Lighting a Spark in Ohio’s 43RD District
I’ve interviewed my friend David Sparks several times on Some Say while he ran for office in Ohio’s 43rd State Congressional District as a Berniecrat. However, we came to know each other before he ran for office through our interactions on The Young Turks’ Twitter stream & previous interviews we did on the show. Interviewing him as he ran for office was a great way to look under the hood of what was, unfortunately, a losing campaign, but one in which he put up a tremendous fight against an established GOP hellbent on slandering his good name.
I started by asking David the simplest question… why do it?
“Because I care about something larger than myself, & I saw that & I continue to see that. The people in our state aren’t being served by our legislature & I took a big look at our environment & said I could do better than this. I was confident of such & said that I’m just going to stop bitching & start doing.”
It’s an understatement to say that the unknown GOP opponent caught the Republican’s attention who were more than willing to play the most foul game of hardball against his grass roots campaign. David loved the attention from establishment Republicans & he explained that it actually upped his name recognition even after they spent somewhere around a million dollars against a candidate who raised a mere $6000. He further explained that most of the people he spoke with didn’t even realize that there was a smear campaign going on against him, but those who did were appalled by the GOP’s shady dealings. He wasn’t sure how they’d react running against an incumbent, but he seemed confident that they couldn’t debate him on real issues, so they had to go negative and mount a grotesque character assassination going so far as to imply that he is a pedophile by twisting online comments he’s made about the failure of sex education in our country out of context. He explained that Ohioans aren’t fans of the GOP’s core platform so it was a logical approach for them to attack him the way they did, desperately trying to create wedge issues where there were none.
He explained that the average person is woefully unaware of where their elected officials stand on real issues that affect everyday people & what goes on in down ballot races. He often let people know that running for State Representative wasn’t Congress & while he didn’t know the exact number, a lot of people are completely ignorant to our whole civic process and how state government works. That being the case, he noted, those who run at the top of a ticket in high profile office positions, especially in Presidential years are incredibly important for how down ballot races perform since they drive a lot of people to the polls or keep people home if they are not excited to vote. David had numbers to show that President Obama brought out 33% in 2008 in his rural county & about 30% in 2012, while Secretary Clinton was only able to bring out around 20% saying that it seriously made the difference in winning or losing a State House race.
As hard as the Republicans fought against David & as much money as they spent against him, I was terribly interested if he’d consider running again. For David to run again, he told me that he would have to be comfortable that it wouldn’t be a waste of time. If the district stays demographically unwinnable as it seems it may at the moment, it’s a lot of hard work to put in for something that most likely won’t pan out. He did win the urban part of the district that remains loyally Democratic by a healthy margin. But due to gerrymandering following the 2012 Presidential election, they redrew the district by slapping a rural county onto the side of a historically Democratic district enabling the GOP incumbent to win in 2014 (the first time a Republican has won the district in roughly 40 years). David hasn’t closed the door to the idea but it was clear he wanted to see the lay of the land, to make sure for himself that it would be a worthwhile venture to run again.
When it came to President-Elect Trump & upcoming elections David gave a candid answer focusing on the NAFTA agreement, or anything to do with the TPP and dangerous so-called “free trade” agreements. David said he thought most progressives were in a “reactionary & protest mode;” however, he stressed that progressive organizing within the Democratic Party to win is badly needed. He said they had a really really good group of people totaling about 25-30 to campaign for him when it came to his race for the 43rd District. Sparks explained that while his campaign had a decent number of loyal supporters, he believed the Democratic Party needed to take numbers up to 100-200 people. Stressing that it wasn’t just a campaign but a “movement & sacrifice” that you must put hard work & long hours into.
Staying on point with Mr. Sparks & his activism as a Bernie delegate I wanted to know what he thought the Democratic Party had to do better for Progressives. He argued that there had to be a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party without shouting or excluding people but showing up with numbers that will bring votes for the people to show what we as Progressives want the Democratic Party to be.
David doesn’t believe most Democrats are in the back pockets of corporations, per se but he does know that “ungodly amounts of money” are spent on political races to get name recognition for candidates. Mr. Sparks feels once you’re a part of the system the giant corporations are funding makes one easily vulnerable to corruption due to the paybacks expected once he or she is in office. Sparks understands the necessity of money in campaigns, however, he also sees resources wasted on outdated modes of voter engagement from broadcast advertising to fancy mailers that typically end up in the garbage. David explained the Party needs an overhaul on how it thinks about funding & the way we do campaigns.
Using Secretary Clinton’s campaign as an example, David said they sent a young female organizer from Minnesota into a rural country where she had no network. Because of it, she wasn’t able to establish the trust & confidence necessary from this skeptical demographic to build rural, white working class networks that were desperately needed to make a difference for Mrs. Clinton if she were to win the state of Ohio. What we need, David commented, is to have an established, ongoing & demographically representative presence in rural counties if the Democratic Party can hope to do any better percentage wise. David put it to a choice of making it a presence of people or the corporate wing of the Democratic party on how races are won or lost in the future. The corporate wing of the party is obviously flailing.
While I figured I already knew the answer, I thought I’d ask David one last question anyhow. I wanted to make it meaningful for all of our readers out there and bring it back to his progressive stance as a Berniecrat. Quoting Senator Sanders, I asked Mr. Sparks if he was a believer in Bernie’s mantra “despair is not an option.” Calling despair “fairly useless” except as a temporary expression of frustration, Sparks feels that it comes from a point of weakness & that politics is a fight. While he reminded me our current political system is unfairly stacked against the average voter with the way money currently dominates our political process, he made it clear as a bell that he enjoyed upsetting the apple cart from people who are pretentious and elite. Mr. Sparks revealed in ostensibly shutting down a Republican press conference where they unveiled the content of their character assassination against him a couple months prior to the election, something that deserved disruption precisely because of the GOP’s lack of bravery. He said taking on, in person a bunch of Republicans & their hacks is nothing to be afraid of because people can see through their lies. He said he’d be happy to do it again if he had the chance.
Leaving me & anyone thinking about running for political office, David was on target at the end of our interview when he told us to “stop talking about it & do it.”