Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Wednesday, August 2

Ohio House 92nd: Frances Strickland at Fundraiser for Phillips (D)

Last Sunday I drove down to Upper Arlington, a northwest suburb of Columbus, to attend an ice cream social for 92nd Ohio House District candidate Debbie Phillips (D-Athens) at which Frances Strickland, wife of gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon), was the featured guest. The event took place in the shady backyard of Phillips' parents, Mike and Kathryn Lors. The weather was hot but the ice cream was cold and everybody seemed to be having a very fun time. It was a pleasure to see 19th Ohio House District candidate Marian Harris (D-Columbus) and to meet Franklin County Commissioner candidate Marilyn Brown (D-Columbus), about each of whom I plan to post separate entries based on our conversations. I also enjoyed talking to Brown's husband, Common Pleas Judge Eric Brown; William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding; Jim Phillips, the candidates' spouse, who is a senior writer for the Athens News; Mark Rutkis, Executive Director of the Franklin County Democratic Party; and Court of Common Pleas candidate Chuck Bendig (D-Groveport).

The above picture shows Phillips with her daughter, Pauline, who was remarkably patient about the many people who wanted to talk to her mother. Phillips is a member of the City Council of Athens, where she chairs the Planning and Development Committee, and she is on leave from her position as executive director of the Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, a statewide coalition working to solve the school funding crisis. In a brief conversation before she addressed the crowd, Phillips mentioned that she has been endorsed by Ted Strickland and that Francis Strickland has long been a supporter. This is very important because much of the 92nd Ohio House District is in the 6th Ohio Congressional District, and the Stricklands are very popular. She also expressed the view that her race is not about the individuals running, but about vision. She is finding a lot of support from people who believe in the vision for Ohio that Strickland and Phillips are putting forward. Finally, she connected her General Assembly race to the gubernatorial race by pointing out that a pickup of even one seat for the Democrats means that the Ohio House of Representatives can uphold Gov. Strickland's veto, which is "a real power to get Republicans to the table to listen to citizens' concerns."

The candidate's father spoke briefly to welcome the crowd and to introduce Mark Rutkus, pictured above. Rutkis acknowledged the other candidates in attendance and fired up the crowd with a glowing portrayal of the Democrats' chances in this fall's elections before introducing the candidate.

Phillips told the crowd that this is a critical time because the legislature's "priorities are out of whack," and we "need to bring attention back to the things that really matter." The Democrats have a great slate, with Strickland who is "clearly going to be Governor" (wild cheering) and Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon) who will "help take back the Senate" (big applause). Phillips said that her campaign is focused on "issues that really matter to people" such as solid regional development, investing in alternative energy, and affordable health care. She grew up in central Ohio working on school levies (her parents did public relations work for the campaigns), which taught her the value of "working together for things that matter."

In her work for the Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, which she founded, Phillips took students to the legislature and took legislators to the schools. What she discovered is that legislators "are not listening to anybody right now." In meetings with citizens, the legislators' questions were designed to trip people up, not to learn. The pressures on the schools are intense, but legislators don't hear the schools' concerns, and "decisions are made behind closed doors" with legislation "railroaded through." About her opponent, incumbent Jimmy Stewart (R-Athens), Phillips said that he is "not doing a good job" because of his "party line votes" on tax policy, education, and cuts to police and fire fighters. Stewart "goes along with the Republicans whether it helps people or not." He voted with other Republicans for increases in fees, which "means more taxes, not less."

Phillips concluded by acknowledging her family, including children Jeremiah and Pauline, who at that point were eating ice cream. Pauline, she said, had been helping the campaign by riding a little battery-powered car in parades, which had set off a sort of arms race among candidates' kids to see who had coolest ride.

Frances Strickland, greeted enthusiastically, told the crowd that Ted Strickland needs people like Debbie Phillips in the General Assembly. She is impressed with how hard Phillips work for the public good, and Phillips will "do great things in Congress -- I mean General Assembly -- Congress is for later!" (Laughter and applause.) She acknowledged that things are looking good for the Democrats this year. "When people decide that they want change, they just go down the ballot and pull that lever." Then she told the story of a parking lot attendant who pointed at the Strickland sticker on her bumper and said "There's going to be a change in Ohio, and that's the man who's going to do it!" and a guy behind the counter at an auto parts store who said "There's going to be a shake-up in Columbus in November!" She warned that it's not just Republicans who stand to learn a lesson from this. "Everybody who is trying to be a public servant" has to work hard to continue serving the people.

