Wittenberg professor of English Cynthia Richards announced her campaign for State Representative on Nov. 21, 2019. Since then, she has made great strides and climbed over mountains to get where she is today.
A state representative’s duty is to make policies and laws at the state level while cooperating with views from the people inhabiting that state. As a Democrat, Richards is running against Republican candidate Kyle Koehler, who has been in the seat for the past six years. The position has not been held by a Democrat in the district since District 79 has been drawn.
In regard to Clark County and Ohio, Richards has goals for improvement in people’s daily lives.
“My biggest goal is to really work to fix our education funding system here in Ohio,” Richards said. “You may know this, but since the late 1990s, the Supreme Court ruled for Ohio that our funding mechanism is unconstitutional, [that] it is not equitable…. And we do not have a solution to that problem. [Our] students are suffering for that reason. But I’m also concerned about healthcare, what can we do at the state level. Our county has one of the lowest health outcomes in the state of Ohio. We need better paying jobs. A lot of people in Springfield are working two or three jobs and still struggling to pay the bills. I would support an increase in our minimum wage. I would support working with local leaders to establish a wage that allows small local businesses to thrive.”
Interestingly, Richards does not call herself a politician, nor have a passion for politics.
“When we think about what the political game is, I have a passion for empowering people and helping them become their best selves,” Richards said. “I love to be a part of that process. My passion has been for teaching. I love my job. I love empowering my students, I love their best selves, their best writing selves [and] their best reading selves.”
She defines herself simply as an “advocate.” Richards is also constantly doing research to gain more knowledge on the issues she cares about, especially since she is a newcomer to politics.
“It’s the first job of a representative to listen and to learn, and to listen and learn from one’s constituents,” Richards said. “When I began this process, I began by meeting with local leaders and learning about what the needs of our community were. Learning about what would help them achieve their goals at the state level, what could a state representative do…. Secondly, you have to build a team. This job is impossible to do by yourself, so you really need a team.”
Her team includes multiple Wittenberg students and staff. Political science professor Staci Rhine is the policy director. Braeden Bowen (’21) takes part with photography, videography, data analytics, political intelligence, and stands as the campaign manager. Anna-Claire Crichton (‘21) is currently the social media director. Samuel Scharff (’20) has been a researcher for Richards. Angela Gialanella (’21) and Caroline Marlow (‘23) assist with fieldwork that includes writing postcards, delivering literature and campaign signs and making phone calls. Amiee Maryama is a part of the advancement team and helping with fundraising. Austin Smith has been Richards’ field director in head of operations.
Dealing with campaign duties can be a struggle, especially in a time of a pandemic. Prior to the rise of cases of COVID-19 and cities engaging in quarantine, Richards took part in canvasing about the community, lots of public appearances, forums, speeches, and fundraising events. She also even ran a 10K and went to rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. But after the pandemic surge hit Springfield, she and her campaign team had to calibrate.
“I love the classroom. I love the dynamics. I love the ways you work collaboratively together to arrive at new insights. I find it absolutely the euphoria of collaborative learning. And that’s hard to reproduce virtually, right? It’s really hard to have those same rhythms…. What we had to do was we shifted into more media presence. We shifted toward those virtual town halls and other events that allowed us to do that. When the summer hit, we were able to embrace outdoor events where we wore masks and socially distanced. And I think those have increased as the summer has gone on… I would say that early on in spring, that was a frustrating place to be because I knew that I needed to fight hard for this community, but I had lost so many of the tools that I had needed for that. But we’ve recovered. We’ve figured out new ways, and we are out and about as much as we can to continue to do that good work,” Richards said.
The stakes have certainly been raised for Richards and her campaign, and she has come to realize that winning is now more important than before because of how drastic things have gotten. Yet, she retains optimism due to her current place in the race.
“I was told that the odds were against me, that it would be like pushing Mount Everest up Mount Everest,” Richards said. “That’s what I was told to be able to win. First, I resolved: I can do that. The second was, I thought, no matter what in this campaign, I’m going to do good. I’m going to use my platform to do good…. Because of many factors, we really have a chance of winning. Now, my odds are more like climbing Mount Rainier… so it’s now it’s a very clear, doable task as the momentum is on our side. Especially if people come out to vote, especially young people.”
Additionally, so many negative emotions surround the campus bubble and seem to sink within and often these emotions are results from the current way the pandemic is being handled. Richards sympathized for her students and her community.
“We needed to trust each other, and we needed to trust our government,” she said. “We have gotten minimum conflicting signals from those who are our leadership. So that has compromised the second thing we needed, which was a sense of community, a shared purpose. We’re going to get through this incredible catastrophe. We have to trust each other and come together. But because of that lack of trust in our leadership and consistent messaging, we then lost our sense of community. And without that sense of community, we will not make it through this.”
On a lighter note, Richards found that working on her campaign and teaching at Wittenberg never seemed to cause issues. They often worked together collaboratively and helped her gain core motivation for her to run for state representative.
“I don’t feel torn in terms of my energy,” she said. “What I’m doing in the classroom is empowering my students to speak, to grow, to learn. I’m informing them about issues. I’m researching, presenting, and framing those issues so that I can educate well. Well, that’s what I’m doing on the campaign trail too…. Who I am as a person in the classroom is exactly the person I am on the campaign trail.”
Lots of students on campus have big goals like Richards, and Richards recognizes this in the Wittenberg student body. She offered advice to those with similar big aspirations to her.
“I never imagined [running for public office],” she said. “But it happened, and what I would do is stay true to your values. Stay true to your purpose. Continue to grow and develop as a human being. When the time is right, the opportunity that you’re looking for will come. And then you just have to have the courage to say yes to your dreams and yes to that new challenge.”
State representative elections will take place on Nov. 3, 2020. If you have not registered to vote, please visit https://ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/site/residents/resources/register-to-vote-or-update-your-registration to register.