Nan Whaley is not here to mince words.
“This is the most important election ever in our state,” says Whaley about the upcoming November election.
And she should know. The twice-elected mayor of Dayton is the Democratic nominee for governor of Ohio, looking to unseat incumbent Mike DeWine.
Under DeWine’s leadership, Ohio has seen the introduction of a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including DeWine’s signing of what is called the most homophobic bill in the country.
If elected, Whaley would have her work cut out for her. But first, she needs to get elected.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Whaley about the state of LGBTQ+ Ohio and how she plans to secure the gubernatorial position to actually start to make things better.
We chatted more than a year ago and back then we had said that things were pretty bad in Ohio for LGBTQ+ people. Since then, Mayor, things seem to have gotten exponentially worse. How do we wrap our minds around Ohio as a space for LGBTQ+ people?
The legislature, as you know, Ken, is really extreme on issues that are completely out-of-step with the majority of Ohioans like LGBTQ+ issues, choice issues around women’s access to abortion, and as—we see over and over again—on gun safety, where the majority of Ohioans want universal background checks.
We have a governor who is too weak to stand up to them. A lot of these things could be stopped in their tracks if we had a governor who had a backbone and was willing to stand up to the extremism in the statehouse. We don’t have that right now with Mike DeWine. So it’s made it more dangerous for LGBTQ+ people, for people of color, for women, for communities as a whole, all because of his unwillingness and inability to lead and his overall weakness.
DeWine has spent quite a bit of money advertising Ohio on billboards across the country to get people to move here and, to be frank with you, my LGBTQ+ friends across the country see what’s going on here and say, “Why would I want to live there?” How do we begin to build back that trust?
A billboard is not going to solve the fact that you’re being discriminatory and taking away rights. For me, it’s about making sure that—just like I when I was mayor of Dayton—we continue to make this an inclusive and welcoming state. That requires crazy ideas, Ken, like the idea that you can’t be discriminated against no matter where you love.
It means making sure that our kids are safe and are able to be safe in their sexuality at a young age across the state. There are 430 trans kids at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati and they could be excluded completely from the state and those families could move. I’ve talked to them.
I don’t think this is hard stuff. It’s just about being a state that is committed to growth and inclusivity and this governor is not. He’s too afraid of his extremist base. He is extreme in many of these cases with his wanting to put his religious beliefs into practice in the government. DeWine is really hurting Ohio’s families.
You mentioned the relationship between the governor and the legislature. What would your style be? We’re not anticipating some huge blue wave of Democrats being elected to the Ohio legislature, so you would likely be working with the current composition. How do you approach that?
I think the first couple of years honestly, would be stopping a lot of bad things from happening. This is an illegitimate state legislature drawn on a map that been called unconstitutional not once, not twice, but three times by the Ohio Supreme Court. It’s an illegitimate, anti-Democratic legislature right now. So the first two years, I don’t think there will be much working with them because they are so extreme.
But the Ohio governor sits on the redistricting commission. If we can get fair districts—and this isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing—where the decisions are made in general elections rather than primary elections, we can normalize the statehouse. That’s what we will do once we get elected and then we would be able to get good stuff done in the second half of the term where we can make this a great place to live.
How on earth do we get more people to vote?
I think this taking away of rights with Roe v. Wade has awakened both men and women across the state. We’re seeing record numbers. Ohio leads the country behind Kansas on the split of women being registered to vote in the state over men. And they’re women under 35. So we are seeing an awakening in voter registration and voter engagement, particularly around saving this most basic right.
I do think there’s a real opportunity here. When you compare Mike DeWine and me on abortion, you can’t really get further apart. He wants to go as far as possible around stopping abortion access, which means banning abortion at conception, banning in vitro fertilization, banning birth control like IUD. That is a very extreme position that is out-of-step with 82% of Ohioans. For me, this is an issue that I’ve been working and fighting for my entire life, making sure that folks have access to the the healthcare they need and deserve.
You’ve been traveling all over the state. One of the challenges has to be that Ohio can present like two completely different states. You have the bigger cities which read completely different than some of our rural areas. How do you govern such a bifurcated state?
I find that people really do want the same thing. They want their kids to have opportunities, no matter what part of the state they live in. They want their families to have choices. They want to feel included and that they have a good paying job to provide for themselves and their families. LGBTQ+ rights come up no matter if I’m in Cleveland or in Portsmouth. I hear about LGBTQ+ rights in all parts of the state, not just in the big cities.
Do some positive role-modeling for our readers. How are you maintaining health and wellness as you are engaging in such a busy campaigning schedule?
I work out every single morning. Sometimes it’s walks, sometimes it’s a bike ride. But it’s every single morning. That’s really important for me.
Eating is tough on the road. That’s probably my biggest challenge. I do a healthy dose of meditation before I got to bed. That is the way I can keep focused what’s best for me, but the rest of the time, we’re going a mile-a-minute. And you know I’m an extreme extrovert, Ken. So I get energy off of this work.
Do the thing where you tell everyone why you love this state of Ohio.
This state is a place that has enormous opportunity. Ohio has the best workers in the world. It has a great history and it’s up to us this November to decide if Ohio can have a great feature.
I know that we always say that every election is the most important ever, but if you’re a woman in Ohio, this is the most important election ever in our state. It’s going to be a big decision for our state on which direction we decide to go. I’m just really hoping everyone speaks their mind about what they want Ohio to be. We’re in the majority, we just need to get people to vote. 🔥