By David B. Sparks
During the winter of 2015, after being very involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign by helping to organize efforts here in Montgomery County Ohio with a lot of other wonderful people excited about the chance to move our country into a different direction, I decided to collect the necessary signatures to get onto the ballot to run in the primary election of 2016 as a Democrat in Ohio’s District 43.
I believed, and still do, that in order to have any kind of fighting chance for our country, everyday citizens and not moneyed elites had to start running for office, while refusing the support of the political industrial complex of corporate donors, super pacs and all of the other mess of monetary influence clouding our political system with corruption like a bar full of smokers exhaling simultaneously into a broom closet.
So in that winter of 2015, I began canvassing homes in the very working class and often poverty stricken neighborhoods of Northridge, Ohio. Going out day after day door-to-door to meet with residents, I met up with some of the most genuinely wonderful people in America. I also saw that they were hurting desperately in many ways, almost always tied to the effects of America’s embrace of neoliberal economics decades earlier. This was no surprise though, as I have lived in the Dayton area nearly my whole life and have seen the economic security of the middle class disappear in my lifetime.
I kept on and on through that spring and summer, door after door after door. I was doing it the old fashioned way.
Then came the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, where my honest and heartfelt desire for political change would be rocked to its core by what I witnessed and went through.
Two days before the convention, Wikileaks revealed that the behind the scenes the Democratic National Convention favored one candidate over the other. The resulting firestorm of controversy led to a convention rife with protest and anger. As a Bernie Sanders at-large delegate, I was interviewed by numerous local and national media organizations.
My answer to what was revealed in the Podesta emails was thus:
“What if we found out that the referees in the Ohio State vs. Michigan game had gotten together before the game to decide upon who they were going to help? There would be riots in Columbus.”
I also spoke of the complaints made by numerous Sanders delegates about receiving rude treatment from the Clinton camp, which I witnessed.
Then on the second day of the convention, I received the following voicemail from a member of the Executive Committee of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, which had endorsed my campaign. The thing that upset me the most is that this was a person I have had a good relationship with who supported our campaign,. But in the world of politics, party comes before human relationships. That is sad. I hold no malice towards her, but rather a system that leads to these kinds of calls for self-censorship. She was merely its messenger that day.
I also received a similar warning in a phone conversation the next day for a quote I made while interviewed for this story that ran on WYSO radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
When I received the message, my first response was to be pissed off. I was speaking at the convention as a Sanders delegate, not on behalf of the local and state Democratic parties.
I thought, and still do, “here I am, an honorably discharged U.S. Veteran who signed up to potentially die for your rights to free speech, but now you are threatening mine.”
At the time, I mulled putting out the voicemail, but decided that it wasn’t in the best interest of our campaign to be embroiled in an intra-party squabble. Even though my very campaign was based on making the changes that this tension represented, this would take the attention away from our other campaign messages: an end to the war on drugs, establishing living wages, free college, and universal health care for every Ohioan.
I knew there would be a better day and time to reveal this information to the public. After revelations by Donna Brazile, released recently, showing that allegations of an unfair primary were true, I knew the time was now. People are finally listening to the problems of the systems we have.
Now is a good time to present the local experience and repercussions: The Democratic Party was threatening candidates with the removal of their endorsements if they did not speak positively about what was going on in Philadelphia and within the party.
This is how the system keeps its own in check.
After the convention, I went right back to campaigning, and put my disappointment aside because I believe, and still do, that it’s about we, and not me. In revealing what I am, I am doing so because I have actually been behind the curtains of the political system and I believe this information can help move our understanding forward about how politics actually works from the inside.
But it gets worse.
Some people might say, “Oh, so what? Intraparty pressure and squabbling, what’s new”!
It is more than that. This was more than just the usual ‘family’ spat.
When the duopoly is threatened, it morphs. Let me show you how.
Fred Strahorn is the top Democratic Lawmaker in the Ohio House of Representatives. He serves as the minority caucus leader for the Ohio Democratic Party. As the party leader, he is responsible for overseeing efforts to elect new Democrats as representatives to the Ohio Statehouse.
On every occasion that I have met Leader Strahorn, I found him to be friendly and we got along well. At various Democratic Party meetings during the election, such as a meeting in Trotwood, and the annual dinner of the Huber Heights Democratic Club, Leader Strahorn spoke and encouraged those in attendance to support our campaign, and for that I was thankful.
Three months before the campaign, the Ohio GOP began a smear campaign to make me appear as if I were some sort of sexual pervert. They did so by taking small bits of comedy, music and commentary videos that I had made in years past (I had been involved in and creating music, art, journalism, film and political commentary for years), and attempted to pull off what was perhaps the dirtiest, most dishonest campaign attack in Ohio political history.
In reality their campaign was so absurd and over-the-top that it appeared to non-politicians as if it were some sort of post-modern art show. At best, the campaign succeeded only in making themselves appear foolish and petty. The ads were so inappropriate that I began receiving calls from Republicans apologizing for what their party was doing. Americans are tired of filthy campaigning.
