In an attempt to innovate on the tactics of his party, Ohio Senator and Democratic Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni reached out to Madison and Union County residents as part of his campaign as his party’s nominee for Governor.
The Youngstown native met with about 15 people for an informal “kitchen table” discussion in Plain City on Wednesday night.
He made his pitch for why they should vote for him during the primary on May 2, but mostly he listened to attendee’s opinions and ideas on how to re-brand and reinvigorate the party, which pundits argue is “lost in the woods.”
Schiavoni said his big push is to connect with voters in rural areas or places with large Republican bases, which he felt haven’t been listened to.
“I think Democrats in the past have forgot about these places and people in these communities feel it,” he said.
Those in attendance, almost all local Democrats, voiced their concerns during the hour-long discussion.
Not connecting locally
One of the general themes of the discussion was the idea Democrats simply do not connect with voters, contributing to an elitist image, deserved or otherwise.
“Democrats aren’t doing what we used to do,” said Frank Smith of Plain City. “And that is, find a more fundamental issue … and connect it to the person who lives there.”
Smith argued issues like campaign finance reform as well as repairing infrastructure resonated well with most people and can be easily connected on.
“We have to reform campaign finance laws, and show that outside money is coming in your community and they’re going to come in here,” he said. “See what I did? It’s a fundamental issue but it has to be linked to those citizens who are there.”
Smith later added he felt that the republicans had created an image that Democrats were irresponsible with money.
Another attendee asked for Schiavoni’s views on the budget.
“Kasich for the last six years has every budget proposal, put a proposal together to cut income tax by $1.5 million, 2 million, 3 million, this time he did the same exact thing,” said Schiavoni.
He chastised the governor for making the cuts and then complaining that “revenue was soft.”
The minority leader argued that the cuts cause levies to become necessary or increase existing ones, ending up making the potential savings moot.
Barb Niemeyer, a local democrat from London and 2016 candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives later added how to take Schiavoni’s views and make them local.
“Frank’s comment about bringing it to the local level, I think that important,” said Niemeyer. “If you talk about the Kasich tax cut and you come into these communities…connect that with you got a tax cut, you got an extra $600 but you’re now paying more. In Madison County in 2015, every single library was on the ballot [with a levy]. “
She added he should argue if local services, such as fire departments, EMS or the Police ask for levies, then people “really didn’t get a tax cut.”
The other major topic was an inability to mobilize potential sympathizers.
Hilary Frambes, of Plain City, said she was concerned that they were alienating people sympathetic with the party by making activism too much of an emphasis.
“I think the Democratic Party needs a makeover,” she said. “We need to have a simple message.”
Andrew Mackey, President of the Union County Young Democrats said a large part was uniting people, branching off of other’s comments.
“One thing we tried to do is create a sense of community,” he said.
The local party leader said that when he moved there, he found some part of local government “ineffective” and wanted to help mobilize local Democrats to do whatever they could locally, even though they are a distinct minority.
“Our local congressional race it was a 75 to 25 percent landslide,” he added. “We’re changing winning to 30 to 70 percent, because if our gubernatorial candidate gets 30 or 35 percent, that the difference between Governor Schiavoni and [Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican candidate, becoming governor].”
“That’s why I’m really concentrating on areas like this every night,” said Schiavoni. “Because your vote is just as important as Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.”
The gubernatorial hopeful said he was thankful for everyone coming out and planned on having more discussions in other rural communities.
“This is an easy one for me, because it’s kind of on the way home from Columbus,” he said. “I appreciate it.”
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.