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Nan Whaley: Fighting for Ohioans

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Nan Whaley: Fighting for Ohioans

Former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley talks about her Ohio gubernatorial campaign.

Nan Whaley was first elected to the Dayton City Commission in 2005, and was one of the youngest women ever chosen for the seat. In 2014, she became the Mayor of Dayton, and held that position until earlier this year when she decided to run for governor.

Nan is facing incumbent Mike DeWine this November, and abortion has become a key issue in the race. During the interview, she said this about the upcoming election:

“Look, I think Ohio is definitely at a crossroads this election cycle. It has a choice to be a place where we can be inclusive, and we can protect freedoms, and women can grow and thrive in this state. Or it's going to be a place where women will run away from. If Mike DeWine is elected, that's what's going to happen. We're going to see even more population loss in the state, and it is going to be the doing of the sitting governor.

To learn more about Nan, or support her campaign, visit nanwhaley.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @nanwhaley.


Ken Harbaugh:

Hi everyone, it’s Ken. Before we start, I want to share some exciting news: We’ve paired with Meidas Touch, so you can now watch these interviews on YouTube. Just search for the Meidas Touch YouTube channel, or click the link in the show description. Thanks, and enjoy the episode.

Nan Whaley:

Look, I think Ohio is definitely at a crossroads this election cycle. It has a choice to be a place where we can be inclusive, and we can protect freedoms, and women can grow and thrive in this state. Or it's going to be a place where women will run away from. If Mike DeWine is elected, that's what's going to happen. We're going to see even more population loss in the state, and it is going to be the doing of the sitting governor.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, Ohio, and the Democratic nominee for governor in Ohio.

Nan, it's great to have you on. The big day is right around the corner. How are you feeling?

Nan Whaley:

I feel great, Ken. It's great to be on. I'm excited. I've heard a lot about your podcast and am so excited to be on today. We're feeling great. Really close. Early vote is starting. We're seeing great numbers on the engagement around people voting, which is always an exciting time if you're on the ballot.

Ken Harbaugh:

It is. I have to believe that engagement has hit new levels, given what is happening nationally. I'm thinking in particular of the Dobbs decision. How has that impacted the dynamics on the ground? If you can share specific stories of talking to voters who cannot believe where we are today as a country, how is that affecting the conversations you're having across Ohio?

Nan Whaley:

Well, certainly, what happened on June 24th was a devastating day for women all across the country. A right had been taken away from me that my mom fought for, that my niece who is nine will never have now, unless we fight it right now. So it was a very tough day, I think for everybody. We all knew mentally that this could happen. But the emotional hit of it happening, I think, hit us very hard on the day it was announced. But if you're in Ohio, it was terrifying. Seven hours after a Roe fell, the governor put forward the six-week abortion ban, and we've seen the effects of what that ban has done to our communities and even kids in our state. A 10-year-old was raped in Columbus, had to go across state lines to terminate the pregnancy. When Mike DeWine was asked about it, he said he doubted if the girl existed, and if she existed, she was probably lying. When Columbus Police arrested her rapist and he confessed, Mike DeWine had two words, which were "no comment." In Dayton, a woman was excited to carry her pregnancy to term, went to her monthly checkup, found out she had cancer. In Mike DeWine's Ohio, she had to cross state lines to terminate her pregnancy so she could begin to fight for her own life, to receive life-saving chemotherapy. I mean, can I imagine what that woman must be going through? Excited to grow her family in one moment, fighting for her life the next, and being stigmatized by the leaders in her state.

We are really lucky this past week that the federal courts put a hold on the six-week abortion ban, but we've already seen the effects it's had in Ohio. It makes the November election even more important because who the leaders are elected in November will decide how the six-week abortion ban moves. We know that, obviously, since DeWine moved so quickly on it, seven hours after Roe, it will be reinstated. We also know that he's told pro-life groups that he wants to go as far as possible after Roe fell. Those are his words, "as far as possible." In Ohio, you don't have to even imagine what that is. There is a bill in the State House right now that bans abortion at conception, bans birth control like IUD, and bans in-vitro fertilization.

