Ohio House 43rd: Dyer (D) Launches Web Site
On Wednesday I hopped down to Akron to meet with 43rd Ohio House District candidate Stephen Dyer (D-Green) and Pho of the excellent blog Pho's Akron Pages at Angel Coffee Company on Market Street. Dyer, 33, is a staff attorney for Summit County. He faces another first-time candidate, assistant prosecutor Christine Croce (R-Green), in the contest for the vacant seat of State Auditor candidate Rep. Mary Taylor (R-Green). We had a long conversation about Dyer, his district, Summit county politics in general, Dyer's new campaign web site, and ways for Dyer to reach out to the blogosphere.
Dyer has been interested in getting into politics since high school, having been initially inspired by a year-long student protest over the firing of an African-American music teacher after he marryied a white woman. He earned an undergraduate degree in English from Tufts University in 1994, a masters degree in journalism from Kent State University in 1999, and very recently received a law degree from the University of Akron. After his graduation from Tufts he worked for Governor Mike Barrett of Massachusetts and interned with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), then switched careers to become a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal after graduating from Kent State. He is married (his wife Melissa is a registered nurse) and they have a young son named Logan. The family recently moved from Tallmadge to Green.
Dyer's inspiration for running for the General Assembly comes from writing the same stories about incompetent government over and over again, revealing the current state government's lack the will to solve problems. In particular, he brought up an Akron Beacon Journal series he co-wrote (and for which he and his colleagues were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) titled "Ohio: Look at the State We're In," which examined Ohio's troubling slide in many quality-of-life measures. In particular, he cites the mishandling by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services of a Medicaid-funded program for screening for breast and cervical cancer as a classic example of government incompetence. Because of poor decisions that Ohio officials made on how to operate the program, far fewer cases of cancer were detected or treated in areas of Ohio than in comparable areas in West Virginia or Kentucky where the program was handled differently. The exposure of this discrepancy resulted in the firing of the program's director, but the way that the program is handled has still not been changed. Dyer says that Ohio has the 4th or 5th highest breast cancer mortality rate in the country, while West Virginia is at the national average. It is just one example of a problem "that could easily be fixed if there is a will, but there is no will ... except a will to keep one's seat." (The specific article in which this was reported, "Tests for Uninsured go Underused," Feb. 23, 2003, is not publicly available online.)
We also discussed Dyer's very specific ideas about fixing the unconstitutional Ohio system for school funding, based on comparison with other states like New Mexico. Dyer indicates that 45 states have dealt with lawsuits over unconstitutional school funding, and only Ohio seems to have failed to make any improvement. "Why do we always shoot for mediocracy, for the middle -- why don't we try to be the best?" Dyer asks. "Why doesn't anyone say that we can take on the big challenge of funding schools and make it the best system in the country?" The Ohio Republican Party doesn't challenge anyone, making it hard to figure out its recent political success.
On the topic of legislative oversight, Dyer made the interesting comment that a state agency like the federal General Accounting Office is needed, with nonpartisan professionals committed to fair analysis of topics submitted by legislators. He also pointed out that Ohio desperately needs a real legislative record. Presently, although Ohio is the 7th largest state, it is impossible to obtain detailed records of floor and committee debates or even of floor votes.
Going door-to-door to meet voters, Dyer finds that education is the # 1 issue on peoples' minds, followed by health care and jobs. He senses that school funding as an issue fell on deaf ears in the past, but after repeated votes on property tax levies people are paying more attention this year. Gay marriage never comes up as an issue, and abortion is brought up infrequently. Dyer is pro-choice, saying that "abortion is a terrible personal decision that the government should not be involved in." He likens this view to the position of the Founding Fathers of the nation, and comments that he would "rather take the position of John Adams than that of Pat Robertson." Dyer says that his role models as a politician include Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, but as a legislator he is inspired by people like Ralph Regula and George Mitchell who can "reach across the aisle" in order to build coalitions and "get things done for the district." He points out that he is willing to listen to ideas advanced by Republicans, and cites State Sen. Kirk Schuring and State Rep. Scott Oelslager as examples of Republican legislators who he believes are similarly willing to listen to the other side and to question their own party leadership.
Personally I was very impressed with Dyer's grasp of public policy issues and his passion for public service. He displays a genuine determination to work very hard in this election, and he's very confident in his message as well as his ability to deliver it.