Interview with Rick Smith

After a long day of campaigning door to door, Rick Smith, running for State Senate, and Karen Adams, running for State Representative in Ohio, agreed to meet up with grif and me for drinks and discussion. The following is an excerpt of the conversation we had with Rick Smith.

Rick Smith is the Democratic candidate running for State Senator in Ohio's 7th Senate District, comprised of the 34th, 35th and 67th House Districts. Rick will be facing incumbent Republican Robert Shuler in the Fall.

DL: Real basic question: Ohio has a two-house legislature. What's the difference between our House and Senate?

RS: There are 99 House Districts and 33 Senate Districts. Each Senate District is composed of three House Districts. The 7th Senate District has Tom Brinkman's, Michelle Schneider's and Tom Raga's House
Districts, so it's just as gerrymandered as those are. [Karen Adams suggests he name them.] 34, 35, 67. [KA: Hike.] I love those softball questions.

DL: It helps if I don't prepare. You were running for the 34th House District against Tom Brinkman originally. Explain the switch and why you're now running for the Senate.

RS: I planned for close to a year to run against Tom Brinkman. I was assuming no one else would be foolish enough to do it. [Laughter] In fact, I raised money up until December running against Brinkman. Then, this fairly unknown guy named Steve Silver said he wanted to run [for the 34th Ohio House District]. When we went into our interviews with the county party, Steve Driehaus asked me if I would consider running for the Senate seat. I had no idea where it was. And I said I'd definitely consider it. I went back and thought about it. A couple things I looked at: this is a tougher district, much tougher. Instead of 60/40 it's 70/30. It's definitely the most conservative district in the State. One thing I considered is that Ted Strickland is likely to be the next governor of the state. And I thought, with a Democratic governor would I rather be one of 33 or one of 99 in that case? I'd have a lot more power as one of 33. And next I sat down and talked with Steve [Silver] and two things impressed me about him. First, he's a smart guy. His heart and head are in the right place. He talks about a lot of the same issues, like health care, that I do. And he was very, very serious, willing to put a lot of his own money in. So I realized that he was a serious candidate. Based on those two factors I decided to go ahead and run against Bob Shuler.
The party wanted to avoid a primary. I understand the party's motivations. If you did a little scratch-and-sniff on the party, what they wanted was a warm body in the race. But I'm not going in as a sacrificial lamb at all...I'm going in to win.

One other thing about Steve [Silver] that I forgot is that he actually has very deep roots in Anderson Township, which is core to his [the 34th] district. Now, I lived in Anderson for about 15 years, but I don't have the family and church connections that he does there. I realized that he could be a stronger candidate than I could in that district.

DL: Now it's your turn to characterize yourself vs. your opponent, Bob Shuler.

RS: Ah, sling some mud here. [Laughter] Actually, hot off the presses, not even on my website yet. [Of course, what he gave DL that day is on his website by now!]

We won't go through all this. First of all, I've got a wider...a better educational background than Shuler does. I have a wider range of industry experience. And I think I'm the better problem solver than he is. And I'm also going to address...I'm really not going to get up there and not address some of the core issues that are so important to the district: health care, school funding, this urban sprawl for Warren County. You know, this abortion issue which is just killing us in terms of dividing our state. I think I'm going to do better as a legislator. Unfortunately, Bob Shuler has set the bar pretty low.

DL: What has he been focusing his attention on?

RS: That's a very good question. First of all, I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who have no idea who Bob Shuler is, despite the fact that he's been in political office for 25 years. Most of his legislation, except for what he's been doing on the Energy and Utility Committee, has had little impact on our day-to-day lives. It's a little silly, but some of the things I talk about that aren't related to his campaign contributions are things like, he's tried to get Ohio to issue a "pets license plate".

DL: But that's important. [Note: I love my dog.]

RS: He also needed to change the name of "Township Clerk" to "Township Fiscal Officer".

DL: That's like Congress changing the "General Accounting Office" to "Government Accountability Office". [Another solid Republican accomplishment.]

RS: Well, they may be necessary [changes], but they are administrative, bean-counter type of bills for the most part. Some may make a lot of sense, but what really concerns me--other than the act that he's not focussing on the right things--is that he is focussing on the things that are important to his contributors. And it's interesting, you'll see on this graph that suddenly in 2002 the Energy and Utility Industries discovered who he was because he was running for Senate now and was likely to be the Chairman of the Energy and Utility Committee.

DL: Wow, his contributions almost tripled.

RS and KA: Follow the money!

RS: And, now essentially utility regulation is the most complicated thing man has ever invented. I've worked for Cincinnati Bell Telephone, I understand what utility regulation is. All the bills that I've found [that Shuler has sponsored], some of them may in fact be appropriate given the level of competition, but the bills that I've found so far are definitely pro-industry whether they be electric industry or telephone.

KA: I'm shocked!

RS: I'm shocked, too!

