by Peter Kusnic
Zach Dickerson could become Montgomery County’s first openly gay elected official
Daytonian Zach Dickerson could become the first openly gay man elected to Montgomery County government in November’s general election when he faces off against Republican incumbent Mike Foley for the role of Clerk of Courts. His successful election would follow that of Judge Mary Wiseman, the first openly gay elected Commissioner in Dayton, the first openly elected gay Judge in Montgomery County, and the first openly elected gay Judge in the state of Ohio.
Like many Democrats after the 2016 election, Dickerson felt called to public service and ran for a seat in the Ohio House in 2018, the year Foley took office. Dickerson lost his House race in the very red, gerrymandered district that year, and was preparing to run for it again this year. Then he learned that no Democrat was running in Montgomery County’s Clerk of Courts race.
“I couldn’t let a Republican run unopposed, especially someone who doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing,” says Dickerson, pointing to a recent malware attack as an example.
Dickerson, who is a licensed attorney and employee of legal technology firm LexisNexis, says legal technology expertise like his is key to making the courts run properly, the primary responsibility of the Clerk – and why he stands a good shot at winning. The Buckeye Flame chatted with Dickerson about his historic candidacy.
What inspired you to run for office?
The election of 2016 made a lot of Democrats like myself sit up and ask: What is happening to our country? A lot of us ran for the first time in 2018 because we felt that call to action. We didn’t like the direction the country was going in and felt like we wanted to have a bigger voice. Also, I just turned 40 this year, and contemplating what I wanted to do with the next chapter of my life, I decided to make the shift from the private sector to public service. When I spoke with the county party, and nobody had stepped forward to run for the Clerk of Courts, I thought—given my background as both a licensed attorney and somebody with more than a decade of legal technology experience—I was a good fit for that seat.
What past experiences do you feel have prepared you for this role?
The Clerk of Courts’ primary function is to support the judges that we elect and the attorneys who appear in front of them. Part of the reason my background is important is because I understand things like case management systems and e-filing systems. The analogy I like give is it’s like the old Star Trek. One of the characters was Scotty – you know the famous catchphrase, ‘beam me up, Scotty’? – well, Scotty was the engineer of the starship, taking care of all the technology and processes that allowed the ship to function. The Clerk of Courts is kind of the same way – they take care of the technology and processes that allow the court to function. So that’s why I think my background in legal technology and understanding how these systems work is going to be a real asset in this race.
How has your candidacy been received by the community?
The Clerk of Courts is a down-ballot race; very few people can tell you who holds the position and even fewer can tell you what they do. But among those who interact with the Clerk and rely on their services – the legal community – I’ve had tremendous support. Other Democratic attorneys in the area are helping spread the word about my candidacy, and a lot of people are very excited by the possibility of having somebody who knows what they are doing. Just recently, the county was hit with a malware attack that brought down the court for almost two weeks, and we are still trying to determine how much damage was done. When people see things like that happen because somebody is in there who doesn’t have the background or experience to do the job correctly, it brings people into my camp even more so.
What does it mean to you to be openly gay and running for public office?
It’s not actually played a major role in my campaign and didn’t really in 2018 either. I actually found that most voters don’t care. But I would be the first and only openly gay [man]serving in county government (that excludes judges – we have one openly gay judge!). I feel a special weight on my shoulders to do well and conduct myself in a way that makes people proud they voted for me, and to represent the gay community in that way. Many people like myself were so proud of Pete Buttigieg’s campaign because he carried himself in a way that was dignified and respectful; he was smart and thoughtful and sincere, and it showed a lot of people that, wow, that’s a gay guy, but he’s got his ducks in a row, he’s a smart cookie. For a lot of people, I may be the first openly gay [man]that they vote for – so that’s a big deal for me. It’s an honor and also a big responsibility that I take very seriously.
- Learn more about Zach Dickerson’s campaign bid for Montgomery County’s Clerk of Court by visiting his website or follow the campaign on Facebook.
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Peter Kusnic is a writer and editor based in Cleveland, OH.