I mean, I think I've talked to medical students and women all across the state. This has an economic impact for our state. For women 20 to 40 years old that have a choice on whether or not to stay in Ohio, they're going to choose not to. I've heard stories of people that, in their workforce, people have already left to say, "Look, I don't want to raise my kids here. I don't want to have a child here." We've seen stories of med students really making decisions about not wanting to practice here. So we're going to have a shortage of doctors. The med students are really concerned that they're not going to get the full training that they should get as a doctor because of these egregious, extreme laws.

The final thing I'll say about this issue is that Mike DeWine is so out of step with the majority of the state. Ohio is a common sense state, and it is a pro-choice state. Over 60% of Ohioans believe that Roe should be law of the land. It's my commitment the minute after we're elected is that we will move to put Roe on the ballot to codify it in the Ohio Constitution. And it will pass. It's just a big problem we have, that we have a governor that wants to take such a central freedom away from a woman and her family.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, Mike DeWine isn't just out of step in terms of policy. I think for a lot of us, his reaction to the reports of that 10-year-old rape victim was a defining moment, because his response was to literally dehumanize her, to say she didn't exist. I mean, I've been to law school. I've seen atrocious examples of dehumanizing people. But I don't think there's a clearer case than saying a victim literally doesn't exist. He's not just on the wrong side of policy. He's on the wrong side when it comes to sympathy for victims, for understanding where Ohioans are emotionally and morally.

Nan Whaley:

You're exactly right, Ken. I mean, his response to the 10-year-old after the six-week abortion ban was egregious. He has said nothing about the other. We've seen more of these stories come out, and he says absolutely nothing because you know what the truth is? He wants that 10-year-old to carry to term. If we're really getting to the truth of it, he is so out of step that that's what he actually wants. 82% of Ohioans believe we should have some sort of access to abortion. Ohioans appropriately are appalled about what's happening to our children in this state under Mike DeWine. That's why this issue has become such a central issue in this governor's race.

Look, I think Ohio is definitely at a crossroads this election cycle. It has a choice to be a place where we can be inclusive, and we can protect freedoms, and women can grow and thrive in this state. Or it's going to be a place where women will run away from. If Mike DeWine is elected, that's what's going to happen. We're going to see even more population loss in the state, and it is going to be the doing of the sitting governor.

Ken Harbaugh:

Ohio often seems to find itself in the crosshairs in these battles for fundamental rights. We had Jim Obergefell on the show not long ago.

Nan Whaley:

Great guy. Just a great guy.

Ken Harbaugh:

Great guy. Great human being. Pioneer when it comes to fighting for these rights, rights which have been taken for granted by millions of Americans, that are now under threat. I'm teeing this up because I want you to talk about why Ohio matters nationally. We have a lot of audience members who aren't from the state, but Ohio is ground zero in a lot of these cases. It was in Obergefell. With the abortion debate, it is again. Why does Ohio matter to the rest of the country?

Nan Whaley:

Well, as you mentioned, Ken, the democracy is at risk. We see that particularly the Midwest is a key location where the races and decisions made in Ohio could affect the entire country. We know that we have a significant number of people, even elected officials in Ohio, that question if Biden was legitimately elected. We know that the extreme actions around taking away a fundamental right like abortion makes the democracy more weak. We see just extreme actions, particularly on redistricting. A state that is pretty typically 47% to 48% Democrat and 52% to 53% Republican only has four Democratic congressional seats and 12 Republican congressional seats. None of them move. They draw the lines, as you know, so they can decide their voters rather than the other way around. When people say, "Well, what does it matter about Ohio?" Or the Democrats will say, "Oh, we can go to other locations." Really, the demographic shifts that people are talking about are not fully baked in. There are still 11 million people in the state of Ohio. It is a key state for the hearts and minds of the country. The line for Ohio used to be that it was the heart of it all. It truly is about that when it comes to how Ohioans think. It's a pretty common sense state. It's a place where, like you saw, rights actually come out of, for the federal government to protect. Because we are seeing leadership at the State House for the past decades that has been just really out of step with what everyday Ohioans think. I always tell folks nationally, "You cannot walk away from the Midwest, and that includes Ohio." I think of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan as key places in these fights. If you want to hold onto the democracy, this is where the battle for hearts and minds are key.

