Meet Joe Schiavoni, First Democrat To Enter Ohio Governor Race

Mar 2, 2017

As several Republicans signal their interest in the Ohio governor's race, just one Democrat has officially stepped up and declared their candidacy: State Senator Joe Schiavoni.

A former worker's compensation lawyer, Schiavoni has represented the 33rd district, in the Youngstown area, for eight years. In 2013, he was elected unanimously by his colleagues as the Democratic leader of the Senate, where the party is in the minority.

Though Ohio went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Schiavoni says he understands their frustrations.

"Those are the people that are upset about the way that the country is going," he says.

Though he represents Northeast Ohio, Schiavoni says he's traveled the state to introduce himself to voters and listen to their concerns. He points to jobs and schools as two major points of concern.

"It's not about just making up things and putting a document based on what think tanks believe, or based on what your party believes," Schiavoni says. "It's about what the people need in order to have a better lifestyle."

Schiavoni talked to WOSU's Debbie Holmes about his background and why he is running for governor.

Debbie Holmes: Why did you want to run?

Joe Schiavoni: Well I've been traveling the state and I've been talking to people from every corner of the state about issues that they care about that they believe need changed. And so I think that I would be able to provide that change for people, based on the work that I've been doing in the state Senate for the past eight years.

Credit Joe Schiavoni

Debbie Holmes: What are you hearing then from the voters of Ohio?

Joe Schiavoni: People want good paying jobs. They want quality schools to send their kids, and they want to feel safe in their community. And so those are the issues that I've worked on, for the most part, in my two terms in the Statehouse. And so those are the issues that I will continue to drive from the governor's office, if I was fortunate enough to win.

It's a long process, it's a long haul. But I think that, you know, I can put my put my money where my mouth is. Actions speak louder than words, and I can show people what I've worked on and continue to work on those issues based on feedback from Ohioans. You know, it's about listening and then bringing people's voices to this Statehouse. It's not about just making up things and putting a document based on what think tanks believe, or based on what your party believes. It's about what the people need in order to have a better lifestyle.

Debbie Holmes: We just had a presidential election a few months ago where Donald Trump, it appears, captured those voters - working class, many of them white voters - and appealing to their needs, to what you were just talking about. So that was a Republican. How do you think, as a Democrat, you're going to be appealing to these voters?

Joe Schiavoni: I know those people. I represent those people. In worker's comp cases, I'm an attorney. And so I understand where they're coming from. I understand that, you know, somebody that has a factory job that maybe started out as $12 an hour in 2000, and now they make $14 an hour and there's constant worry that their factory is going to close. Those are the people that are upset about the way that the country is going.

I can only control it to a certain level in the state. But what we can do is invest in job creation, invest in quality education so our kids are job ready and have good opportunities, and invest in cleaning up our neighborhoods when it comes to blight and when it comes to drugs and it comes to crime. And so those are things that can easily be dealt with if we invest properly and we work together. And that's what we've been lacking in this state since I started in this job.

Joe Schiavoni and his wife Margaret introduced their newborn son to the Statehouse.
Credit Joe Schiavoni

Debbie Holmes: Senator Shiavoni, many Ohioans may not know who you are because many of them don't live in northeast Ohio. Describe yourself. 

Joe Schiavoni: That's OK. You know, I'm a guy that is from the Mahoning Valley. I fought in the Golden Gloves. I worked in a family butcher shop throughout high school, college and law school. I went to Ohio University, I went to Capital Law School, I came back to represent injured workers with my father. The same thing that my grandfather did.

And so, now I have a beautiful wife and two kids, two little boys: one's four and one's two. We've had a lot of conversations about the way this is going to affect our family, but, you know, we really are going to work as a unit and a team, because we believe in the vision that we can set forth in order to make Ohio a better place for everybody.

Debbie Holmes: How much competition do you think you'll have from other Democrats to get this nomination?

Joe Schiavoni: I think there's going to be a primary. That's kind of out of my control. You know, people ask me, "Well do you think it's going to be this person? Do you think it's going to be that person?" I don't know.