Democrats Scramble To Replace Driehaus In 31st Ohio House District

Feb 12, 2016

Democratic voters in the 31st Ohio House District have no less than six candidates from which to choose to replace incumbent Democrat Denise Driehaus, who is term-limited out of the Ohio House this year.

There is but one lone Republican on the primary ballot.

This should tell you something about the 31st – it is a heavily Democratic district.

In fact, the 31st Ohio House District was something of a gift that the Ohio Apportionment Board, controlled by Republicans, gave Democrats after the legislative district were re-drawn following the 2010 Census.

The Republicans wanted to push the two-term House member Driehaus out of the west side, so they re-drew her old district to make it nearly impossible for a Democrat to win.

So Driehaus, who lived in Price Hill, picked up and moved to the new 31st District, first living in Clifton Heights and now in Clifton.

Winning re-election to third and fourth terms was a piece of cake for the Democrat – she won with 71 percent of the vote in 2012 and 66 percent in 2014.

But, now, her seat is open; and Driehaus is running for Hamilton County commissioner against the newly-appointed Republican Dennis Deters.

And that set off a mad scramble among Democrats that resulted in six candidates qualifying for the ballot.

But first, a word about the district itself:

It take up a lot of territory.

It includes Oakley, Madisonville, Norwood, Evanston, Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, Corryville, Clifton, University Heights, Clifton Heights, Fairview, part of Hyde Park, part of Northside, and all of St. Bernard, Silverton and Amberley Village.

And, now, the candidates:

Paul Booth
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  Paul Booth

Age: 61

Residence: Amberley Village

Education: Attended Cincinnati Public Schools, earned a degree in business from Morehouse College in Atlanta, honorary doctorate in humane letters from Temple Bible College in Cincinnati.

Experience: Served as president of the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP in the 1980s. Appointed to Cincinnati City Council in 1989 to fill an unexpired term and was appointed again in 1998. He was elected to city council for two terms in 1999 and 2001. After leaving council, he was appointed by the Ohio governor to the State Personnel Board of Review. Recently served as a commissioner under the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Family: Wife Cynthia and two grown sons.

Campaign website: boothforohio31.com

Why he’s running:

Booth believes that of the six candidates for the 31st Ohio House District seat, he has the most practical experience as a legislator – five years on Cincinnati City Council – and knows the city the best, having grown up in Avondale and having lived in Bond Hill and Oakley for many years.

“I have either lived in, or gone to school in or worshipped in this district for all of my life,’’ Booth said.

His father, the late Rev. L.V. Booth, was a pastor in Avondale for 31 years; and Paul Booth spent over 20 years as a property manager in the district with his wife Cynthia.

“I don’t think there is anyone on the ballot with closer ties to the community than I have,’’ Booth said.

Booth said he wants to be the kind of state representative who is well known in the community he represents.  Constituent service, he said, is very important to him.

“When I was at City Hall, I personally answered every letter that came into my office from a constituent,’’ Booth said. “I couldn’t always solve all their problems, but I believed they deserved personal attention from me.”

Booth said that if he is elected, he would hold regular “town hall” sessions for constituents.

“I want people to know I am going to Columbus to represent them,’’ Booth said.

There are many issues Booth said he would like to focus on in the Ohio House, including better funding for early childhood education, employment opportunities, criminal justice reform and economic inclusion.

“I want to make sure that small businesses – those owned by minorities and women – are well represented when it comes to the awarding of state contracts,’’ Booth said. “That has always been very important to me.”

As with all the Democratic candidates in the field, Booth is well aware that, if elected, he will be a freshman legislator in the Democratic minority caucus of the Ohio House.

Will that hinder him in pushing his agenda in the Republican-controlled Statehouse?

“Not necessarily,’’ Booth said. “You have to build relationships with people, people on the other side of the aisle. You have to find common ground.

“I’ve always said that my approach to getting legislation done is that I’ve got to be a great Democrat, but I also have to be a great diplomat,’’ Booth said. “I can do that. I did that in city hall; and sometimes I had to do with it fellow Democrats, because we didn’t always agree on the issues.

“My biggest asset in this race,’’ Booth said, “is that I know how to get things done.”

Brian Garry
Credit campaign website

  Brian Garry

Age: 50

Residence: Clifton

Education: A product of Cincinnati Public Schools, Garry earned a liberal arts degree from the University of Cincinnati, as well as a bachelor of arts degree in music, theology and music composition.

Experience: He formerly taught in the Cincinnati Public Schools at Sands and North Avondale Montessori schools. For over 30 years, he and his brother have owned and operated a green construction company.

Family: Has two sons, ages 24 and 21.

Campaign web site: www.briangarry.com

Why he’s running:

Garry has been a political activist since he was a teenager growing up in Bond Hill, when he became a close ally and friend of the late Rev. Maurice McCrackin, a Presbyterian minister who, for decades, was Cincinnati’s most active and best known social activist on peace and justice issues.

“Maurice McCrackin helped direct my young life,’’ Garry said. “He put me on the road to being a life-long social activist and advocate for those who have no voice.”

In 1994, with McCrackin, he helped start Justice Watch, a prisoners’ rights group and transitional halfway house.

“I view myself as the progressive in this race,’’ Garry said. “I’m the one who has the record of being out front on progressive issues.”

Protecting the environment is a major part of his campaign platform.

He wants to transition to “green energy” to reduce climate change, which is why he hires inner-city youth to learn to install solar panels. And, he said, he wants to see the end of pesticides, herbicide and genetically modified foods.

Garry said that another priority is attacking the heroin epidemic and making health care more accessible to all.

He tells the story of how he was pulling out of his driveway one day in Clifton and a car was blocking his way. He got out of the car and found that the man inside had been shot.

“I called the police and the man died,’’ Garry said. “It turned out he had been about four blocks away in Avondale buying heroin and the deal went wrong. I saw him die. This has to stop.”

That, he said, is why he wants more funding for addiction treatment and the use of the future medical marijuana tax, which he believes will eventually be legal in Ohio, to fund treatment programs.

Garry said he would like to see the legislature raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and is an ardent supporter of LGBT rights and gender equality in pay.

There needs to be one standard for use of force by all police agencies in the state, Garry said.

“This became apparent to me after the (Samuel) DuBose shooting,’’ Garry said, referring to the shooting death of DuBose last year at the hands of a University of Cincinnati police officer.

The DuBose shooting led him to become an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’m 50 years old and I started on social justice issues when I was 18, so, at first, I wondered who these young people were,’’ Garry said. “But I have been impressed by them. They have done a fantastic job  at bringing these issues to light.”

Nicholas Hollan
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  Nicholas Hollan

Age: 35

Residence: Clifton

Education: Graduate of the University of Cincinnati.

Experience: Former disaster response supervisor for the American Red Cross in Cincinnati. Presently, he owns and manages Cincinnati Valley Dental, a business which provides dental services through dentists who work as independent contractors. Ran unsuccessfully for Cincinnati City Council in 2009 and 2011.

Family: He and his wife have a four-year-old son and six-week-old daughter.

Campaign website: www.nicholashollan.com

Why he’s running:

Hollan said that when he is out campaigning door-to-door, his objective is to listen to the concerns that his would-be constituents have.

But he also has to introduce himself, so that voters know the person who is standing on their front porches.

“I generally talk about three things,’’ Hollan said. “First, I am a small business owner. I am a husband and a father. And I am a Democrat who stands with the ideals of the Democratic Party.”

What do voters tell him?

He said many say they are opposed to defunding Planned Parenthood – which Ohio legislators did on Wednesday – and that they want more strict gun control laws. Hollan says he agrees with them on both points.

His experience in recent years running a business – he has 14 employees – is something he says will hold him in good stead if he is elected and goes to Columbus, where he will find himself a freshman legislator in the minority caucus.

“A lot of the Republicans in the legislature come from a business background; many of them are small business owners like me,’’ Hollan said. “I think I can sit down with many of them and have a peer-to-peer conversation.”

Hollan says he is a Democrat, loyal to the party and its ideals, but he says that he is no ideologue – he is a pragmatist; he believes in the art of the possible when it comes to legislation.

“My hope would be that I could go to the statehouse and find some common ground with the people on the other side of the aisle on some issues,’’ Hollan said. “We’ve got a couple of people in this race – I’m not going to name them – who are complete ideologues.

“If we elect an ideologue to this position, that person is going to be at an instant disadvantage in a legislature dominated by Republicans,’’ Hollan said. “I’m not interested in driving back and forth from Columbus nearly every day just to beat my head against the wall.”

He said he and his wife have had trouble getting their son into a public pre-school program. 

“One thing that is important to me is vouchers,’’ Hollan said. “Cincinnati Public Schools doesn’t have a spot for my son." 

Perhaps, he said, he could use a voucher to get his son into a private school. 

Hollan sees some serious problems in Ohio's charter school system. 

“Charter schools in this state need help; they are in need of reform,’’ Hollan said. “This state has far too many for-profit charter schools that are under-performing and that is definitely not in the best interest of the children. The state has to focus on fixing that.”

There needs to be more strict standards for pre-schools and day care centers in general in Ohio.

“Too many of them are just places where they take the kids and plop them in front of a TV all day,’’ Hollan said. “They don’t read to them. They don’t get the physical activity, the intellectual stimulation or the playtime, which is important in developing a child’s imagination.”

He wants a requirement that all child care facilities are state certified and held to high standards.

Brigid Kelly
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  Brigid Kelly

Age: 32

Residence: Norwood

Education: St. Ursula Academy, undergraduate degree from Xavier University and Master of Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati.

Experience: Currently a representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 75. Former member of Norwood City Council.

Campaign website: www.brigidkelly.com

Why she's running: 

When asked what makes her stand out from the crowd in a six-candidate field, Kelly points to two things – her experience as a union organizer and the fact that she is a woman.

“I go out and I talk to people about what I do, working for a union,’’ Kelly said. “Every day, in my job, I see the effects of what legislators in Columbus and Washington do on the lives of working people and their families.”

And, as she points out, she is the only woman in a six-candidate field.

“I’m the only woman running and this seat is held by a woman now, Denise Driehaus,’’ Kelly said. “I don’t know if that gives me an advantage or not, but I think it is important to elect women to public office.”

If she is elected to the Ohio House, she said she will battle any Republican attempts to make Ohio a right-to-work state, where workers would not be required to join a union as a condition of employment.

“I want to go there and do what I do in my union job,’’ Kelly said. “I want to fight for decent wages for working people, union and non-union; I want all people to have access to affordable health care.”

Attacks on unions by Republicans in the legislature such as Senate Bill 5, which was repealed by the voters in 2011, “are not just attacks on union members; they are attacks on all workers,’’ Kelly said. “Unions are made up of people who work hard every day. And even if you are not a union member, the attacks on unions will end up impacting you and your ability to provide for your family.”

She said she will oppose any efforts in the legislature to “privatize” services such as prisons, road building, or snow removal.

Kelly said one of her top priorities will be working to protect voter rights.

“The state of Ohio should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder; and what we have seen in recent years from the Republicans in Columbus is disturbing,” Kelly said.

Kelly said she would like to see Ohio adopt an automatic voter registration system such as the one Oregon adopted this year, where people are registered when they apply for a driver’s license. There is an opt-out option for Oregonians who don’t want to register.

If elected, she said she will work to keep state money that was intended for public schools to be shifted to charter schools – particularly, she said, those for-profit charter schools who are failing to deliver a quality education.

“We really have to do something about the charter school system,’’ Kelly said. “If an investor can shut down a charter school in the middle of the school year, that’s a problem. There are public school districts struggling to have enough money. And state money is going to charter schools. There is something fundamentally wrong about that.”

If elected, Kelly said she would follow the example of her predecessor, Driehaus, and be accessible to her constituents.

“If people come to you with their concerns, they deserve your attention,’’ Kelly said. “That’s the job of a public servant – to be accessible and responsive.”

Ben Lindy
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  Ben Lindy

Age: 35

Residence: Hyde Park

Education: A graduate of Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills High School, he earned an undergraduate degree in history at Yale University and a law degree at Yale as well.

Family: He and his wife have one son.

Experience: Presently executive director of Teach for America of Southwest Ohio, an organization that recruits college graduates to teach for at least two years in low-income neighborhoods. Previously taught at a non-profit charter school in North Carolina and worked for the public school system in Washington, D.C. before returning to Cincinnati.

Campaign web site: www.lindyfor ohio.com

Why he’s running:

A study Lindy wrote in 2009 when a law student at Yale got him into some hot water with Cincinnati union members seven years later.

He said in his study that, in New Mexico, he found that when teachers there could no longer collectively bargain, student SAT scores went down while graduate rates went up.

The paper Lindy wrote was picked up and filed by the New Mexico governor in a Supreme Court attacking unions’ abilities to collect “fair share” fees. When Cincinnati union members came across it, many were outraged, especially in the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

There was a move by some in the Hamilton County Democratic Party to censure Lindy by preventing him from accessing party voter lists. That effort failed.

