Politics

Former OU student’s bid for county commissioner could make history

File photo by Austin Linfante
Written by Heather Willard

 Ohio University’s political science and history programs have always moved hand-in-hand, teaching students about the past and how to shape the future. Aaron Reining was a student of these renowned programs until the end of the 2015 fall semester when he started acting on his dreams.

Reining is running for Holmes County Commissioner and, if elected, will become the youngest county commissioner in American history at 21 years old.  In addition to this undertaking, he also had an opportunity to join Ohio Gov. John Kasich on the campaign trail in New Hampshire as he campaigns to be the Republican’s nominee for president.

I had the opportunity to talk to him by phone this week, and he spoke on his experiences and current goals.

How did you become interested in politics?

I’ve been interested since probably middle school because at that point I was still a Democrat. I mean, I was really young. I was probably 13 or so when I first started watching, and I watched films and documentaries; that’s when I really became interested in politics. Obama’s run when I was in middle school, and films.

How did you go from college student to county commissioner candidate?

One of my buddies, Aaron Dauterman, ran for Athens city council as a Republican.  He offered to manage my campaign if I were to run for commissioner in Athens, but I thought, “Why would I want to run for commissioner in Athens? That doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t really know these people and I probably won’t get elected, so it would be time wasted.” But I was actually interested in running because I think there’s a lot to be done. Why don’t I run back home? It would mean more to me and everything I can do, I really care about and understand.

What is your platform?

There are three major points. I want to get control of the budget and make sure that we don’t tax people too much because we have a bunch of surplus. We need to be fiscally responsible because if government is taking more money, it’s not gaining interest, and that means people are losing dollars from their pocket best spent at the store getting groceries for the weekend. Restraining the budget is what is essentially needed.

Second, maintaining our infrastructure, maintaining our roads. In Holmes, we have one of the largest school districts as far as miles driven per day by buses… This year has been pretty decent for the buses, but I believe back in 2010, we had the most miles traveled in one day by any school district in the country.  A lot of these buses pick up kids on the back roads, which if you’re lucky is paved, but dirt if not, and the conditions can get really bad.  And we need to make sure we take care of that. With the amount of money we have, it makes no sense not to.

Lastly, taking care of the county home. It’s a nursing home in the county that is a place where you go if you have nowhere else to go, no one else to take care of you. Holmes County has one of the lowest unemployment ratings in the state of Ohio … And the county should give back whenever it can and however it can. I want to make sure that that is well funded, and they deserve the best for everything they’ve done to help make Holmes County a better place; they deserve comfort in the last decade of their life.

How does this differ from your opponent?

It seems to me, and many others, that there is a bit of favoritism towards the eastern half of the county by my opponent (Joe Miller), and I don’t think that’s right. I have ties to both the east and the west.  My grandma lives in Walnut Creek. To build Holmes, we first need to unite Holmes. This seeming divide in the county needs to be gotten rid of. And Joe doesn’t have very favorable rhetoric towards the county home, and I don’t agree with that whatsoever.

How did your time on the campaign trail with Kasich come about?

My campaign director, Aaron Dauterman, interned for the Ohio Republican party, and he extended an invitation to me and I was contacted by Kasich’s office to go with them… There’s something about the folks in New Hampshire. We watched the Pacers game up there, and it seemed like every ad was political. They’re on sensory overload with politics, and yet when you knock on their door, most of them want to hear what you have to say. You have a few who slam the door in your face, mostly because they’re not interested in your candidate. But most understand New Hampshire plays an important role in the national election and there are volunteers from all over the country that come to support their candidate. They value New Hampshirites in the decision making and they understand that and they listen.

What did you learn by your time there?

That polls are inconclusive, absolutely… You have some people who are leaning towards a candidate, but no one is actually ready to say. You have a minority of people decided on a candidate, usually because they’re ignorant of the facts, or they did prior research before the election went off and have nailed down the person they support. You learn that that’s the minority of people, myself included. I mean, I’ve been for Rand Paul for a long time because he’s just proven. But the cases like that are far and few between the polls mean nothing.

How do you apply that to your campaign?

What you learn is everyone is always on the fence, and you need to show them what kind of candidate you are, what kind of race you’re running. Most people are open to other sides. In a larger campaign, they can’t go door to door, but for Holmes County Commissioner, there’s no excuse not to, especially with my youth and energy. I’m going to be 21 here in July, and my opponent is in his 70s. I think there is a stark difference. The energy that is shown on my behalf means I can be anywhere. Last night I was at a city council meeting and I spoke for a quite a bit of time on the new fire levy that was being passed, and I wanted to make sure that should I vote for it, no money that is given to this new fire levy would be thrown around or appropriated for other uses, should there ever be a surplus. If you’re raising taxes for whatever issue, I don’t think that money should be used on something else, it should be used for the purpose it was raised for. And I was happy to hear that if it was pledged, it wouldn’t be illegitimately used. I don’t see Joe Miller at any of those meetings. You know it’s kind of sad.

How did OU help prepare you for campaigning – or did it not?

I would say it did, actually. If I’m in a classroom at OU and I’m one of maybe two conservatives in a classroom of 200 or so liberals, you have to work on your talking points, you get to hear other perspectives and you learn to work in a potentially bipartisan community.  Work where there is a split in opinion. I was never coddled; no one ever said, “Oh, that’s a good idea” and no one said, “That’s not a half bad idea”; no, they challenge you.  And when they challenge you, not only does it make you more confident in what you have to say, but it also makes you think and question, in a way, your opponent who is sitting next to you that has a differing opinion, gives you a way to challenge you. You think, well, maybe I could come up with a better way next time, or maybe I have to think outside the box, or maybe we’re both wrong on the issue.  Maybe there’s a third way and we’ll unite in opinion on something.  It basically shows that there’s not always a black and white in political discussion, and there’s a middle ground you can reach and agree upon.

What if you do not win?

I just got a job at the commercial savings bank, partly to round out my own fiscal responsibility and work on my own booking and records and make up some money that I used on this campaign. But I would re-enroll at OU and continue taking classes. Should I win, I would not return and I would probably take online classes whenever I can, and I would fulfill my four-year term as county commissioner the best I can without too many side projects because the country does come first, and that’s the bottom of it. I don’t want to waste their time and I want to always be readily available for anyone who may need me and anyone who may need my help. I just want to be able to make myself available.

About the author

Heather Willard

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