The Great Debate for the Ohio 52nd House Seat: Winning, losing, and the game of politics

Killing the opposition with kindness is a viable political strategy and it was used by Kathy Wyenandt when she helped get the Lakota levy of 2013 passed, which increased property taxes dramatically in Liberty and West Chester Townships in Butler County Ohio–part of what is the 52nd District for which she is now running against George Lang for that House seat. Back then I advised against it but in the three previous levy attempts for which I directly ran, the no voters won. But a large part of the business community that was with me on trying to fight high taxes wanted to get along with the people on the pro levy side for which Kathy Wyenandt had been tasked to get passed after a fourth attempt. If everyone had listened to me, the levy would have been defeated, but to Kathy’s credit, she changed the behavior of her opposition and she managed to squeak out a 1% margin of victory, which was just enough to give Lakota teachers the big pay increase they had been looking for pushing their average pay well up and over $75K per year. And she was back to that same strategy in her debate with George Lang which was held at the Miami University Learning Center at the VOA Park on Tuesday the 25th of 2018. What follows is video coverage of that debate for voters to use to make their decisions.

As I have said before, I’m a George Lang supporter. Needless to say I think George is the far better candidate for the 52nd House Seat which he currently holds. I could caution him about playing nice with Kathy Wyenandt because it only helps her. But given the way this debate went, I don’t think he has anything to worry about. Essentially the best case Wyenandt made for herself during the debate was to say “I helped pass the 2013 levy at Lakota which cost property owners a lot of money in increased taxes and I want to go to Columbus to help fix it.” When it comes to all the other issues that go on in the 52nd District she wasn’t very interested. Clearly her passion was education. But on all other matters she wasn’t up to speed. So George’s seat is not in jeopardy. He still needs to campaign and do the work because Kathy is a competitor. But she just isn’t ready for a seat like the 52nd in Columbus.

But I did find that I liked Kathy Wyenandt. She knows that her personality is one of her best assets and after speaking with her after the debate for a good bit of time it was clear to me that she wasn’t a hole in her head Democrat. She is someone I could work with and maybe when this whole thing is over maybe we can tackle that school funding issue in Columbus on behalf of all of Ohio. I recently had a nice talk with Jenni Logan the treasurer at Lakota, and at this debate had similar good talks with Linda O’Conner and Ann Becker who like Kathy all want to solve problems. With the minds involved I think it might just be possible to tackle this school funding problem utilizing George Lang’s 52nd House Seat. The elements are all there for some sharp people to finally solve that issue and I think we might be able to do that.

But as I explained to Kathy when she asked me what I thought we needed to do to solve the school funding problem I of course said what I always have, that teachers are making too much money and we need to establish a per pupil education cost that Ohio can allocate funds to before we could ever begin to solve the problem at the state level. Just like any business, sure we can pay teachers six figures if that’s what we decide but what percentage can a school have of such expensive teachers. And to what effect if any does tenure play—does it help or hurt the education process—those are the real questions. But just asking Ohio property owners for a blank check for education isn’t ever going to get the job done. There are a lot of assessments that labor unions don’t want to deal with and no politician wants to touch the issue, so that is why Ohio has an unconstitutional school funding system. That is the conditional situation. I think the way to fix it would be for non-politicians to sponsor the fix and let the politicians write the bill by tagging on later. After Kathy is done with this campaign maybe we could work something out. I’d be open to putting up a bunch of ideas on a white board like we would in any business problem and see where it takes us.

As far as politics go, and she and I talked about this too, her approach is that people are sick and tired of politics as usual, that they want civility in their public officials. I would argue no. Let me put this in a way everyone can relate to. Everyone knows I love the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they were on Monday Night Football this week playing the Pittsburg Steelers. I was so mad in that game that I nearly threw my television out the front window of my house. The Bucs almost won, but not enough and it disgusted me to no end to see the Buc players shaking hands with the Steeler players after the game, because I was so angry that I wanted to see someone punching someone out, to reflect my feelings on the matter. Politics is a lot like sports in our culture, for better or worse. Trump certainly understands that. If you want to rally people to your cause you must get them aligned with primitive emotion. Playing nice only helps the underdog who can only hope to keep a close race and that voter turnout will be in their favor. To win elections however, you have to make sure voters will show up to vote for your cause, and to do that you have to get them excited in the same way they might be driven to watch a sports game like football. In the end one side wins and one side loses. Monday night Steelers fans were elated that they held their slim lead until the end of the game. Bucs fans were devastated. I almost threw my $5000 television out the window in full rage. Does this kind of thing help the political discourse and solve problems? Well, I’d argue yes, because in politics you must have fundraisers and people like to bet on winners in the great horse races. And you must have majority parties in power for the cooperation of a republic to work right. It’s nice to think that people will be voted in and vote their hearts, but so long as the political philosophies of Americans are so different, party rule will be the primary strategy of determining policy, and of picking winners and losers. Until all Americans have a unified philosophy they can all agree on, politics will be another sport that people pick a side and root for.

I finished my conversation with Kathy Wyenandt saying that she didn’t sound like a liberal, she likes seeing money-making ideas evolve, so she’s not anti-business by any measure. She explained that she was conservative about most things but socially she leaned liberal. I find that’s the case with a lot of moms, the job of parenting especially for females evokes a lot of empathy. But empathy isn’t always the best way to solve problems either. Being able to understand the position of someone else isn’t always required to solve a problem, it can in fact be a hindrance. But I found it difficult to not like Kathy Wyenandt. I’m sure she will do great things if she continues to want to involve herself in public life. But I have the feeling she might be more effective free of public constraints. It takes all kinds of people to make things happen on a big scale, and as far as her passion goes to education, that is a big issue. But it’s certainly just one that concerns the 52nd District of one of Ohio’s richest areas.

All in all the debate was a good one, it showed two nice people running for the same position. George Lang has lots of experience and is battle hardened for life in Columbus where the not so nice side of politics is always present. And George knows how to navigate those dangers and still get things done. He’s very resilient without becoming pessimistic. He doesn’t worry about being all things to all people, he generally just does his best and it usually keeps him always on top. Kathy is another matter, while in this race her strategy is good in not wanting to draw blood in the campaign against George, and running as a liberal conservative in Butler County trying to be the nice person people can vote for, the reality is that her approach would be decimated in Columbus. I admired her ambition, but she needs a few steps to get there. I caught parts of her personality while we were talking that said she wouldn’t be so happy with the game of politics that are required to run an important House seat. Its one thing to say the system is corrupt, but it became that way for a reason—because under it all is the sport of politics itself. I myself have a hard time shaking hands with people I compete against, especially so soon after a big game. And in politics you have to do that kind of thing every day. I help where I can due to my temperament. I know what I’m good at and I put my efforts there. I think Kathy has a lot of that in her too. A school levy is one thing, it’s a single point issue that evokes great emotion in one side against the other. But running for a House seat involves lots of layers of politics and issues that are always changing, and it takes a certain kind of person to tackle those kinds of things. One thing that I learned from the debate was that George Lang was certainly the one who should be in that 52nd District seat in Columbus. But I also learned that I liked Kathy Wyenandt and that perhaps she may get what she wants done for schools done better outside the parameters of public office. Perhaps after this election a new journey will unfold, and it just might bring together people who were former enemies for a whole new challenge that would certainly be worth the undertaking.

Rich Hoffman

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