Eric LaMont Gregory treated women and premature babies in Rwanda, before and after genocide defiled the state. Donna Glisman ran a hotel and restaurant and organized a fashion show for 3 and 4-year-olds on Put-in-Bay. Rusty Bliss flies airplanes. David Dodt worked at General Motors for nearly 36 years. Dr. Michael Pryce treats foot pain and Scott Rupert drives trucks.
Despite their various backgrounds, these six people have a few things in common. They want to become Ohio’s next U.S. Senator, they are conservative — Rupert is an independent leaning right — and most of them disdain politicians who have held office for much of their adult lives.
The Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition and The Children of Liberty hosted a forum for the U.S. Senate primary Feb. 16 at the Maumee Indoor Theatre. Candidate and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has outpaced all of them in campaign funding and endorsements, did not attend.
The overarching theme was to rail against Mandel’s experience by referring to him as a “kid” and labeling him a “career politician.”
From left, Rusty Bliss, David Dodt, Donna Glisman, moderator Michael S. Miller, Eric Lamont Gregory, Derek Merrin and Michael Pryce.
“Choosing Josh would be throwing Josh to the wolves,” Glisman said. “Mandel’s been married for four years and has zero kids. He can’t relate to families with children.”
General distrust of both the federal government and the Democrats in office was a pervasive point as well. After referring to Middle Easterners as “turban heads,” Dodt staged an impression of President Barack Obama. He told his audience to use their imaginations because Obama has more hair and “his ears stick out more.”
“Who the hell do you think you are that you can earn more than $250,000 without my permission and I haven’t given it,” Dodt shouted. “You will have the house I will tell you to, buy the cars I tell you to drive, you’ll eat the food I tell you to eat and you’ll send your kids to school and they’re learn exactly what I tell them to learn.”
The crowd applauded.
Mandel sent a representative, former Waterville Mayor Derek Merrin, to speak on his behalf. Some of the candidates rolled their eyes as he spoke; Bliss text messaged on his cellphone. Merrin told the crowd that Mandel was unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts. The treasurer, who has trailed Sen. Sherrod Brown in polls, also backed out of the City Club of Cleveland forum, which prompted Democratic party news releases to title Mandel’s bid for Senate the “quiet campaign.”
The treasurer is also under fire from Democrats for not attending a single State Board of Deposit meeting. The board determines which banks hold State money. The Associated Press reported that Mandel skipped January’s meeting for a $500-a-plate fundraiser in Washington, D.C. for his
campaign. The Democratic Party sent Mandel a formal invitation to the latest meeting, designed to look like a fundraiser invitation, said Justin Barasky, spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party. Mandel did not schedule a telephone interview with Toledo Free Press before press time.
Mandel started his political career with the Lyndhurst City Council in 2003 and was elected to represent the 17th District in the Ohio House in 2006. In the legislature, Mandel advocated for school choice, free market principles and “family values,” according to his campaign website.
Mandel’s Republican critics share some of his core beliefs. Bliss, Dodt and Glisman particularly stressed their opposition to abortion during their speeches. Bliss considers himself a father of four although you’ll only see three children in his family portraits. He and his wife lost their daughter days before the due date.
“It’s not about the woman’s rights, it’s about the baby’s rights,” he said.
Health care is a major sticking point for Pryce, who has an orthopedic surgery practice in Kent. The doctor received a patent for a footwear device that compensates for problems stemming from flat feet. He decided to run for office when he was inundated with emails after “Fox & Friends” interviewed him regarding a book he wrote about the health care system in 2008. In his book, “Anathema! America’s War on Medicine,” he suggested eliminating the Medicare system in exchange for his own formula, which he says would cover all Americans at one-fifth the cost of the country’s present health care system.
Neither Pryce nor Gregory mentioned the topic of abortion in their speeches. When asked by the audience, Pryce said that in medical school he was taught to see a pregnant woman as two patients: the woman and the fetus. Pryce said his expertise in health care helps him stand out among the other candidates.
“As a physician, I’ve seen the beginning and the end of the American life through my patients,” Pryce said. “And I stayed home — Gregory hasn’t had the opportunity to interact with Medicaid and Medicare.”
Gregory, too, has treated suffering but in much different circumstances. The doctor was a consultant to the Maternal and Newborn Care Unit of the World Health Organization for years. His expertise took him to Guatemala in the midst of army-led death squads, to Kenya when tribal uprisings rattled the north and to Rwanda just weeks after the genocide hit a bloody halt.
As a result, he is a firm believer in analyzing the costs of intervention in world conflicts in light of the costs of the aftermath.
“I was overseas but I was still on the planet Earth,” Gregory said. Gregory is credited with solving a number of medical conundrums. He researched how to reduce neonatal death in developing countries and he developed a better method than the standard treatment to keep blood flowing in premature babies. He has had to negotiate with rebel leaders to get through war zones in order to treat women and babies. And he invented a type of thermometer that charts temperature in color coding for people in developing countries who are unable to read numbers, he said.
“What happens to you after that is that everybody with a major problem comes to you regardless of what that problem is in, because you have solved a problem that most people said had no solution,” he said.
Sen. Sherrod Brown
Brown has yet to begin campaign mode, as he is running unopposed in the primary, Barasky said. Brown garnered 56 percent of the vote against Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in 2006 during his last bid for the U.S. Senate seat. The staunch public outcry and repeal of Senate Bill 5, which would have restricted collective bargaining rights, swung momentum away from the Republicans in Ohio, Barasky said. The fact that Mandel supported Senate Bill 5 highlights a key difference between him and Brown, who was outspoken against the bill.
“What [the Republicans’] real concern should be is that their party is going to nominate someone who does not stand up for Ohio’s middle class,” Barasky said.
Brown’s record and philosophies are the opposite of many of the candidates who took the stage at the Maumee Indoor Theatre on Feb. 16. He has advocated for women’s rights through the right to abortion, he supports Obama’s health care reform and he has voted in favor of some gun control. Every candidate who spoke at the forum expressed fear that the Second Amendment is under attack.
“Ohio has relatively loose gun laws,” Barasky said. “At a right wing party [forum], of course everyone’s going to say [the government] is going to creep into their homes and take their guns.”
The forum closed with a charged speech from Rupert, the independent candidate. That’s independent with a “little i” — he insisted — because he does not want to be part of any label. Rupert is a truck driver and does not have a high school diploma. He said he is not the best America has to offer but that he wants to “step up to the plate.”
His speech, in which he shared thoughts on party politics and the power of civilian voice, was met by resounding applause. He had mastered the art of public speaking by the end of it, locking eyes with numerous audience members and invoking dynamic tone variations as he spoke. Several people in the crowd whispered “wow” and “oh my gosh.”
“I know that Americans are not as far apart as the loud voices say they are,” Rupert said. “We the people have surrendered our government to fear.”
He has operated on less than $2,000 in campaign money and is motivated by a sense that both parties have become too similar in terms of campaign contribution and lobbying interests. His independent status, however, is often seen as “stealing votes” from the major parties, he said.
“People come to me and say ‘Thank you very much for what you’re doing, what you’re doing needs to be done but stop doing it’,” he said. “But too often [candidates] say ‘Vote for me so that guy won’t break something.’ They don’t say, ‘Vote for me and I’ll fix something.’”
Tags: David Dodt, Derek Merrin, Donna Glisman, Eric LaMont Gregory, Josh Mandel, Michael Pryce, Rusty Bliss, Scott Rupert, Sherrod Brown, The Children of Liberty, The Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition