ascinating, diverse, progressive — those are just a handful of words that are being used to describe the new 31st Ohio House District.
Consisting of Amberley Village, Clifton, Clifton Heights, Evanston, Madisonville, Hyde Park, Northside, Oakley, Silverton, St. Bernard and Walnut Hills, the district contains many walks of life, including a healthy liberal population.
There is no doubt that the area will need a special representative, and in the contested Democratic primary, each of the three very different candidates believes he or she is the right fit.
The March 6 primary might as well be the general election. According to a study by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, the district is 69 percent Democratic, leaving little chance for the chosen Republican candidate, Michael Gabbard of Norwood, to defeat whomever gets the Democratic nod.
The new 31st has no incumbent, although Denise Driehaus of Price Hill served as its representative for two terms (2009-2012) when it was the old 31st and covered Cincinnati’s West Side.
When the state legislative maps were redrawn, Driehaus was placed into a heavily Republican district, currently represented by State Rep. Louis Tehar (R-Green Township). As a result, she moved into an apartment in Clifton Heights to be a contender for the new 31st.
“I think that she has deserted the people that put her in office. She has deserted them, and her family, and her house to be expedient,” says Terry M. Tranter, a lawyer from Amberley Village and another contender for the House seat.
Tranter served in the Ohio House for 17 years. During that time, he became chairman of the Judiciary and Criminal Justice Committee, and passed 21 laws. Like Driehaus, he was redrawn into a Republican-heavy area in 1992. Although he felt he “wasn’t finished yet” in his legislative career, he stayed in Amberley, and worked as a field representative for former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. Tranter’s second shot has finally come after 20 years.
“Just because it gets tough, doesn’t mean you’re going to cut and run,” he says.
Driehaus believes her change is logical. “The only way to define statehouse district is by its number because geographies change,” she says. “Everybody’s districts changed during this redraw… the number is 31 for my current district. The number for the new district is 31. So, I consider that to be my district, and I consider myself to be the incumbent in that district.”
Her opponents, however, beg to differ.
“To argue that she’s the incumbent because the number is the same, it’s just a horrible slap in the face to the voters who live in this district,” says Luke Brockmeier, the third candidate. He is a Planned Parenthood worker from Madisonville, who is seeking office for the first time. “It’s a new district; there’s no overlap with the old district.”
Still, Driehaus won the endorsement of the Ohio Democratic Party in January. The organization voted to endorse all “incumbent members” of the State House and Senate.
Tranter tried to get rid of his competitors altogether when he challenged their candidacies in December. But his claims that Driehaus didn’t change her moving address in time and that Brockmeier incorrectly collected signatures were rejected by the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
Tranter’s challenge and Driehaus’ claims of incumbency have convinced Brockmeier that he’s the only one who wants a primary.
“I just want to give the voters the chance to pick which one of us they like. I seem to be the only one who wants to do that,” Brockmeier says.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party is leaving it entirely up to voters to decide, as it’s not endorsing any candidate.
So, who is truly qualified to serve the district?
“I think that I’m the most representative of the district,” says Brockmeier, who has been a long-time resident of several neighborhoods in the area. With his connections to community activist groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, he believes he is the best candidate to “mobilize grassroots support.”
Brockmeier is endorsed by former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. He calls himself the “true Democrat” because he “supports the full platform of the national Democratic Party;” he is pro-choice, while the other two candidates are not.
But Tranter, who is endorsed by Ohio Right to Life, doesn’t think his pro-life stance will put him at odds with the entire district. While he classifies the area around the University of Cincinnati as “liberal,” he stresses that there are other segments with different opinions.
“If you talk [about] a community which is a Democratic community like this, you’re going to find it’s got more senior citizens than if you go out to Warren County,” Tranter says.
Similarly, Driehaus doesn’t think being pro-life will put her at a disadvantage. She recently held a forum called “Women Speak” with fellow State Reps. Connie Pillich and Alicia Reece.
“We invited women to come in and talk about issues that were important to them. … We talked about jobs, we talked about Senate Bill 5, we talked about education, and so those are the issues that these women wanted to talk about,” she says.
According to Driehaus, those and other crucial issues translate across districts. The fact that she hasn’t lived for long in the new 31st shouldn’t be a major factor.
“Many of the issues I’ve worked on as a state rep are the issues that are important to them because the geography of the two districts is so close to one another,” Driehaus says. She cites foreclosure prevention and the environment as common issues.
Also, Driehaus worked with former Gov. Ted Strickland to pass the Third Frontier and recently introduced legislation to put a moratorium on fracking. ©