The Subodh Chandra Interview

(Update: Added photographs and a missing paragraph about the "Spitzer model.")
First we have to give mad props to Warren County Dems. They are very gracious hosts, and know the meaning of grassroots. If you are a liberal living in Warren county you must feel like you are the only one in a sea of conservatives. But we figure the Warren Couny Dems will be changing that.

Another Dem and Ritchie Blackmore met Chandra at the Warren County Democratic Headquarters in Downtown Lebanon, Ohio, before a meet and Greet hosted by W.C. Dems. It was his second stop on a long weekend day of campaigning. Subodh calls campaigning the longest job interview. He had just come from an event in Medina County. The first thing you will learn about Chandra -- if not immediately, then within the first few moments of meeting him -- is that he is a proud parent of triplet boys. Your eye is instantly drawn to his tie. It has row after row of pictures of his boys. Very cute children, I say.

OH2 Blog was also present at the interview. (Update: Check out OH2 Blog for audio.)

Since this a Drinking Liberally blog interview, the first question had to be, "What's your favorite drink?" Chandra prefaced his answer by saying he did not drink much and that he was more of a coffee drinker, but did tell us about a drink he invented during a recent meeting of lawyers. He asked the bar-tender to mix Kahlua and Coke. (It must have been an open bar.) The bartender commented she had been tending bar for a long time, and that was a first for Kahlua and Coke. He said it tasted remarkably like a root beer float. He added he wasn't sure why one would have this drink over a rootbeer float, but for the alcoholic burn in your throat. When asked what it should be called, he wasn't sure, but he pronounced it was tasty and urges all you folks to try this at home. So, folks, please try this at home and name it. Then report back.

Next, we asked him about why and how he decided to run. Chandra said he left his position as Cleveland Law Director in January 2005 and was at Case Law School, teaching ethics and appellate law. (Ed note: We can think of a few people who desperately need a class in ethics. Their names might rhyme with Craft. Or Blackwell.) Chandra had originally moved to Ohio to work for Gov. Dick Celeste, back when Ohio was prosperous and at the cutting edge while maintaining the type of salt of the earth values he cherished. Chandra had thought that his differences with the crop of Republicans officials were merely matters of political philosophy, that they had no energy to work for the people, that they simply weren't that smart. Then, when news about the scandals broke, Chandra realized that the situation was far worse. The Republicans were seeking power for its own sake, not to serve. They acted as "lookouts at a bank robbery," and "facilitators of a great looting." It was, says Chandra, "a moment in Ohio's history that called for personal sacrifice." Moreover, with his professional background of "cleaning up messes," Chandra felt it was the right time to run for the for the office of the AG. He charges Republicans with "irresponsible leadership" and lacking accountability. And accountability is what the AG's office is all about.

Jumping right to the Republican corruption scandals, we asked Chandra what he would be doing if were the AG now. Chandra felt there were many missed opportunities along the way. The first warning sign for the AG's office, he says, should have been the letter from the SEC warning of politically connected brokers being paid excessive fees, well above the market rates. The SEC had tried talking to the Bureau of Worker's Comp to no avail. The internal investigation launched by the AG's office in response to the letter was a sham. The trillion-dollar corporation called the state of Ohio was being ripped off and no one cared. Chandra says the general counsel of any other trillion-dollar corporation would have been fired. But in the "surreal world of politics," AG Jim Petro feels it entitles him to run for the Governor's office. There were many other problems. Chandra cites the case of MDL, which "ripped off" BWC (with some $215M gone), where the contract required the state to pursue litigation in Bermuda, not in Ohio, in front of an Ohio judge in an Ohio courtroom. Despite all of this, Jim Petro feels entitled to run for Governor, Chandra alleges, because the AG's office is just a way station for him. Based on what he has heard, Chandra suspects that there are many more bodies buried in the AG's office. His own approach, Chandra says, would be completely differently from the outset, focusing on accountability, not headlines.

This led into our next question. How do you respond to those who say you do not have enough political experience to run for AG? How do you define political response, Chandra countered. In contrast to those who run for "political office for the sake of political office," he cited his long experience working in the public arena. Working for Dick Celeste, working briefly for the Governor of Oklahoma, a summer working to improve minority and female contracting business practices for Ann Richards and her general counsel in Texas, acting as special counsel to the head of the for American Bar Association (ABA) on major policy projects such as helping create the ABA commission on domestic violence, etc. He also recalled his involvement in numerous Democratic campaigns, fund-raising for Clinton, and the College Democrats. In other words, he's not a "sudden" Democrat. He has built a career as a successful lawyer and prosecutor, and the Democrats should embrace qualified people like him instead of recirculating "the same group of political hacks." That practice, he rightly says, is for the Republicans who are masters of cronyism.