Frankly, what we've seen with the Democratic Party particularly is this lack of engagement on state legislative and state races that is affecting our politics dramatically in these states. So that's what these fights are about at the state legislative level, at the governor level, to make sure that we have a democracy that works in our state so then it can work for the nation. To walk away from the state is a deadly mistake because of the number of people that live here and because of how key it is to the overall protection of the democracy at large.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, let me ask the flip side of that question. Does it ever frustrate you how nationalized our politics has become, especially as a former mayor where you’re doing real work, filling potholes, and potholes don’t care about partisan politics right? It seems like every issue this days is nationalized though. How does that get in the way of getting things done?

Nan Whaley:

Absolutely. Marty Walsh, who's now the head of labor, always said, I never even knew which mayors were Democrat or Republican. They were mayors. They were the party of mayors. It is a party that is obsessed with getting stuff done. Really, frankly, I've seen this more in the Republican Party, their inability to be able to move and be creative. Their ability to work with Democrats has been really, really frustrating.

I witnessed this on gun safety issues with the governor. After Dayton had a mass shooting that killed nine and injured 27 more in 2019, the governor came to the vigil the next day. The people of Dayton shouted him down, thousands of them, "Do something." He couldn't even finish his speech, something you never see anymore in American politics. He called me the next day, said he intended to do something around gun safety. I'm a mayor. I take him at his word. I like to work across party lines. Stood next to him when he unveiled his STRONG Ohio bill and then watched him do absolutely nothing to move it forward because he's too weak to stand up to the extremists and radicals in his party. Then I watched him go even further against law enforcement, signing bills like permitless concealed carry and the arming of teachers, something law enforcement's even against when we talk about making sure that our communities are safe. What I witnessed there is a bunch of elected officials who will privately tell you that they think their party is crazy, or they think that they disagree with this, but when it's public or when the rubber meets the road, they stick and sit with the extremists and radicals.

I do think it's less so in the Democratic Party, frankly. I always make the point that this is the party from Joe Manchin to AOC. It is a wide party with a lot of ideas. It's one of the reasons why I'm proud to be a Democrat, is because we have a discourse of ideas. Look, I've disagreed with Democrats. Lately, I disagreed with President Obama on the trade deals, about how TPP was no good for Ohio. You don't get any sort of repercussion in the Democratic Party for disagreeing with your party. But we don't have anybody to work with on the Republican side because they are so in lockstep about every single issue being incredibly radical. When they tell you privately they agree with you, but then publicly do something else, you know that democracy is sincerely at risk. What I look for are people in both parties that are profiles in courage to say, "Look, this is what is best for my community. Therefore, I'm going to fight like hell on what's best for my community." We do not see enough of that anymore in our discourse in politics.

Ken Harbaugh:

I want to go back to that community meeting after that horrific shooting in Dayton. You said that the governor was shouted down, but the audience wasn't just drowning him out. They were demanding action. Can you talk about that moment and that refrain that stuck in our heads in Ohio, and then the total failure of the governor to do something?

Nan Whaley:

Yes. Look, I mean, the killing of nine innocent people in 32 seconds and 27 more injured in Dayton was shocking to everyone in our community, especially if you knew someone personally that you had lost. When we had the vigil the next day, on the same street where we had lost our neighbors hours earlier, I think people really came. Thousands of Daytonians came to really hold on to one another and try to make sense of something that's very hard to make sense of. So when the governor got up to speak, this was a completely organic thing, where people just started shouting, "Do something." It was this powerful moment because it was very obvious that this didn't have to happen. I felt the calling from that moment that, look, the people of Dayton are, again, common sense people. It doesn't make any sense that we should live in fear of going to dinner, going to a grocery store, hanging out with friends, going to schools, going to football games, and have to worry about our kids and our family. That is a freedom that is being taken away by extremists from the gun makers.

My point always, Ken, is the positions I've had on gun safety, the majority of NRA members agree with me. Nine out of 10 Ohioans agree with my position. This is an issue of extreme radicals just taking a hold of the governor because he is too concerned about holding onto political power rather than doing what's right. That is so dangerous in our discourse, that we have elected officials that are more concerned about holding onto their power than making sure to make communities more safe. It shows what's wrong and what is broken in our system. I've always said as mayor that you have to be willing to lose the job to do the job. There is no way that you can really govern if you don't make some people upset both on your left flank or your right flank. You have to do what you believe and know is right. Mike DeWine has just showed what a coward he is, particularly on this issue.