“The fact is I support unions,’’ Lindy said. “I have seen a lot of the good things that teachers’ unions in particular have done for their members and for the students they teach.”

And organized labor in general, Lindy said, “has been a force for good in this country. I believe that now and have always believed that.”

Lindy  said he had a good experience teaching in a non-profit charter school in North Carolina. But he said that Ohio, one of the few states with  a substantial number of for-profit charter schools, has serious problems that must be fixed.

“There must be great oversight of these for-profit schools,’’ Lindy said. “They end up taking money away from the public schools and do a sub-standard job of educating kids. And, in some cases, they have to close their doors. The state of Ohio has to get this under control.”

Education is the focus of his campaign, Lindy said.

“We have to have an educational system in Ohio that is equitable for all kids,’’ Lindy said. “What I hope to see is a day when it doesn’t matter where you were born or what zip code you live in to have a fabulous education.”

He is not concerned about the fact that, if elected, he will be a freshman legislator in Ohio House’s minority party.

“I’m the only candidate in this race who is both a teacher and a lawyer,’’ Lindy said. “And I am a person who, in my job, has experience in putting bipartisan groups together to get things done.

“I do believe you can be deeply grounded as a Democrat and still reach across the aisle to work with Republicans,’’ Lindy said.

He is a great supporter of Cincinnati Preschool Promise, a committee that is trying to find sources of money to achieve the goal of making preschool available to all children in Cincinnati.

“This is something I think we could get Democrats and Republicans to work together on,’’ Lindy said. “What if the state would match dollar for dollar what the cities raise? We could make Preschool Promise a reality.”

Lindy said he also wants to go to Columbus to work on issues of equality in the criminal justice system. Cincinnati has done well with its collaborative agreement in improving police-community relations, “but there is more to be done to eliminate racial inequalities in the justice system – not just here, but all over Ohio.”

Paul Sohi
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  Paul Sohi

Age: 56

Residence: Mt. Auburn

Education: In 1989, he graduated with a degree in pediatric dentistry from Loyola University in his hometown of Chicago. He also recently graduated from the Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati.

Experience: He has been engaged in the private practice of pediatric dentistry in Cincinnati for 26 years. He is an attending physician in dentistry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Family: Married to  Dr. Nikki Kaur. One son, Sean Sohi, a recent graduate of UC's Lindner College of Business. 

Campaign website: www.paulsohi.com

Why he’s running:

Children from low-income families, many of them on Medicaid, have formed the basis of his pediatric dentistry practice for many years. It has, he said, made him want to be an advocate for those who, because of their poverty or under-employment, have had no voice in government.

“That experience has given me a deep understanding of what is going on in the lives of those families,’’ Sohi said. “I have seen how difficult it is for them to get by.”

Last year, he ran in the Democratic primary for a vacant Ohio Senate seat and lost. He is trying again this year, now that there is an open seat in the Ohio House.

He said he is running in part because of his own experience in trying to deal with state legislators and bureaucrats.

“It was about six years ago, I was making phone calls to state representatives and state senators about a particular issue; I must have called 15 or 20 times,’’ Sohi said. “Never once did I get a call back; and that experience left a bad taste in my mouth.

“I want to be the state representative who calls you back,’’ Sohi said. “That’s why I list my phone number on my campaign website. I want to hear from people. I don’t want to hide from people.”

His lack of experience in public office is not a hindrance, Sohi said.

“This job is not rocket science where you have to have served in one capacity or another to do the job,’’ Sohi said. “I have the life experience to do this.”

Health care and the delivery of health care is obviously important to Sohi, who is a strong supporter of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

But he said he wants to go to Columbus and focus too on the criminal justice system.

“Too many young people of color are in jail and left with no hope,’’ Sohi said. “The criminal justice system is broken.”

Police are not as responsive to crime in poor neighborhoods – what he calls “concentrated disadvantaged areas” – as they are in higher-income neighborhoods, Sohi said.

Sohi said he stands out among the six because he can’t be pegged as a someone who represents a special interest group.

“Who are the six people running in this race?,” Sohi asked. “Two individuals in this race are representatives of large organizations. If they go to Columbus, are they going to be representing the people or the organizations they work for?

“I know that I have a job,’’ Sohi said. “I don’t need a job. I just want a chance to serve the public. That is why I am running.”