Interview With Connie Pillich

Connie Pillich is the Democratic candidate for State Representative in Ohio’s 28th district. She will face incumbent Republican Jim Raussen in the Fall. I recently met with Connie at her campaign headquarters in Montgomery to discuss her run for State Representative.

DL: What is your favorite drink?
CP: Bass Ale. Number two is Canadian Club with Ginger Ale and bitters.

DL: Tell us a little bit about your military service.
CP: I come from kind of a modest background and my parents always stressed education through and through and it was always expected that we go to college, but it was never expected that anyone would help us. I was the youngest of five, so there were no funds. Even if there had been funds they would have been drained out by then. So, I of course looked for scholarships and one of my sisters suggested that I look into ROTC, and so I did and I got an Air Force ROTC scholarship. I went to my dad’s alma mater at the University of Oklahoma and participated on the diving team while I was there and did ROTC there. So, I went in on active duty after I graduated. I got commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and you know I joined to see the world and my first assignment was in Biloxi, Mississippi and my second was in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I saw both coasts of the country and got my MBA while I was up in Grand Forks. My next assignment I got to go to what was then West Berlin and that was pretty awesome and my last assignment was here at the University of Cincinnati as a recruiting officer. Two days after I moved into my apartment in Clifton, I met my husband and we got married two years later and I got out a year after that.

DL: So, what area of the Air Force did you serve in?
CP: I was actually in the Air Force Communications Command which is everything that has to do with anything that communicates from as simple as a telephone to a walkie-talkie to as complicated as air traffic control and sophisticated radar and early warning systems. In Biloxi, the base there is a training school and they have the hurricane hunters down there. That was nine months and then I went up to Grand Forks just after Labor Day. My job up there was called combat crew communications and we supported the air crews and the missile crews by teaching them how to use their radios and teaching them the necessary communications they need to be able to make in order to not get shot down by our friendly forces and we maintained all secret codes, the communications codes. Not the launch codes, those were in a different place. In order to get those launch codes, they had to be able to use our secrets to decode the messages coming in. So, we conducted all of that training and maintained those documents. I had a top-secret security clearance and I was privy to targeting data and things like that because it’s an integral part of the mission being able to communicate. And of course my last assignment was recruiting for the college scholarship program.

CP: Yea. I tripled enrollment when I got here and I had the highest retention rate in all of Ohio so I did a successful job there.

DL: What would make you a better state representative than Jim Raussen?
CP: you know, it’s so hard to answer a question like that and I have been trying to think how to answer. When I was a recruiter people would say, “Why should I choose the Air Force versus GE?” There are so many reasons so I’ll just say some things that I think are my strengths. Certainly my military background has given me a lot of experience and service and sacrifice and duty. Being an attorney has taught me a lot about how the law can help people and how it can hurt people. In my practice I have pretty much dedicated my life to helping people through the crisis in their lives, so I can understand how difficult things can be. As a mom, I certainly understand the challenges that families face in a world that is becoming more and more dangerous and more and more expensive and certainly with kids the ages of my kids – eleven and thirteen. We’re looking at college expenses. When I was young, you could find a way to pay for college. You could get a scholarship; you could work and somehow afford it that way. If you were poor, you could get grants. Those things are inaccessible. Even if you work, even if you could get a scholarship, even if you could get a grant, the costs of higher education is extremely high now that most middle-class parents could not afford to send their kids and they cannot afford to put themselves through which was something that was obtainable when I was young. I think being in touch with those types of issues and problems will make me a better representative. I am also not an extremist like my opponent is.

DL: So, is it winnable?
CP: It is winnable. What’s really exciting about this district is how diverse it is. It’s diverse geographically because it runs from Montgomery over to Forest Park. It’s got fifteen municipalities and it also has Wyoming, Woodlawn, Lockland, Reading, and Lincoln Heights so it’s very diverse racially and it’s diverse economically. The voters in this district, of those who are affiliated with a party, about 55% call themselves Republicans and 45% call themselves Democrat, but there are a whole bunch of people who are not affiliated with a party and even those who are, they are not sold on their party. George Bush did win in this district in 2004, but only with 51.5% of the vote. This district is not afraid to vote for Democrats – Todd Portune won in this district, Odell Owens won in this district and we have been looking at the voting data for the last eight years and the data shows that more and more people are voting Democrat and it is increasing at a higher rate than those who are voting Republican. We expect it to cross over and out perform Republicans this year. Not just everything I told you about the statistics, I live in Montgomery, which is arguably one of the most conservative parts of my district, but I’m a hometown girl and I have been out talking to Montgomery voters and first they ask me what party I’m affiliated with and I always say I’m running as a Democrat. I don’t want to say that I am a Democrat because that scares them because they are so imbedded in party politics. I say I’m running as a Democrat and these are the things I’m working for. And they say, “You know, I consider myself a moderate Republican, but I’m not married to the party.” Some of them have seen what my opponent can do or has done and they say he’s not done anything. The bills he has sponsored are dull and boring and they don’t do anything. I’m seeing that all over the place and I think we will turn a lot of moderate Republicans my way. They like seeing me as a veteran because it makes me less scary to them and it makes me seem more moderate and they like that I’m a professional and they like that I’m a woman, they’re looking for something different. So yes, it’s very winnable. We just need to get the people out there to work the campaign.

