By Fletcher Word
The Truth Editor
Nancy Larson, the Democratic candidate for Ohio House District 41, is making a second run for the General Assembly, having been defeated by Republican Derek Merrin in 2020 for the District 47 seat.
The Ohio legislature has redrawn districts in the last few years, almost always to the benefit of the Republican Party candidates. However, District 41 may be the exception and provide Larson a better chance to prevail than she might have had with the old map.
Her new district contains part of the old Lisa Sobecki and Michael Sheehy neighborhoods. Both state representatives are not running this time for their seats and the revamped District 41, says Larson, is close to a 50-50 split, with “a slight Democratic majority,” she says. Her opponent, Republican Josh Williams, is a first-time candidate.
Larson, a longtime social worker who moved with her husband to Toledo 32 years ago from Pittsburgh, eventually became involved in lobbying on Capitol Hill for patients seeking an increase in Medicare payments. She also became involved with the League of Women Voters and these peripheral contacts with the political system led her to become directly involved in 2020 when she first ran for office.
“I got involved running two years ago in the district I was living in because the representative [Derek Merrin] was very arrogant and didn’t think he needed to do anything to keep power. I was determined not to have him run un-opposed.”
Merrin’s political views and record also rankled his challenger. “The fact that he co-wrote the six-week abortion ban bill was a driver for me because I’ve been pro-choice since 1973.”
Women’s reproductive rights, in fact, is the first issue Larson raises when she reflects about what has prompted her to run again. It’s a quest to take on the Republican lawmakers in Columbus. Raised Catholic, Larson is fully aware of the religious opposition to abortion rights but “no one has the right to impose their religious belief on others,” she says. “That is disrespectful and unlawful.”
The good news, as the candidate sees it, is that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Woman’s Health Organization, overturning the Roe vs. Wade 1973 case and the Ohio Republican legislative reaction has driven women, particularly Democratic women, to register in far greater numbers than their male counterparts.
“Women are registering at an 11-to-one new voter rate,” says Larson. “Women are fed up with men in the legislature telling them what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
“That’s the mandate – bodily autonomy.”
Larson sees her potential victory as being a “package deal,” a way to chip away at the Republican super-majority, which will enable Democrat Nan Whaley (should she prevail in her gubernatorial contest) to veto such legislation. Larson’s victory, she says, will also serve as “a stop gap to the decay of the democracy.”
The second important issue Larson is ready to tackle is “the health of Lake Erie.” Part of her district includes areas touching the lake – Point Place and Oregon.
“I probably know more about lake water issues than most people,” she says because of her extensive involvement with both Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo and the work those institutions are doing. “I know what needs to be done which is essentially attacking the permitting of animal factory farms and not allowing Ohio to be a dumping ground for them. These farms came here about 10 years ago because other states and countries put legislation in place that made it unattractive for them to do business – now they are using the lake as a toilet – that is unacceptable.
“My role as a social worker is to meet people where they are and let them know what they need to know and to get action flowing from that.
“A lot of people know about this but the concentrated response from the populace needs to be generated.”
Larson adds that the third issue on her list of must-tend-to activities is the matter of the funding of public schools.
“The supermajority [of Republican lawmakers] do not have the will to put money back into schools. They have, through the voucher system, gutted the public-school systems and we have gone from fifth in the nation to 35th in the nation in term of the quality of our K through 12 education.
“There is a bedrock commitment we have as a society to educate our students well and we are failing them.”
Larson feels that the Republicans in Columbus are deliberately gutting the public-school systems so that public schools will fail and the for-profit charter systems can take over the educational process. “That is deeply concerning to me as someone who values education,” she says.
Larson is particularly distressed by the contempt Republicans have shown in recent decades to court decisions. The legislature has consistently ignored the DeRolph vs. State of Ohio decisions that the court handed down ruling that funding by property tax was unconstitutional.
When the court repeatedly ruled that recent redistricting maps were unconstitutional, the legislature, according to Larson, said: “we didn’t listen to you then and nothing happened so we don’t have to listen to you … period.”
“That’s the definition of contempt,” she adds.
It’s a huge challenge for the Democrat, but the urgency of the situation has prompted her to take action.
“In Ohio, we are scaping the bottom of the barrel,” she says. “Everything the Republicans do make us less safe, less healthy and with less quality of life so that they can let their wealthy donors have their way.”