Naturally, we asked him about ODP's 67-22 endorsement of his primary opponent Marc Dann. Chandra's response? He says that where the process has been open and transparent, and the playing field level, either he has received an endorsement or groups expected to endorse Dann have gone neutral. But where there is a closed-door process and back-room dealing, he hasn't been endorsed. In Wood county, where he felt the process was open and "scrupulously neutral," the vote was 97-23 in his favor. As for ODP, Chandra didn't expect an endorsement since it was pretty clear that the result was "pre-conceived," and even sparked somewhat of a backlash due to its unfairness. But it doesn't matter, because people have beat ODP endorsements before. Nonetheless, Chandra says, when presented with two qualified candidates, ODP should have let primary voters make their choice, instead of endorsing one candidate based simply on the "raw exercise of power, networks and cronyism." He charged that the ODP's rationale for endorsements -- that the party could unite behind one candidate -- is flawed because both he and his opponent have indicated they would move forward despite the outcome of the process.

Next, switching gears, we broached the topic of his family. Chandra says the neatest thing he's ever done is court his wife. She is a civil rights lawyer and the couple have two-year old triplet boys. When talking about his family he said one of the nicest things Another Dem has ever heard a politician say about his spouse. In the next campaign finance report, Chandra would like to report her patience as an in-kind donation. But he doesn't know how to put a value on that. (Ed note: Aww!)

Going back to politics, we asked Chandra about his stance on the issue of whether pharmacists have the right to decline to fill prescriptions that went against their religious convictions. Chandra said, as a legislator, he would absolutely vote against giving such a right to pharmacists. Probed further about parental notification laws, Chandra is strongly in favor of reproductive rights and feels no legislator has the right to tell his family what decision to make when faced with difficult choices.

Since Chandra is running for AG, we asked him how he felt about the "Eliot Spitzer model." Is Spitzer using his office as a springboard for his political career? Chandra started by saying that there is nothing anti-industry or anti-business about enforcing the law. The federal government had walked away from its responsibilities, and Spitzer has worked to exercise the authority already in the books to protect the common man. Beyond the high profile cases like mutual funds and AIG, Spitzer fought for wage enforcement for immigrant workers, worker safety in the railways, etc., - issues that did not garner national headlines. If at the end of the day, people want to reward Spitzer for his work with public office, Chandra said, "more power to him!"

Glancing at the time, we realized that our interview needed to come to a close, so we fired off one last question. Skyline or Goldstar? He pleaded ignorance, not having ever tried them. He did ask which one was the spiciest, and added he did like chili number 5 that he tried at a chili tasting earlier in Medina. The spicy question brought up Chandra stock in Ritchie's and my estimation. Maybe we should invite Chandra to D.L. one night to have a kick-ass Burrito from the Comet.

(Ed note: Chandra not only has ties to Texas and Austin, he also wears cowboy boots. His stock in RB's book went up by a few notches.)

AD further writes:

After the interview we led Chandra and 02 blog on a tour of rural Warren County trying to find the Meet and Greet Event. In my defense I did tell them I had no idea of where I was going. After one wrong turn we passed by a church that had 4,000 white crosses on it's lawn, to represent the "lives" lost to abortion. The neighbors had Jesus signs in their yards. I felt like I had taken a wrong turn and entered HELL.

With a slight correction in course we were soon on our way and we arrived a wee bit late. The event was held at a beautiful model home. It felt just like you were at a party at a friends. Coats were piled on a bed. The dining room table had a spread on it. I noticed the guacamole was Chandra's favorite. Mine too! G.Q., you have some competition. D.L. might have to do a guac-off with the W.C. Dems.

For a while the candidates still outnumbered the voters, but that changed and the place was soon filled. It was nice to see new faces. It makes me happy to know that I don't know all the democrats in southern Ohio. Gauging by the conversations, it seems that grassroots dems are still stinging from the Hackett ordeal and don't care for the old boy network. Let me interject my displeasure at the establishment here. I don't want a Senator, from another state, who has never set foot into one of the local democratic grassroots meetings, to decide who the party will back in a race in MY STATE. I don't want ODP choosing a slate of endorsed candidates for the primary. I think that is what the primaries are for. Let the Democratic voters decide whom they wish to face off against the Republicans in the General Election. I bet if they left it up to the primary voters to decide who runs in the general election, we might win a race or two!

Ritchie and I milled around the house talking to candidates and spreading the "word" about D.L. to Warren Countyites. Eventually we found our way down to the lower level where we found, guess what, a BAR. I'm telling you, these W.C. Dems know how to throw a party. We bellied up to see what was available. The bodacious bartender informed us that for beer we had a choice of Miller and Miller. They did however have a selection of wines. With wine in hand, we found Gabby Downey, candidate for 02. She impressed me in the brief conversation we had. I look forward to hearing more from Gaby.

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