one of the most anti-LGBTQ legislators in the Ohio House, a sitting school board member who once interned for President George W. Bush, a college professor with a storied name in Ohio politics, and a stay-at-home dad who has traveled the world as an international aid worker.
Ohio House District 41
“If Donald Trump had not been elected, I would not be doing this,” says John McManus, a member of the Dayton school board who worries about what his former political science students at Sinclair Community College are gleaning today’s politics.
“I don’t want these kids thinking what they see in Washington right now is the American norm,” he says. “It wasn’t the norm when I was growing up.”
McManus grew up with a front-row seat at the political arena. His father was a Republican state representative in Tennessee who lost his 2016 re-election bid by 373 votes. McManus is a Democrat but interned and later worked in the White House under George W. Bush.
He and his campaign volunteers had knocked on 47,000 doors by mid-September and made more than 16,000 phone calls to voters in the district. It’s a strategy that worked for guy who defeated his dad two years ago despite a disadvantage in funding and name identification.
The openly gay McManus is challenging incumbent state Rep. Jim Butler in a Montgomery County district that includes Kettering, Oakwood, Riverside, Centerville and parts of Dayton.
“When I decided I was going to run here, Dad said, ‘You go out and do to that incumbent what my opponent did to me,’” he says.
Ohio Senate District 13
“Not only do I think we’re going to have a blue wave,” says Nickie Antonio, “I think we’re going to have a pink wave, and I think we’re going to have a bit of a rainbow wave as well.”
The Lakewood Democrat, who’s optimistic about women and LGBTQ people running for office this fall, is poised to make history for the second time in her legislative career. In 2010, Antonio was the first lesbian and first LGBTQ Ohioan to win a seat in the Ohio House. Now, in a heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County district where the tough race was her May 8 primary, she’ll likely score the same firsts in the Ohio Senate.
When she gets there, Antonio vows to pick up where she left off. She says she’ll introduce legislation, as she has since her first House term, to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws. Her bill picked up key endorsements this year from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Manufacturers Association.
Antonio is running for an open seat in the Senate. The district includes areas of Cleveland’s West Side, Lakewood, Brooklyn, Brook Park, Parma and Parma Heights.
Ohio House District 71
Forgive Jeremy Blake for borrowing a bit of the Trump lexicon. When he and supporters campaigned this summer in Utica, a tiny Licking County village of about 2,100, they couldn’t resist wearing hats with the slogan: “Make Utica Great Again.”
“I’m a gay black man and I’m wearing this hat as a joke,” says Blake, who currently serves on the City Council in Newark, the district’s largest city.
“You’ve got to laugh at things,” he says. “We came across some people who were very strong Trump supporters, and they start talking to you.”
The 71st District, which includes Newark and Health, Granville, Johnstown and Pataskala, was included in the August special election for a vacant U.S. House seat in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. Although Republican Troy Balderson won the contest—and carried Licking County by 22 percentage points—campaigning for Democrat Danny O’Connor helped his own effort, Blake says.
He has been trying to convince voters that the Republicans they’ve sent to Columbus are the cause of their complaints about healthcare and local tax increases that they’ve shared at festivals and on their front lawns. His opponent is third-term Rep. Scott Ryan.
“That’s sort of the biggest thing I have to get beyond,” Blake says. “He’s not just the nice guy. He’s in a leadership role, so whatever’s come out the Statehouse most definitely has his fingerprints all over it.”
Lis Kenneth Regula
Portage County Auditor
Lis Kenneth Regula remembers how he felt the night Donald Trump was elected in November 2016. “Ugh.”
“After a little bit of sitting with that helplessness and hopelessness, I decided, ‘I can’t keep doing this,’” he says. “’I’ve got to do something.’”
Regula, who had come out as transgender three years earlier, got involved with Equality Ohio’s successful effort to win passage of an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in his hometown of Kent. As chair of the Kent Environmental Council, he helped push his city to adopt a climate action resolution.
“It was just kind of like, ’I can make an improvement here, and I can step up here. I can do this.’” he says. It was this feeling, ‘I can get stuff done. I can help in my community.’ It really felt empowering.”
Now, Regula is challenging 24-year Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito. It’s a job about numbers and analysis, “all that statistical crap” that’s his focus as a scientist, says the University of Akron assistant professor. But he accuses his opponent of skewing numbers in an attempt to rein in county spending.
“Theres no real reason why ideology should play into this,” he says. “Now it does.”
Although he grew up on the other side of Ohio in Lima, Regula has a familiar name in Northeast Ohio politics. His grandfather was a cousin of the late U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, who represented Stark County in Congress for 36 years until 2009.
U.S. House, 15th District
At the Athens County Democratic Party headquarters in Nelsonville, they collect winter coats and children’s toys for neighbors who can’t afford them.
“Most of our kids are raised with a constant awareness that there is no money,” Lori Crook tells people gathered on a rainy Saturday in September to share their thoughts on issues with Rick Neal, the Democrat who wants to represent them in Congress.
It’s a place where they rarely see incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, who told a Columbus audience this summer that, “It’s not like I wanted Athens” in his district.
Neal, an openly gay German Village resident whose career in public health took him to Cambodia, Congo, Afghanistan and other countries, most recently has been a stay-at-home dad raising two daughters. He was inspired to run for Congress while he and his husband and daughters attended the 2017 Women’s March in Washington.
He has called for an increase in the minimum wage, supports the Affordable Care Act, wants to limit the influence of corporate money in politics and backs federal nondiscrimination legislation that’s LGBTQ-inclusive.
“We all have something in common,” he tells the Saturday audience in Nelsonville. “We all have a need for a better representative in Congress.”
Ohio House District 94
As an organizer for Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, Taylor Sappington helped the president carry Stark County.
