I grew up in Atlanta, Ohio, a small town in Pickaway County about an hour south of Columbus. Atlanta’s only claim to fame is that the town was once featured on the local news. The year was 1996 and the reporters found it amazing that a small town in Ohio was called Atlanta, just like the location of that year’s Olympic games. I grew up surrounded by farmers and tradespeople working hard to put food on the table.
When I was in the eighth grade at Westfall Middle School, my American History class participated in ‘Mock Congress.’ Mock Congress required eight of the nine American History classes to play the part of United States House of Representatives and the ninth class would play the part of the United States Senate. My class was assigned to be part of the House of Representatives. Each student was allowed to pick the Representative they would play, but the Representative could not be from Ohio.
At the time I was not interested in politics, so my ‘non-political self’ wanted to ensure that I got to be the Representative from the most interesting place. Each state was listed by the state’s abbreviation and the district’s number. My eyes scanned the list and found the most interesting place: Alaska. I scribbled my name beside the Representative. I had successfully found the Representative from the “coolest place” and I informed everyone during our lunch period.
However, I had made a huge mistake. The teacher informed me that I had mixed up the state abbreviations and mistakenly selected a Representative from American Samoa, not Alaska. The real American Samoa Representative could not vote; therefore, I could not vote in our Mock Congress. Instead, I could only participate in the debates.
I was devastated. My decision essentially left me powerless in Mock Congress. Despite my pleading, the teacher would not allow me to change Representatives. But I wanted to fully participate in Mock Congress. She suggested that if American Samoa would become a state in our mock world, then I could vote. My ears perked up. I asked how that could be possible. She suggested that I do research and write a bill for American Samoa statehood. Perhaps, I could persuade the entire Mock Congress, every American History class, to vote and pass the bill.
I spent the rest of the semester researching and drafting a bill. The teacher agreed to suspend some steps of the process, like committee hearings, in order to make my goal possible in our Mock Congress. When I finished drafting the bill, I got the “O.K.” to visit each class period in order to present and argue for the bill.
On the last day of Mock Congress, I visited during each “Congressional Session” to present my bill. After each presentation, the teacher held a vote. Each class passed the bill and helped me make American Samoa a state. Mock Congress concluded after that day and while I never got to vote, I had succeeded in my goal. It was my first taste of government, and I was hooked.
While studying political science, sociology and classical civilizations at Ohio University, I took advantage of the university’s resources to expand my knowledge of government. In the classroom, I was learning from the top scholars in their respective fields. My politics of elections professor, Dr. Burton, once worked for former Vice President Al Gore. Dr. Tadlock, my American Political Science advisor throughout undergraduate and graduate school, was on the forefront of studying and writing about LGBT politics. Dr. Ryu, who taught politics of tax and economics, is featured in national conferences about the subjects he teaches.
Outside the classroom, I was part of the College Democrats, Student Senate, and resident hall council. I participated in my first campaign for Student Senate. It was a losing endeavor, but I used the loss as a learning experience and started to get more involved. I became the Communications Director for The New Political, a startup campus paper. This position provided me with the opportunity to work on public outreach for the newly created news outlet. Thanks to this experience, I became more involved in the University’s community and developed the ability to message, event organize, and mastered the finer details of public outreach.
My experiences with student organizations increased my interest in becoming further involved on campus. So I tried again for an elected position in Student Senate. I ran in three Student Senate elections and lost every time. But these losses did not dampen my passion to serve my fellow students. Despite losing elections, I joined Student Senate through the appointment process to become the Press Secretary. I wrote press releases and communicated with staff reporters from both the campus and local newspapers. Each of these adventures further cemented my desire to spend my time in the field of government and public service.
After completing my undergraduate studies, I enrolled in the Political Science Master’s program at OU. Motivated by my desire for public service and government, I decided to study American politics with a focus on legislative rules of procedure, state and local politics, and elections. The program would improve my writing, expose me to more public policy, and it would help me better understand statistical analysis.
I had a great experience in the classroom while studying for my Masters, but the experiences outside the classroom created wonderful memories and great learning opportunities. Throughout graduate school, I participated in many extracurricular activities. I became President of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honors fraternity, and sat as Chairperson of the board for the Center for Student Legal Services (CSLS). I also spent one year as a Representative in Graduate Student Senate (GSS), and, in my last year of graduate school, I finally won an election for student government and was honored to carry out the role of GSS President. Being President allowed me to promote policies within the university that would improve the daily life of graduate school.
Serving as President of GSS allowed me to help my fellow graduate students in many ways. Also, it allowed me to work on the University’s budget. Ohio University was losing state funding and had to raise tuition on students. It was a painfully eye-opening experience to watch Ohio University’s budget committee vote in favor of a tuition increase. The state of Ohio had been decreasing funding for universities across Ohio since 2010 and now the students would have to bear a larger burden. It was painful to hear the sacrifices that students had to make so they could stay in school. Ironically, some students had to sacrifice their education and work longer hours so they could pay tuition. This experience only made me want to be part of government even more and reverse the trend of defunding public educational institutions. After attaining a Bachelor’s Degree in two different fields of study, a minor, and a Master’s degree, it was time to leave Athens, Ohio.
I was excited to be accepted to Capital University Law School. Attending Capital University Law School was a difficult but rewarding experience. The school work was intense, and the time commitment was at times overwhelming, but I learned about election law from a former chair of the Federal Election Commission, listened to speeches from legal scholars from all over America, and developed an interest in tax law and tax legislation. I participated in the Student Bar Association (SBA) and in Capital University Law School Democrats (CULSD). Despite this challenging schedule I volunteered enough that I graduated with pro bono honors.
While attending law school I worked at the Franklin County Public Defender’s Office in the municipal court section. It was an incredible experience. I worked as a law clerk, providing assistance to the attorneys and helping people through some of their darkest days. There is a misconception about helping defend people against prosecution. People want to assume that anyone charged of a crime is inherently a bad person. But our clients tended to be charged with crimes that stem from issues within society they cannot control. For example, I saw people who were charged with theft because they could not afford baby formula, I saw people charged with solicitation because their drug addiction is too overpowering, and I saw people charged with reoccupancy of a building because they have nowhere to live. This does not make them less responsible for their actions, but it made me acutely aware of the pressures that society places on the clients.
I have since moved on from the Public Defenders office and I passed the Ohio Bar Exam. While attorneys and judges try everyday to make our country a better place to live, I know that only the legislature can change public policy. So I decided to run in 2020 for the Ohio 15th Congressional district as a Democrat.
My experiences have promoted a policy interest in public education, taxes, criminal justice reform, and how we need to improve Ohio’s tech infrastructure. Young people deserve a quality high school education and an affordable secondary education. Ohio’s lack of a 21st century tax law and tech infrastructure is going to negatively affect Ohio’s future.