While my art, music and journalism career could certainly yield content of worthy critique, my opponents dishonestly de-contextualized goofy and innocent comedy bits into a campaign of lies, slander and personal destruction that could have easily threatened my personal safety. Everyone who participated in it should be ashamed of their third-grade bully behavior, but they won’t be. We have entered into a world where Mike Judge’s movie Idiocracy seems like a documentary. Ohio’s corporate political elite are bathing in election Brawndo while wondering why they aren’t thriving. Like the crops watered with ‘electrolytes’ in that movie, democracy does not grow when only cash, corruption, and disrespect for the constituency is all that is offered.
They spent untold hundreds of thousands of dollars against a first time candidate for office with no real name recognition outside of the Midwestern art and music scene, I ended up garnering over 40 percent of the vote in the end, including winning Montgomery County. My opponent, despite his win, will merely go down in history as another lying politician who will say and do anything to keep his spot on his knees as a willing servant to the political power class. Nobody with any ounce of integrity can ever look upon him again with any sense of pride or honor that he belongs to the same species as they do.
But that is an extensive matter that will be dealt with more in-depth in a documentary film under production about the election of 2016.
Back to Leader Strahorn.
As I stated earlier, I always got along with Leader Strahorn, so you can imagine my surprise when I received a call from another local politician on the morning of Oct. 9th, 2016 telling me that Fred Strahorn was at his church campaigning with the Republican statehouse delegation. I logged into Facebook that day and sure enough, there was a photograph of Representative Strahorn all smiles with Trotwood Mayor Mary McDonald (who was actively and openly working against Democratic candidates), and Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberg.
This was less than one month prior to the election of 2016.
I am not accusing Leader Strahorn of getting up and telling people not to vote for our campaign, or anything of the like. Nor do I think it had any discernible effect on the election results. I won every precinct in The City of Trotwood. But just to be out with the Republican leadership a month before the campaign – the same people who helped bring us Donald Trump and whose campaign against the candidate of your own party reached levels of shamelessness not seen since Creflo Dollar’s last go-fund me campaign – is inexcusable.
This is what the duopoly does when it is threatened.
When I began looking into the campaign donors of Leader Strahorn, who consistently runs unopposed in his district, it soon became clear to me why he was there on that Sunday – and it was to bring credibility to a cast of characters who suckle at the corporate teat for continued existence and relevance. This was the melding of both parties and corporate interests before our eyes while a populist uprising was emerging in response to the rise of this corporatocracy.
While it is widely understood that Republicans in Ohio are bought and sold by the largest corporate bidders, Leader Strahorn’s universe of support is quite troubling as well. As the representative of one of the most impoverished minority communities in America, Strahorn finds it perfectly acceptable to receive donations from corporate sponsors who have significantly damaged the economic landscape of his own community. Businesses like predatory lending companies Cash America and Check Smart, who each gave to Mr. Strahorn’s campaign during the last cycle are among a laundry list of of the corporate donors courting him. During the 2016 cycle, Cash America donated $500, and Check Smart chipped in with $2500. His donor list is full of money from mega insurance companies, big energy, fossil fuel, telecommunications giants and more.
The problem with this is that the flood of money into the coffers of our political class from giant moneyed interests representing only the richest among us is at the root of all that is wrong in the American democratic process. We now have empirical evidence that issues that are unpopular with the public, but are backed by large corporate interests, are passed at a much higher rate than issues that are wildly popular with the public, but which lack monetary support from large corporate and industry interests.
The local progressive group Miami Valley Progressive Revolution, published a series of what local lawmakers would look like if we dressed them up like NASCAR drivers and put the logos of their corporate donors on their uniforms. Leader Strahorn’s depiction was as follows:
So with all of that now known, and with the revelations earlier this year in the lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee where DNC lawyer Bruce Spivy testified in a court of law on behalf of the DNC that the Democratic Party is in no way obligated to follow the rules of its own charter, and that if they wanted to, they can merely pick the candidates they want in a cigar smoke filled backroom, I cannot in good conscience run for office in 2018 as the Democratic candidate in Ohio District 43.
While I had been planning to do that earlier this year and working towards that end, I have come to the conclusion that doing so in a system that is designed to thwart the will of its voters at the grassroots and circumvent the democratic processes is folly at best. After collecting the experiences of other candidates and spending a year listening to those who would have been my constituents I understand now that participating in change as a candidate would necessitate my becoming entrenched in that system in ways that would make me as culpable as the incumbents we have all tried to work with and then against.
We must be willing to think beyond the barriers that have been set in our hypocrisy they call a democracy, and strive for a new day free of the bonds of this duopoly of the corporate class. To that goal I have decided that the best use of my time is to help other progressive candidates for local office. As one of the founding members of the Dayton Working Families Party, I will use my experience to help us build a political infrastructure of leaders who are no longer interested in establishment politics of the elite.
Thank you very much for your support, friendship, love, and passion.
The struggle continues.