Ken Harbaugh:

You have said, and this is close to a direct quote, that you don't think DeWine even believes what he is signing on guns. I mean, the legislation that he has signed is so extreme and so at odds with some of his previous public pronouncements. Going back to your thoughts on profiles in courage, it's as if he's ... I mean, he's scared of his own shadow when it comes to things like this. Do you really believe that he doesn't actually believe in the bills he's signing when it comes to this issue?

Nan Whaley:

I do. I mean, this is a man that, when he was in the Senate, was a vote for the assault weapon ban. This is a man that, when the mayors brought up Stand Your Ground, a bill that makes our communities less safe, particularly for African Americans, he told us it was a terrible bill. So I definitely believe that he is so weak and so consumed with his power that nine people dead in Dayton wasn't worth the political risk for him. We see this over and over again with Mike, whether it's redistricting or gun safety or COVID. He will say one thing privately and do something else publicly because he is so afraid of the extremists and radicals. It's sad.

I mean, I actually have given this a lot of thought, Ken. I think, actually, they're the ones that are most… should be held the most responsible for the breakdown of our democracy because they are appeasing extremism. When we stop the appeasement of extremism and just do the right thing, democracy works. When we become consumed about what is going to happen to me as an elected official, that's when the breakdown happens. This crisis of democracy is squarely on people like Mike DeWine, a man who's been in office since I was 10 months old, and I am 46 years old, and is more concerned about what happens to him rather than what happens to Ohioans.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, he's not just afraid of the extremists in his party. He's not just afraid of losing power. He's afraid of you. Can you share your thoughts or what your campaign team is talking about when it comes to his failure to agree to a debate? I mean, it's only happened one other time in modern history in Ohio. Right?

Nan Whaley:

Well, right. I think it's sad. He won't even be in the same building when I'm in the same building. Anytime he's done a public forum, he's had to have the questions beforehand. We're waiting to see if he'll even do editorial boards. He is clearly afraid to answer the questions on why he deserves another four years. Frankly, I know why, because he doesn't want to answer why he is State Official One in the largest bribery scandal in Ohio history. He is State Official One named in those federal documents, and John Husted is State Official Two, something they lied to the public about months ago and still have not answered. They don't want to answer about why he thinks it's all right for a 10-year-old to carry a pregnancy to term and that he supports that. He doesn't want to answer why he didn't make our communities more safe. He continues to make them less safe because of the extremists and radicals.

I understand politically why he doesn't want to come forward to answer these questions. But again, this is a huge breach of democracy. If you're running for reelection in the state of Ohio for governor, you have a responsibility to stand next to the person that disagrees with you and discuss why your ideas are better. That is the basis of democracy. Look, I won my primary by 32 points. I still debated the guy that primaried me because that's what's key about democracy. This whole hullabaloo about where the polls are, which are all over the map, is a bunch of bull. You either believe in democracy, and you believe in what you're saying, and you're willing to stand up and tell the public that you're asking for their support, or you are completely disrespecting the process and the voters by saying, "I don't even need to go in front of you and tell you why I deserve reelection." That's how weak he is. It just shows how little he thinks about the democratic process.

Ken Harbaugh:

For those who aren't read in, can you contextualize your reference to State Official One? Please remind folks that the FBI has called Ohio the most corrupt State House in the country.

Nan Whaley:

Sure. Right. You're exactly right, Ken. I talk to other leaders in other states, and they disagree with me about Ohio being number one and this auspicious number. Look, I wish it wasn't true. But the FBI has called the Ohio State House the most corrupt in the country. That takes some work. It is about this billion dollar bailout of a fossil fuel company in Akron. They bankrolled Mike DeWine's campaign in 2018, and in return, he gave them everything they wanted, including this bailout and making their top lobbyists the top utility regulator for our public utilities commission. He continued to do whatever they wanted because of their funding of his campaign.

It has been a period of indictments in 2020. Of course, these trials don't happen until after the election, but we do know from documents that the Ohio Consumer Council has that there was State Official One and State Official Two. In the spring, the governor and lieutenant governor were directly asked if they were State Official One and State Official Two. They lied and said no. Then it has been disclosed from the Ohio Consumer Council in these papers that they are indeed State Official One and State Official Two, and still have never answered to that and their role in the first energy scandal.