DL: What are your thoughts on consumer fraud and predatory lending and what can be done to help those affected by it?
CP: Part of my district is Forest Park and they have the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. The number of foreclosures in that city has increased 88% in the last four years, which is while the incumbent has been in office. Some of the law that I have practiced deals with consumer fraud and there are certain federal laws in effect that provide some protections for people against unscrupulous lenders and unscrupulous brokers. There are some laws on Ohio’s books that help consumers. One is the mortgage brokers act and one is the consumer sales practices act and both of those laws need some help. There is a bill in front of the house right now to modify the mortgage brokers act and it’s going to impose some fiduciary obligations on mortgage brokers. A lot of mortgage brokers aren’t happy with this and I have been talking to them too because I want to see what their suggestions are. They’re afraid that imposing undue burdens on them will make it hard for them to do their job and hard to make a living. I’m not trying to make it difficult for anyone to make a living as long as they do it honestly. I haven’t finished reading the proposed bill and I’m not going to tell you if it’s good or bad until I read the whole thing because I don’t think that’s appropriate to make an opinion on it without reading it. But, I do think that mortgage brokers have a fiduciary duty to the borrower. They are supposed to find them the best deal they can. We can tighten up restrictions on prepayment of loans. A lot of these poor elderly people who get conned into these loans are stuck with a prepayment penalty that they can never afford if they pay it off and if they don’t pay it off early they are stuck with 18% mortgage interest and they can’t afford that. We need to have ways for people to get representation such as the right to get attorney fees because mom and pop are not going to be able to afford to bring up a lawsuit to enforce their rights unless we can get them an attorney to do it for them. I think we also owe it to consumers to make sure they are educated on how to use credit and we need to work on credit card companies so they don’t constantly bombard people who have no business getting credit with offers for credit because they are going to use it irresponsibly and they are going to get into trouble which puts them into foreclosures and puts them into bankruptcies. In Ohio, we are second in the nation in personal bankruptcies. There is no reason for that.

DL: What can be done to help fund our schools?
CP: Obviously, the Supreme Court said about fifteen years ago that the way we are funding them now is unconstitutional. I have been starting to look at how other states are doing that. In Michigan they totally removed property taxes from the way that they fund schools. But, the way they enacted their law has not been successful. Certainly it worked for one year but it is too rigid for them to deal with changing demographics. Schools that were performing well and were well funded were doing okay in one year but then they had an explosion, something like what happens in Deerfield Township and in Mason where they are getting 700 new students a year. With the rigid way they have funded the schools in Michigan, they cannot afford to take care of those kids. So, their plan is not going to help. I don’t know the answer yet but I have been looking into it. What I’m going to do is look at what other states have experimented with and try to put a task force together to come up with some solutions and we need to do it soon. One of the things I’m afraid of is the new TEL (Tax Expenditure Limitation) amendment will inhibit the state from correcting the school funding problem because we’re not going to be able to go up in our spending. Even if our revenues increase we’re not going to be able to increase our spending.

DL: What can be done at the state level to ensure affordable healthcare for all Ohioans?
CP: We have to take the levying power out of the hands of the insurance companies. My opponent happens to be an insurance agent and has worked on legislation that benefits his profession, which I think is unethical, it’s a conflict of interest. We have to let doctors and patients decide what medical treatment is necessary, not a bunch on moneychangers down on 4th Street in Cincinnati. Instead of having insurance agents manage the HMO’s, we have health professionals manage these things. Doctors have to be able to get paid for their services instead of having to get seven cents on the dollar, which is what happens sometimes. We have to cut some of that bureaucracy that is driving up costs.

DL: What would you consider the biggest problem in Ohio right now?
CP: I don’t think that we have just one big problem. When I started my campaign, I sat down and started to write down the things that are important to me and government can help with and then I grouped it into a few different areas. The first area was making sure that we had a strong economy. We need businesses that are going to invest into our communities and stay here and will treat their workers fairly. To support those strong businesses we have to have an educated work force that the businesses can use. To have strong education, we have to have qualified teachers, we have to have rigorous academic standards, we have to get rid of redundant testing because the poor teachers are stuck testing all of these tests all year round and their ability to teach is greatly hindered by that. I also think that we need to improve the quality of life by having accessible and affordable healthcare. We need to have clean air, clean environment, and we need to have safety. I also think that we need to help those less fortunate and that’s why I want to work on consumer fraud and predatory lending and make sure that people have the opportunity to get educated. If we could have an educated populous, I don’t mean that everyone needs to have a Masters degree, you have to have a decent high school education so you can participate not only in the workforce, but in your community. If you can read, you can learn. And if you can learn, you can participate in an intelligent way throughout your life.

DL: Final thoughts?
CP: I hope that we can get a lot of people joining my campaign because of all the campaigns; in the state of Ohio this is one of the most competitive. It’s the most competitive in Hamilton County and in Southwest Ohio. So, if we could put some good resources into here – time, people, and money – pretty much in that order, this is a seat where we can make a difference and put a Democrat in the State House.

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