DL: A Republican? Working for industry?

[Note: Blogger needs an <irony> markup symbol.]

RS: The most consistent contributor to him across all the twelve years he's been in the state legislator has been the builders' lobby. In fact, for a while, one out of every four dollars he got was from the builders' lobby.

DL: These are the same people [that we talked about during Karen Adam's interview] who want to transfer their negative externalities [that is, their costs] to us.

RS: Right. Exactly. And so therefore he [Shuler] is not a friend of Warren County. He is not going to do anything to help Warren County manage their growth. What's also kind of interesting: the third group that he gets money from is what I call...actually what Christopher Buckley in Thank You for Smoking calls The Merchants of Death, which includes, tobacco, alcohol and firearms, to which I've added payday loans and gambling.

The most interesting coincidence I've found is that if you look here at the pattern of payday loan industry contributions. You see that little one in 2000? What's interesting was in 1999 he introduced a bill to increase regulation on pawn brokers. Now pawn brokers are the main competitors to payday loans. What's especially interesting is the timing: On Monday, May 22, 2000, there was a fundraising event where he raised that entire twenty-five hundred bucks [$2500]. What's interesting ar the three itms that are listed here: First of all, two payday loan companies--that are competitors!--got together and gave him money on the same day, which means that he's a "friend of the industry". Second:

He [Shuler] wasn't running for anything in 2000! He was term limited! He couldn't run for anything until 2002. His bill to increase regulation on pawnbrokers passed through the house the Thursday before.

That is like the "perfect storm" of pay-for-play.

DL: Wow. [Yes, I was almost speechless, only able to utter a weak "wow".]

RS: In 2002, there were four companies which gave him money: over $5000 on the same day. Essentially, there was an event on the same day. Now you can't tell me that there isn't something going on. He is definitely a friend of an industry which basically preys on our most vulnerable population.

[KA weighs in on the predatory lending industry and how it's destroying communities.]

DL: It looks like irreducible complexity to me. That can't have happened by accident. I've also heard that a lot of the chief shareholders in these payday companies are the officers of banks. You should check on the personal contributions of those individuals.

RS: Interesting. I lumped those local bank contributions into the builders lobby.

DL: One of the things which seems complex about you is your position on abortion. 'Splain it to me.

RS: Let me give you a little precursor. I've seen how abortion rhetoric has torn even individual neighborhoods apart. I almost lost a very good friend in my old neighborhood in Anderson Township because I was putting up Kerry signs around the house and she called me up one day and basically said, "This is my religiion. I'm pro-life." And could not forgive me for doing this. And it made me realize.

KA: Oh, there are some many things I could say!

RS: I know, I know but it made me realize a couple of things. First of all, neither side is acknowledging the other's visceral feelings about this. And, also, we will never, ever agree. And so the question is: what is it we are going to do about this? Because any abortion is, in some way, a failure. Either a failure of birth control or a failure of the health system. I mean, nobody is pro-abortion.

So, I am definitely pro-choice. So, I started thinking about this. What is the best way to reduce abortions? The best way to reduce abortion is [to reduce] unintended pregnancies. You'll note there was a bill introduced in the legislature by Tyrone Yates and Teresa Fedor called the "Prevention First Act" (OH 126 SB 328 and OH 126 HB 588) which talks about improving availability of sex education and contraception so that abortion is not necessary. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended; half of those are aborted. Unless we attack this problem, it will never address abortions whether they're legal or not.

Second, unintended pregnancy is actually an issue where the right and left can talk without the venom. I've developed an aggressive four-point program to reduced unintended pregnancies.

DL: Sum it up for me.

RS: A reliable form of natural family planning; Male accountability through the legal system for unintended pregnancies; a serious trial in our area of different methods of teen education; and getting information into every woman's hands who's taking the pill on drugs that can interfere with its effects.

And, the cool thing is, on my website now, if you don't like my positions you can click a button called be part of the solution and you can submit your own ideas. And as soon as I have a critical mass of say, 10 ideas, you're going to be able to go back in and rate all the ideas and the community as a whole will decide what's the best way to fund schools, what's the best way to increase health care coverage, what's the best way to reduce unintended pregnancies.

[KA discussion on health care and abortion.]

RS: What I thought was funny was that the Petro campaign lied on their advertising. You know, the hypocrite commercial they claimed that Blackwell owned stock in the company that makes the "abortion pill". What they were talking about was Barr Laboratories, that makes Plan B, which is not an abortion pill.

KA: No, it's not an abortifacient.

RS: If you take it when you're pregnant, nothing will happen. I was just laughing [at them].

KA: That's all it is: It's just birth control just double up the next day.

DL: Did you guys read The War on Contraception in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago?

RS: No, I haven't gotten to it.

DL: I still have a copy...I'll lend it to you.

KA: This is what we've been missing...we really don't see what the real plan is. And it isn't just being against legalized abortion. There's a real movement to ban contraception.