Look, Ohio has a big issue with corruption. It is because we've had a group of self-interested politicians that have been doing this, like Mike DeWine, for years. As I've mentioned, he's been around quite a long time.

If I were talking to you four years ago, I would talk about the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow scandal, where we had a big donor who lined the pockets of the Republicans at the State House to put what he called these virtual classrooms in place. The only problem was they had no students, and he sucked money out of the public education system. Six years ago, it was the payday lenders. They were big donors, again to the Republicans in the State House. They sucked money out of our local cities, charging exorbitant interest rates and causing foreclosures.

Over and over again in Ohio, it is the same formula. A big donor with a bad idea where we end up paying. On the first energy scandal, we are still paying every single month on our utility bill for this billion dollar bailout to now bail out a coal plant in Indiana, like that makes any sense at all. That's what we're getting with Mike DeWine and his cronies in the State House. We have to have a complete and total overhaul if we're going to be serious about making sure we have a State House that works for working people. I think it's probably going to take a working-class woman from Dayton to get that job done.

Ken Harbaugh:

I think so, too. I think you're going to win, but I want you to get philosophical for a minute when it comes to how you think about political victories, because this fight in Ohio with your race, with Tim Ryan's, with a couple other key races, it seems generational. I wonder if you're thinking about what you're building for the future. Win or lose, what does it mean to build a movement? I've seen your campaign events and movement of young people to fight for their state.

Nan Whaley:

Well, look, I want Ohio to lead this century like it did the last century. I talk a lot about when Mike DeWine first got into office. We were a place that people wanted to move to, a place of opportunity. Our average worker used to make more than the average American. Today we make less. I believe in this state, and I love this state. I'm proud, frankly, to be the first female nominee for governor. I think we're a little late to the game on that, even as a state. What this is about is a state that is common sense. I don't want to live on the coast. I like the Midwest sensibilities. I call it a Goldilocks place, a place that's not too big and not too small, that we're not too fast and not too slow. But we have the dignity of work and the belief that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should get ahead. That has been lost in Ohio with the extremists and people that are lining their pockets. We are trying to build something about common sense politics that protect freedom and protect rights, and a place where you can be proud to be from, and that you want your kids to grow up here, but also stay here. Right now, that is just not the case. That's what this race is about. Are we going to be a place that focuses on the future or a place that focuses on the politics of the past? You can definitely see that generational difference in our race for governor. We have every belief that we will win this election because we trust women and the men who support them. That is what this election is really all about.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, how can we help, Nan? Obviously, if we're in Ohio, we have to vote. How can others help out?

Nan Whaley:

You can check us out at nanwhaley.com. We are on so many social media platforms, Ken, let me say, like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, even BeReal. You can follow me in all of those places. But I also ask people to get out of their bubble. I think one of the most important things about our politics is we do get in echo chambers. I'm asking folks, if you're in Ohio, to think of five people you don't talk politics with because you're worried about how it's going to affect your relationship long term. I know this is a big ask because these relationships are important to you, but they can be so much richer, frankly, if you talk about your values and why you're supporting a candidate. Particularly for women and men that support women and think that this issue around choice is the big deal, talk to folks about what this could mean for their grandchildren, their child, and for themselves. There is no time to waste. We have to start talking not past each other, but to each other. That sometimes requires a coffee or a beer and taking that time to explain to your friend that's in your book club or in your church why this race is important to you. That can make a big difference in this race.

Ken Harbaugh:

Your comment about echo chambers, Nan, draws me to this quote in my show notes here from the combined Ohio editorial boards. I'm going to read it. "As our society becomes an increasingly closed off echo chamber, we need more conversation across political ideologies and more thoughtful debate and discussion, not less. DeWine should debate Whaley. He owes it to Ohio voters."Any last words?

Nan Whaley:

No, I think that's a great way to end. We are fighting for the democracy here. Ken, I appreciate everything you do. You're one of the big echo chamber busters in Ohio. It's great to get to work with you. Thank you for all your great work and your commitment to our country and to our state.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks, Nan. Good luck. We'll keep following.

Nan Whaley:

Thanks Ken.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Nan for joining me.

To learn more about Nan, or support her campaign, visit nanwhaley.com.

You can also follow her on Twitter at @nanwhaley.

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We're always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more follow us on Twitter @team_harbaugh. And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate and review.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss. I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.


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