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Politics & Government

The Democratic Candidate For Ohio Secretary Of State Faces An Uphill Battle. She's OK With That

Chelsea Clark
/
Courtesy

It takes a certain amount of moxie to run as a Democrat for one of Ohio's down-ticket statewide races in 2022, which conventional wisdom says will be a year that is something less than grand for Democrats.

Chelsea Clark, a city council member in Forest Park, is not lacking moxie.

She is the one Democrat in all of Ohio who has stepped up to run against incumbent Republican Frank LaRose for Ohio secretary of state.

She's running despite the fact that outside Forest Park and the Winton Woods school district, very few Ohioans know her name. Despite the fact that her campaign fund will no doubt be dwarfed by that of the well-connected Republican incumbent.

Better-known Democrats in Ohio have stuck their little pinkies up in the air to see which way the winds of Ohio politics are blowing, and decided to take a pass on running for one of the down-ticket statewide races.

They don't like the odds.

Chelsea Clark doesn't seem to care about the odds. She has been beating them all her life.

It comes naturally to a woman who grew up as a Black girl in a sixth-generation farm family in Allen County, Ohio, where the county seat is Lima and the population is overwhelmingly white and Republican.

"I can be pretty stubborn,'' Clark told me. "I don’t react well to people who say I can't do something."

"When I looked at how difficult 2022 was going to be for our party and the potential disaster we could be facing in 2024, I felt an obligation to stand up and do my part," she said.

She succinctly summed up why she is taking on LaRose and his allies in the Ohio Republican establishment in a short video on her campaign website, chelseaforohio.com:

"I'm running for secretary of state because politicians in Columbus like (Ohio Secretary of State) Frank LaRose have embraced MAGA lies, pushing voter suppression and massive purges from our rolls to stop Ohioans from voting who don't always agree with them."

Clark has had an interesting life so far – a life that is going to get even more interesting this year as she throws herself into an uphill battle, swimming against the Republican tide. So far, in her 37 years, she has

  • been one of a handful of Black students in her graduating class at Elida High School in Allen County;
  • majored in business and political science at Miami University, where she founded the Miami chapter of the ACLU and joined a fight to give pay raises to university employees;
  • went to work in the finance and insurance industry after college, while also being a caregiver to her sister, and raising her children as her husband served multiple deployments in the military;
  • been a substitute teacher and president of the Winton Woods PTA, while operating a non-profit company to help parents provide math and reading support for their children;
  • been elected to the city council in Forest Park, a city of 18,000 in northern Hamilton County that has a majority Black population and is home to many immigrants;
  • and is the founder and CEO of the Blue Ash-based Cincy STEM Lab, a startup which she says gives "underserved children" ages 2 to 14 summer camps, birthday parties and other activities that are focused on science, technology and math.

And, now, candidate for Ohio Secretary of State. A lot on her plate.

Despite being an elected official in Forest Park and, now, a Democratic candidate for statewide office, Clark doesn't see herself as a career politician – certainly not a conventional one.

"I think people are tired of professional politicians being paraded in front of their faces,'' Clark told me. "People are looking for something different."

She is at odds with LaRose and the Republicans in the legislature in that she wants to expand the early voting period from the current 28 days to 35 days – which would be restoring the so-called "Golden Week," where voters could register to vote and cast an absentee ballot on the same day.

The "Golden Week" concept is anathema to Ohio Republicans; that's why they eliminated it eight years ago. But it is part of the canon of beliefs for Democrats who want to expand access to voting.

She also wants to reverse the LaRose policy of allowing secure drop boxes for absentee ballots only on the property of county boards of elections. Clark says she favors spreading multiple secure drop boxes around counties.

"Look at the inconvenience that one location for a drop box creates for people who live in rural areas like the one I grew up in," Clark said. "Farm people often have to drive many miles to get to the county seat and the county board of elections. It just discourages them from voting absentee."

Republicans in the Statehouse, Clark said, "are waging a strategic and coordinated attack on free and open elections with their extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression. This is about the undoing of democracy. And I won't stand by and watch it happen without speaking out."

It's been quite a while since a Democrat held the position of Ohio secretary of state, the chief elections officer of Ohio. The last one elected was Jennifer Brunner, now an Ohio Supreme Court justice, who was elected in 2006 and served one four-year term. Brunner has been the only Democrat to hold the office since Sherrod Brown left the secretary of state's office in 1991.

In fact, Republicans have dominated state offices for the past 30 years. Democrat Ted Strickland was elected governor in 2006 but was defeated in his bid for re-election four years later by John Kasich.

Of course, there are two candidates running for the Democratic nomination for governor – former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley and former Cincinnati mayor John Cranley.

But when it comes to the down-ticket statewide offices – secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and auditor – the Democrats do not have a deep bench.

The Ohio Democratic Party is still searching for candidates to run for treasurer and auditor.

State Rep. Jeff Crossman of the Cleveland suburb of Parma has announced his candidacy for attorney general, saying he will take on incumbent Republican Dave Yost.

Crossman, like Clark, is an underdog candidate. According to the most recent campaign finance reports from last July, Yost had about $1.7 million in the bank. Crossman had about $31,000.

Clark is no dummy. She knows she has a steep hill to climb.

But she believes she can do it all – a city council member, a mother, a business owner and a statewide candidate who has to do a lot of traveling around the state to get her name out in places where she is a complete unknown.

"Nobody said it would be easy," Clark said, "but I truly believe I can do this."

Pure, unadulterated moxie.

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