DL: I think there's a core group there [in the anti-choice movement] that wants to do that and a larger group that doesn't understand that.

[More discussion mostly addressed in Karen's interview.]

DL: Our next question is about health care. What can we do about it? What kind of "triage" would you do?

RS: First of all, just a tiny bit of personal background. I've rolled off two COBRA plans in my life. Both cases, insurance companies turned me down for health care. That really pissed me off.

DL: Even with your certificate of continuing coverage?

RS: Yeah, denied. I've heard of people being denied for back surgery they had in the 70's. The first time I was working for a very small company, a second guy was rolling off at the same time. We had a group! All of a sudden, everyone wanted to cover us. You can't tell me I'm more of risk in a group of one than a group of two. Now, what I want to do is give the insurance companies what they want: the mother of all groups.

It's interesting that Massachusetts has gone this way. I'm not sure I want to go as far as they did. Essentially, what my plan would do is create a state-administered group that anyone could join and all their pre-existing conditions would be covered. Then there would be a series of plans, everything from the $75 a month HSA [Health Savings Account] type plan to the P&G platinum coverage that costs $1400 a month for a family. You'd choose the level of coverage you wanted, and the insurance company that wanted to serve that group would be randomly assigned people. The cost to the state of administration would come out of the premiums. The insurance companies would be guaranteed a fixed amount of profit for serving that group. Basically the lowest plan would be such that, if you couldn't afford that, you're probably on Medicaid anyway.

So that covers the availability issue. Now, if we're going to keep premiums low, what Massachusetts has done is required that all young people--basically everyone--buy into the system. Not necessarily ready to do that, but it's something I'd recommend considering. But at least in terms of availability, that issue goes away.

Then of course, the question is the cost of health care. Because you're really not addressing, either with single payer or my health plan, the cost. I'm hoping that people will come to my website and give me ideas, but I have two ideas.

The first is that the NIH is starting to clinically trial alternative therapies and medications. I'd like to put additional money in the medical schools here in Ohio and move that process forward even further. Anything that proves clinically safe and effective and cost effective would be automatically rolled into our Medicaid system and into the health care system of the stated master group. So it's possible that your first line of preventive care or even clinical care might be an alternative medication or therapy. That's the first way.

The second way is that essentially we--and this doesn't sound like a very Democratic idea--is that we can no longer afford to pay for people's bad decisions, specifically smoking and morbid obesity. So I would propose to do--and this is also on the website--that we would take maybe a thirty-forty year old age group and say, you have maybe five years to get off tobacco or get down to obese from morbidly obese. If you don't, there will be a lifetime cap on your medical care, either from Medicaid or from this stated master group. And then, unfortunately, theyn they're on their own.

DL: "Problem solving by root causes, not symptoms." Explain, please.

RS: Well, the easiest way to explain this is with the abortion issue. Too many times we're focusing on the symptoms of a problem and not the root cause. Any good business focuses on root causes.

DL: [Here's where irony markup would be useful.] The root cause is people having sex.

RS: Yeah, OK.

DL: That's gotta stop.

RS: Not the core root cause.

KA: There are probably a lot of older married women that are fainting today.

RS: Whether abortion is legal or not affects the symptoms, not the real problem. The real problem again is unintended pregnancies. The whole idea is: Dig, dig, dig until you ultimately find what's going to solve the real problem. In some cases, my feeling is that the problem with teen pregnancy, economic development, drugs and crime is inadequate education in preschool through third grade, because that's when people develop their sense of who they are, their sense of self-worth, and their learning skills. And so, it'll affect things in 20 years, but that's kind of like the root cause of the health care crisis.

DL: We had a discussion about development and sprawl. What can be done at the state level about it?

RS: I don't know all of the details, but right now, township and certain other entities are prohibited at the state level from assessing impact fees on developers. It's basically always negotiated. Now the best that Warren County could do on this huge San Miguel development

KA: A thousand or some units.

RS: It's huge. The impact fees so far for that are $1500/unit, which is nothing.

DL: You can't even get hooked up to a sewer for that.

RS: It's nothing. I went up and spoke to Bob Craig, who is the planner for Warren County, and he said back in the 30's Ohio passed some of the most innovative property laws, but that we haven't changed them, and we're way behind. And so the really core problem for growth does start at state office.

DL: We have to ask the one question we always have to ask: What's your favorite drink?

RS: Oh, wow. That's tough.

DL: It doesn't have to be a beer or even an alcoholic beverage.

RS: Oh, it's definitely an alcoholic beverage. This time of year, it would have to be a mint julep. I make 'em ever year. But every other time of the year, it would be single malt scotch.

DL: Which one?

RS: Oh, now you're going to kill me. I have to say, I don't have a favorite. But I'm willing to accept donations from any Scotch distributor who has employees in the United States.

Thanks to Rick and Karen for their time!

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