Meet Dennis Kucinich, Former Congressman Pushing A Populist Message

Jan 30, 2018

When Dennis Kucinich failed to win reelection to Congress in 2012, he made a relatively rare career choice for a Democrat: He went to work for Fox News.

Now he’s trying something else for the first time. He’s running for Ohio governor, and with a new slogan, too: "Power To We The People."

"This whole election is about taking the power of government and giving it back to the people and forming a new relationship," Kucinich says. 

Kucinich first broke into Ohio politics as “the boy mayor of Cleveland” 40 years ago. His one term is considered one of the most tumultuous in the city’s history. 

Kucinich earned his reputation as a champion of the common voter when he refused to sell the city’s publicly-owned utility company to a private buyer. It made him the enemy of the right, but help hold down utility rates for Cleveland residents.

It’s a role Kucinich still embraces today. The former U.S. Representative and two-time presidential candidate is running for governor on a platform that includes raising the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour and greatly reducing the state’s prison population. With Akron City Council member Tara Samples as his running mate, Kucinich also wants the state to ban the drilling technique known as fracking, which he says compromises the health of the state.

"You may say I come from the left but I'll tell you, this moment in history, this ticket is poised right at the center of the aspirations of the people of Ohio," Kucinich says. "The world is changing."

During a recent campaign appearance in Columbus, Kucinich spoke with WOSU’s Steve Brown about why, at 71 years old, he’s running for governor for the first time.

Steve Brown: Why run for governor now?

Dennis Kucinich: Well this is the moment to return government to the people of Ohio. What Tara Samples and I represent is #PowerToWeThePeople, empowering people to be able to protect their communities, empowering people to rebuild the state, empowering people to have education for all, to have health care for all, empowering people to be able to have safer communities.

Kucinich speaks at a news conference announcing his run for Ohio governor.
Credit Tony Dejak / Associated Press

This whole election is about taking the power of government and giving it back to the people and forming a new relationship. We're talking about education. I want to make it possible for every young person to be able to go to a public college or university for two years, tuition free, preliminary to four year tuition free.

I want to make it possible for every young person who's mired in debt to have a path to getting out of that debt so they don't have to spend the next 20 years of their life strapped in a cocoon of debt while they're not being able to get the job they want. So you know we're looking at a dramatically different approach to government.

Steve Brown: I think it's fair to say you're the candidate farthest to the left in this race. We're here at a news conference where you say you want to ban fracking in Ohio. You run on issues like health care and prison reform. How do you court Republicans? How do you court the small government voters who propelled Trump to victory?

Dennis Kucinich: I may be the only Democrat who has the capacity to do that. Why? Because for the last five years I've had the ability to stand in the same position that I've always took on the floor of the House and to communicate with a constituency that most Democrats never get a chance to talk to.

And I'm the candidate who can reach out to the Trump voters and say, "Come on back home. I understand why you left the Democratic Party. I understand you felt that the party sold you out on jobs, that they sold you out on by continuing these foreign interventions."

And you know, my record, you may say I come from the left but I'll tell you, this moment in history, this ticket is poised right at the center of the aspirations of the people of Ohio. The world is changing. We saw that with Bernie Sanders' candidacy.

Steve Brown: Are you the Bernie Sanders of Ohio?

Dennis Kucinich: Look, Bernie and I have known each other for 40 years. So, my name is Dennis Kucinich. Thank you.

Kucinich stands with his running mate, Akron City Council member Tara Samples (center).
Credit Dennis Kucinich / Facebook

Steve Brown: You received some criticism from some other Democrats for some comments you made on Fox News when you seemed to sympathize with President Trump's complaints about leaks within the White House. You likened some of that to what you called an "attempted coup of the presidency." Do you think those comments will be used against you in the Democratic primary?

Dennis Kucinich: Look, if anyone if anyone in the Democratic Party wants to debate foreign policy, they've come to the right place, because I've spent 16 years challenging the Washington establishment in the Pentagon, in the State Department, in the Central Intelligence Agency, who have basically run away with the power of government in order to pursue very narrow concerns that have resulted in disaster for the American people and disaster for people around the world.

Frankly, with all due respect to all the other candidates, there's probably not another person running for governor anywhere in the country who has the background that I have to be able to intelligently discuss foreign policy and to show what the behind-the-scenes movements are to try to take America in a direction that's damaging to our people.

So because I have that experience, because I have experience in international affairs, in national affairs, at a state level, at a local level. No one is better positioned to be the governor of the state of Ohio.

Steve Brown: Can you raise enough money to take on Richard Cordray and then maybe the likes of Mike DeWine?

Dennis Kucinich: Yes.