At this point Frances Strickland addressed the ugly slurs that the Republican party was caught circulating about the Stricklands last week. "I'm sure you've all heard about the slurs directed at Ted and me," she said. "It's standard fare. It's all in their bag of tricks." She traced that kind of campaigning back to Republican strategists Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, who discovered that you can "win by driving up your opponent's negatives." Then she credited Ailes with an analogy between politics and football, in both of which you see an opening and you run for it. Ailes commented, however, that "most people can't take the punches" and give up trying to reach that opening. Republicans, she explained, hit the Democrats and "count on people becoming defensive and folding." However, punches aren't allowed in football, and that means that flags are thrown. In this race, "flags are getting thrown by the people." This time, "we're going to be running for that opening, and we'll have lots of people blocking for us, and we'll win!" She concluded by saying that she and Ted look forward to "having Debbie Phillips in the General Assembly, helping us bring equity to school funding."

After her talk, Strickland was provided with a guitar and sang her autobiographical song about her husband, to the tune of "Davey Crockett." I heard her sing this at the ODP 2006 State Dinner in early June and it's hilarious. She makes jokes in between the verses, such as asking "Well, what else rhymes with Kentucky?" after singing that Ted "married a girl from Kentucky, and folks all say he was kind of lucky."

After the biographical song, Phillips said that her daughter Pauline wanted to sing with Strickland, so after a little encouragement they sang a little song about the school funding crisis ("It's raining, it's pouring, the legislature's snoring ..."). After that, they did another little ditty that started "Republican, Republican, who're you gonna vote for?" and Strickland finished by singing "This culture of corruption is killing me/So I'm going to vote for Ted and Lee/Their message has an honest ring/And boy oh boy can Ted's wife sing!"

After the singing, Phillips and her daughter gave Strickland two gifts, a large box of Twinkies (which she declared she would not be sharing with Ted) and a big bottle of bubble bath. Both gifts had to do with the enormous amount of traveling that the Strickland have been doing for the campaign.

I had a chance to introduce myself to Strickland and chat for a few minutes. She remarked that my surname (Coryell) appears in her family tree on her mother's side, so we talked a bit about Coryell genealogy. I praised her for addressing the slurs so directly in her talk, and she told me a story about talking to her parents on a visit to Kentucky. "Mom," she said to her mother, "there's something going on and there may be a private investigator coming down here to ask questions." "Oh boy," her mother replied, "I could love that!" It sounds like the investigator will get a real talking to if he or she gets as far as Francis Strickland's mother. Her father said, "Aging isn't for sissies .. and running for office isn't for sissies either." Strickland is a pleasure to talk to because she's affable and relaxed and completely down-to-earth.

Here is Phillips with judicial candidate Chuck Bendig (D-Groveport). After a little while I was able to sit down with Phillips and ask her a few questions about her background and the race. Asked how she went from her work in the nonprofit sector to politics, she said that Mary Abel, a former state representative and wife of the current Mayor of Athens, asked her to run for city council in 2003. She took a while to decide about the switch, because she likes grassroots-level organizing work. It helped her to have my state senator, C.J. Prentiss (D-Cleveland Heights), as "a model for thinking about doing both legislating and organizing, in the sense of empowering people." (She also mentioned Nancy Dietrich, a city council member from my home town of Cleveland Heights, as a supporter of her campaign.) Phillips expressed a lot of respect for Ted Strickland for "spending so much time in the district listening to the people," which is "really important." (Her kids don't like to go to the grocery store with her any more, she said, because she thinks it's great to stop and talk to people about city affairs.)

On the school funding issue, I asked her specifically about tensions between rural and urban districts, and she agreed that the problems experienced by rural, suburban, and urban districts are somewhat different. However, with "good listening," people from different types of districts can understand each other's problems and reach a satisfactory overall solution. The key, she said, is deciding at the outset what it is that we promise to each child (in terms of class size limits and other factors that determine the quality of education), and then determining the cost of providing it. She supports performing a costing study to determine a reasonable cost of education per student, plus reasonable costs for special needs students, gifted students, and other special categories. Whether urban or rural, the focus should be on providing quality early childhood education. She concluded by mentioning that there are discussions in the House about the possibility of a separate education budget, and that some groups are working on school funding remedies that could be on the ballot in 2007.

Campaign aides never get their pictures published, so I want to include this picture of Debbie Phillips for State Representative Campaign Manager Kyle Smiddie and PR Director Drake Toney. Keep up the good work, guys!


At 5:08 AM, Blogger jazzolog said...

Beautiful job Sammy. I'm down here in Athens OH, and I hope it cheers you that this entry is getting around here. Hopefully some other folks with Blogger accounts will get some comments in as well.

You captured the simple sweetness and downhome strength of both Debbie and Mrs. Strickland. If that reality can get around to voters, particularly way up North there, we just can't lose...providing no hackers are allowed to destroy free election.

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