BY MICHAEL TOLAND
The 2018 midterm elections brought forth some of the States’ most progressive politicians and policies to date, but Ohio still fell short on equality voting.
Nationally, the 2018 midterms was filled with some of the most impressive victories yet for progressives. Congress is now poised in 2019 to have more women and minorities than any time in our history. The incoming Congress’ average age is set to drop by 10 years, with more than 25 incoming members at the age of 40 or younger. This is great news! We’re bringing fresh and diverse perspectives to the national stage, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Winning back a majority control of the House, Democrats are able to put checks and balances against the current administration. The victory is incredible.
Tennessee elected its first woman to Senate, Marsha Blackburn. Arizona elected their first woman and openly bisexual Senator, Kystern Sinema. Connecticut is sending Jahana Hayes, its first black woman to Congress. Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor, won his race in Colorado. America sent our first Native American women to Congress — Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids from Kansas, who is also the state’s first openly gay member of Congress. Massachusetts elected their first black woman to Congress, Ayanna Pressley. One could go on and on about the nations firsts. Even Michigan passed a slew of progressive ballot initiatives, expanding voting rights, legalizing recreational marijuana use and electing progressives across the state.
So what happened in Ohio? November was brutal for Ohio Democrats and liberal voters. We lost Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and so on. Democrats in Ohio were unable to pick up a single U.S. House seat (not for lack of trying), netted only four State Legislature Reps and lost a state Senate seat in Mahoning Valley. The Ohio legislature continues to preserve its Republican supermajorities by will of voters. The only bright spot was incumbent Sherrod Brown preserving his U.S. Senate seat, receiving almost 300,000 more votes than Richard Cordray, the Democratic candidate for Ohio Governor. Ohio keeps moving further toward the right, electing politicians who consistently vote against the interests of Ohio citizens.
According to the Ohio Voter Project, those who show up to the ballot box in Ohio skew toward older generations. Only about 2.1 million of Ohio’s approximately 7.9 millions registered voters are under the age of 35. By party, the state’s registered voter declaration skews heavily Republican, while the largest group of voters choose not to declare affiliation with either Democrats or Republicans.
Ohio’s electorate tends to skew older due to younger individuals leaving the state for college or leaving after receiving degrees from in-state schools. This youth and brain drain continues to impact the state, and until we build the opportunities young people want to participate in, this trend will continue. Those who do stay are concentrated themselves to the “three C’s” — Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati — due to more opportunities present in these cities. Compounding the issue of liberal concentration to these cities, Ohio’s gerrymandering carves districts comprised of large rural landscapes with small sections of urban areas that limit progressive voting power. Progressives cannot represent themselves or their interests across the state through these district lines.
But another difficult part is building progressive infrastructure across rural Ohio. Let’s face it, spending the money to build out infrastructures in places progressives are leaving is hard and expensive. Politicians want to ensure they spend their time and money where their votes are, but we’ve seen this strategy repeatedly fail the left. Even having a Democrat run in all 99 state House seats and in 17 state Senate seats wasn’t enough to drive voters to the ballot box.
So what should we do? Do we throw up our hands and give up on Ohio as a progressive state? No! Rural voters connect with progressive values. Sherrod Brown’s victory, especially among rural, blue-collar Ohioans, tells us that much. Ohioans care about progressive values, but they don’t see how taxes are helping them. They’re convinced that Democrats will continue to send their taxes to Columbus, instead of funneling that money back to their communities. Meanwhile, Ohio’s Republican politicians have done exactly that.
It seems then we should start talking about progressive infrastructure in Ohio. What’s the long-term strategy? It seems like a no-brainer. We have diverse urban centers, with powerful local political parties that can drive local voter turn-out, so the question becomes liberal rural turnout. It’s clear that rural communities under Republican leadership in Ohio have done worse. Trump’s trade deals have seen benefits in parts of Ohio, but the effect is limited. Towns like Lima, Mansfield, Chillicothe or Findlay — the old manufacturing centers of the state — are still struggling. Without public investment to keep what is still there afloat, to provide empowerment for citizens of these communities, what happens? It seems clear that progressives must build their infrastructure in these smaller cities and larger towns, and demonstrate their commitment to improving the lives of residents here — because these regional cities influence so much of the surrounding rural communities. We cannot continue to focus on the “three C’s,” as they can only deliver so many votes, and it’s proving to be not enough.
This responsibility is not solely on the Ohio Democratic Party, but all of us who have an interest in Ohio’s success. We all need to make a case for Ohio’s future, and to wrestle it from conservative supermajorities. We must ensure that all ideas are considered. Rural Ohio is facing a consolidated agriculture economy, and while some may agree that messages about inequality are important, they worry more about providing enough to feed their family and support themselves and communities. When your job has up and gone, and you are trying to find assistance, you might agree that the violence against minority communities is important, but paying your bills, finding employment and surviving is your focus. This is the message that Sherrod Brown grasps more than other statewide Democrats.
So let’s focus on finding common ground between our rural and urban constituents. We overlap on so many key issues; this should come natural. Ohio’s environment is critical to the success of its agricultural and rural communities, and if you attend farmers’ markets in your community, the farmers will express this to you. The urban residents of Columbus pride themselves on passing another metro parks levy, and it’s clear this is a unifying issue.
Meanwhile, places like St. Mary’s and Celina experience toxic algae blooms in Grand Lake St. Mary’s to such a degree that a thriving regional getaway destination has been permanently ruined. Toledo experiences algae blooms regularly on Lake Erie. This is an issue all Ohioans agree on, and have witnessed become progressively worse under Republican leadership. In Southeast Ohio, fracking, both in and out-of state, are polluting drinking water. These issues matter! Ohio’s rural communities feed the urban ones, in addition to many others across the country and globe! Protecting the environment is just one way to unite our communities, and something Democrats have always favored, so let’s start stressing it.
Even more, education in both rural and urban Ohio matters. After over $80 million tax dollars were wasted on ECOT by a Republican controlled state, all Ohioans should have been outraged. That was $80 million tax dollars that could have went to local public schools where so many rural and urban residents send their children. Local communities have been starved of education funds, and they are unable shore up enough of a windfall via local taxes to compensate for it. Poor urban communities of color and rural Ohioans face the same issues, and ALL Ohioans who care about the future of children in this state should show up to the polls and vote individuals in who will keep public taxes out of the hands of corrupt for-profit institutions that do not serve the needs of Ohio’s children.
It is on us to educate ourselves about the issues faced by people living across this state. The concentration of progressives in urban communities must make a concerted effort to learn about rural Ohioans and their issues without not dismissing them. Their needs impact us; they matter. Let’s show them. If you’re originally from a small town in Ohio, then go home! Canvass your neighbors, share progressive ideas and gather their ideas on solutions. We won’t convince this state to go blue until we start appreciating that we’re all in this together. All our causes matter. Progressives aren’t just in urban city centers and outlying suburbs, but all across this state, waiting to connect and be heard by people who are finally ready to listen. Let’s collectively build a state where everyone does better.
Copyright © 2018 True Media Group All Rights Reserved