This year, as Sappington runs his own campaign for an Ohio House seat in his home region of Appalachia, his former boss is returning the favor. Obama has endorsed Sappington in his campaign against first-term incumbent Republican Jay Edwards.
He’s vowing to be the voice of a part of Ohio that often feels neglected. Sappington, an openly gay Nelsonville City Council member, wants to close tax loopholes to pay for rural road improvements and expanded internet access.
“People don’t have a seat at the table unless they’re wealthy, powerful or well-connected,” he says. Why does he think he’s the one to break through and get a hearing for Appalachian concerns?
“I have just the right amount of stubbornness and fight in me.”
The 94th District, which includes Athens, Ohio University and portions of Athens, Meigs, Washington and Vinton counties, is a competitive one. Obama carried it in 2008 and 2012, but voters went for Trump in 2016. Although it’s in Republican hands now, it was represented by a Democrat from 2009 to 2017.
Ohio House District 53
Rebecca Howard has the quote memorized. If she defeats first-term state Rep. Candice Keller next month, it likely will be a big reason why.
Back in March, less than a month after a former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and killed 17 people, the Middletown Republican dismissed student activists: “A month ago, we weren’t really having this conversation, and all of a sudden a 15-year-old on television who would just as soon be eating Doritos and playing video games wants to tell me that my constitution needs to be changed. Really?”
“My campaign made lots of money off that comment,” Howard says.
To counter Keller’s penchant for the incendiary—she has compared Planned Parenthood to Nazis—Howard has adopted the slogan: “Responsible, Reasonable Representation.
“Because that’s what’s been lacking,” she says. Those are two attributes of mine that I think are particularly strong. I’m hyper-responsible, and I’m painfully reasonable.
Howard is the former owner of an Oxford early childhood center. She’s now a trainer and consultant in the field. If she wins in the Butler County district that includes Oxford and Miami University, Hamilton and Middletown, she would be the only out lesbian in the Ohio House.
Ohio House District 42
“We have to change the tone in politics,” says Zach Dickerson. “We have to have a little more civility and dignity.”
Dickerson has experience reaching across the political divide. It runs right down the middle of his family.
“That is probably the biggest asset I bring to public service, being a Democrat who comes from a Republican family,” says Dickerson, a Kansas native who came to the Dayton area for a job with LexisNexis.
“My mom thinks I’m a Democrat just because I’m stubborn. She’s partly right. I love to debate ideas. I love to understand both sides of an issue.”
The University of Denver law school graduate and his boyfriend have been engaged since April, although wedding planning is on hold until after the Nov. 6 election. The couple fell in love quickly, but Dickerson told his boyfriend they had to wait a year before talking about marriage.
“On the evening of our anniversary, I was sitting on the couch watching TV. I was not expecting it. He just plopped down beside me and pulled the ring out of his pocket and said, ‘Hey, do you wanna? And I said yes.”
Ohio House District 84
Joe Monbeck doesn’t agree with outgoing Gov. John Kasich on much. But he thinks the Republican’s 2014 decision to expand Medicaid and allow 290,000 low-income Ohioans to get health coverage just might have saved his partner’s life.
“Levi was working on his master’s degree and didn’t have a job. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. At that point the Medicaid expansion went through, so he was eligible,” Monbeck says.
“I am so appreciative of him,” he says of Kasich. “I do plan on being bipartisan. Just because a Republican brings something up doesn’t mean I’m going to be against it.”
Monbeck is the Democratic candidate in one of Ohio’s reddest House districts. The 84th District in Western Ohio stretches over Auglaize, Darke, Mercer and Shelby counties, where Donald Trump received 78 percent of the vote.
Although he was a reluctant candidate—Democrats had candidates in 98 of the state’s 99 House districts when they called Auglaize County—Monbeck is running hard.
He supports broadband internet expansion for rural communities and greater funding to fix Ohio roads.
Ohio House District 85
Garrett Baldwin is finally old enough to vote for himself. The senior at Mechanicsburg High School turned 18 in May, as he was being crowned prom prince and preparing to enlist in the Ohio Army National Guard.
In between school, cheerleading, swimming and a part-time job, he’s also running in Ohio’s 85th House District, which covers Champaign, Logan and Shelby counties. His opponent, Republican incumbent Nino Vitale, is among the General Assembly’s most anti-LGBTQ lawmakers.
But even in a district that gave Donald Trump more than 70 percent of its votes, Baldwin senses an opening for a more moderate tone of politics.
“I see a real opportunity to reach out to moderates who are fed up with the extreme right,” he says. If he wins in November, Baldwin plans to ask his local school board if he can graduate early.
Ohio Senate District 31
In addition to calling for a living wage, affordable healthcare and equitable school funding, Democrat Melinda Miller wants to build bridges.
Not the literal kind, mind you, although she no doubt supports good roads, too.
Miller, who would be the first openly bisexual legislator in Ohio history, says one of her priorities is to “build communities that bridge differences between people.” That means removing barriers to jobs and services by supporting public transportation, childcare and eldercare, job training, and mental health and addiction treatment,
Miller touts her own work experience as a waitress, line cook, retail clerk, message therapist and instructor, which she says gives her insight into the challenges of hourly, low-wage work and the benefits of vocational training.
The first-time candidate is challenging first-term Sen. Jay Hottinger in a district that usually votes about two-thirds Republican. It includes areas of Coshocton, Holmes, Licking, Perry and Tuscarawas counties.
But she says she couldn’t let the Republican go unchallenged.
“Choice is critical for a healthy democracy,” she tells voters on her website. A campaign slogan is: “A Better Ohio starts with a choice.”
Bob Vitale, the editor of Prizm, has covered politics and government at all levels during his 31 years as a journalist. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.