Connie Pillich, a former state representative who led an unsuccessful race for state treasurer, became the third Democrat in as many weeks to join the race for Ohio governor.
It's her background in the Air Force, though, that Pillich says makes her stand out as the type of governor that Ohioans want.
"I got the best leadership training in the world serving on active duty for eight years," Pillich says. "So I have leadership to offer our state and to make this dream a reality."
During her three terms in the Ohio House, representing the 28th District in the Cincinnati area, Pillich says she held public meetings at least once a month to hear about her constituents' concerns. In 2014, she lost to Republican Josh Mandel in the state treasurer's race.
Like Joe Schiavoni and Betty Sutton, the other declared Democrats in the governor's race, Pillich wants to bring issues of economy and infrastructure back into the realm of the Democratic Party. And like Sutton, she would become Ohio's first elected woman governor.
"I want to see an Ohio where young people want to come live, where they can find great jobs without having to leave the state," Pillich says. "And I believe Ohio has all the tools to make that happen."
Pillich talked to WOSU's Clare Roth about her plans for the state and why she thinks Ohio is ready for a Democratic governor.
Clare Roth: Just to start off, tell us, why did you decide to run?
Connie Pillich: Well you know, I have been inspired by a number of things in my life. I grew up in the shadow of a steel plant, working-class neighborhood. It was the main employer in my community, in fact our entire region. And I watched what happened when it started to shut down. I was in high school and saw all the dads lose their jobs. There was no opportunity for me, so I was very lucky, I did turn to the military and was able to get my education.
But when I served in the state House of Representatives and as I ran for treasurer a couple of years ago, I saw that that same scenario had played out all across Ohio, just every corner of Ohio: great manufacturing jobs disappearing due to unfair foreign trade, changes due to automation and, let's face it, Wall Street greed.
I see the outsourcing of our children's education to corporations, I see our roads and bridges falling apart, and I see so many young people leaving the state. But Clare, that is not the Ohio I want to see. I want to see an Ohio where every child has a chance for a great education, where our infrastructure is not just maintained but it's stellar and can support a vibrant economy.
And I want to see an Ohio where young people want to come live, where they can find great jobs without having to leave the state. And I believe that Ohio has all the tools to make that happen. We just lack leadership. I got the best leadership training in the world, serving on active duty for eight years. So I have leadership to offer our state and to make this dream a reality. That's why I'm running.
Clare Roth: You talk a lot about manufacturing, about the economy, about getting jobs here. The Democratic Party in Ohio and across the nation has taken a bit of a beating when it comes to reaching the working-class voter. So what about the party needs to change in order to reconnect with those voters?
Connie Pillich: Well that's a great question, because the voters have been saying the same thing for years. The voters have been telling us that jobs are the number one thing they need they need the dignity of work, they need the ability to support their families just to have a middle class lifestyle, nothing extravagant. And we have not been listening. So we have to show the voters that we are listening.
When I was in the legislature, I held public meetings in my district every month, and most often twice a month, so that people could come and talk to me about what's going on. I went to 24,000 households in my district to see what their issues were and see how they were living, see what their challenges were. I think we have totally lost that. And so what people want is someone to listen.
And I think the people who voted for Donald Trump, the people who voted for, say, Bill Clinton, they voted for a leader. They wanted a leader and that's what they saw in those candidates, and that's what we sorely are lacking here in Ohio.
Clare Roth: Do you think Ohio is ready for a Democratic governor? I mean, some Ohioans probably know you from the 2014 Treasurer race. You were the top Democratic vote-getter in the state that year, but you still lost by 13 points. And then our state went red in the presidential election. Republicans maintained majorities in both the chambers and the state legislature. So what do you think has changed?
Connie Pillich: Well, I learned in the military that you walk into every mission prepared to succeed. And I'm very prepared to win in this race. I've built a great team. We've hit the ground running and I have the experience of running statewide. When I ran statewide, I traveled across the state, I was able to build a strong network of voters everywhere who were telling me what was concerning them. I was endorsed by 20 of the 23 newspapers in the state and I was the top Democratic vote-getter on the ticket.
That clearly showed that I was bringing something to the table that others did not. They were voting for leadership, they were voting for change. I think in this day and age, Ohioans are still clamoring for leadership and that's what they're going to be looking for. That's what they're going to vote for.