The Two Obstacles That Keep Democrats From Being Elected To Ohio’s Statehouse

Joe Colvin recently responded to a post now over two years old, asking why the local Democratic party fails election after election to elect Democrats to the statehouse. 

Joe, I see two big obstacles that block Democrats from being elected to the statehouse. I’ll focus on the 41st Ohio House District in Kettering where I live. The first obstacle is lack of a Democratic party infrastructure. The second big obstacle is lack of a democracy infrastructure.

The Democratic party in the 41 OHD, has failed to build an infrastructure. Most precincts in the 41 OHD do not have a Democratic precinct leader and the Democratic ward leaders and precinct leaders who are in place in the 41 OHD are generally inactive. Almost all the responsibility of funding, running and organizing a campaign is placed on the candidate. This is a huge and exhausting challenge that discourages potential candidates from making an effort. The excellent Democratic candidates that have emerged — for example, Steve Byington in 2002, and Caroline Gentry in 2012 — always get a shellacking (Caroline got the most votes of any D in 41 OHD in recent memory with 40.45% of the vote.) As a party, we have not established the infrastructure that could possible encourage continued effort by these or other qualified candidates. I did a statistical study of the 41st Ohio House District. There are over 7000 Democrats who regularly vote in the Democratic primary in the 41 OHD. (See herefor more data about 41 OHD) The question is, what needs to happen to bring these Democrats together into a meaningful community that can find and support good candidates?

The second big obstacle to sending Democrats to the statehouse — lack of a democracy infrastructure — became obvious to me when in 2009, I decided to seek election to the Kettering Board of Education. For this nonpartisan position, again, I discovered the burden of communicating with voters is fully on the candidate. The League of Women Voters organized one poorly attended meeting that was truly worthless. There was no Kettering Town Hall, no established or traditional venue where interested citizens could easily dialogue with school board candidates — no on-line forum, etc. It is all up to the candidate to fund and organize any communication with the voting public.

In 2012, I organized a community debate between the candidates for the 41st OHD between Democrat Caroline Gentry and Republican Jim Butler. It was scheduled to happen at Kettering High School immediately after school dismissal. There was almost zero interest by high school teachers, including social study teachers, to attend or to encourage their students to attend. There was only a small handful of community members. There seems no tradition or established expectation of democracy in Kettering, no democracy infrastructure, that brings citizens together in a nonpartisan setting to discuss issues and candidates. This lack of a democracy infrastructure, this lack of public expectation or demand for a democracy infrastructure that I experienced in Kettering is repeated throughout the county. This is a huge obstacle.

You write, “What has to get done? We need new life blood!” I agree. But there is no easy answer. To address these two obstacles will require a lot of sustained effort by a core group of concerned citizens. It will require Democrats to work not only to build their party but to work in nonpartisan efforts to build local democracy and local community.

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