Home Politics One-on-one interview with Senate candidate Ted Strickland

One-on-one interview with Senate candidate Ted Strickland

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Athens residents that attended the Homecoming Parade the morning of Oct. 10 may have noticed a surprise marcher. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland walked with the Ohio University College Democrats to promote his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Strickland visited Athens just two weeks earlier for a campaign event at The Pigskin on Court Street.

The New Political reporter Austin Linfante was able to talk with Strickland after the parade and ask him about his campaign for Senate.

Note: The interview has been edited for clarity.

AL: You actually came to Athens like two weeks ago. Why did you come back so soon?

TS: Well, I love Athens. I love Ohio University. I can tell you that I was in Cincinnati yesterday talking to a father whose son is going to be going to college next year and hasn’t decided which institution he wants to attend, and I said, “Do yourself a favor: visit Ohio University before you make a decision.” I think it’s a wonderful community, it’s a wonderful university and I just love being here. I would consider retiring here, if I ever retire; I’m not sure I’ll ever retire. But it’s just a wonderful community.

AL: When it comes to college affordability, a lot of people are dismayed because even with the best efforts by the state and colleges, tuition seems to be going up by the maximum. What do you think would be the best way to try to alleviate this?

TS:  From my point of view, the state, and in some cases the universities, aren’t exercising the maximum effort to hold down college tuition. I think, unfortunately, some institutions have lost sight of the fact that their primary obligation is to the student, and I think it’s really unfortunate that the state of Ohio [and] the federal government has diminished their funding for higher education. I think sometimes the universities can do a better job on focusing on efforts to hold down tuition rather than squeezing as much as they can squeeze out of the student and parents.

I would like to see us commit ourselves to making sure that no student would ever be deprived of the ability to get a college education because of lack of financial resources, and I think that’s possible.

In the short term, I think we ought to expand health grants. I think we ought to hold onto the federal student loan program, which by the way, Sen. [Rob] Portman, the guy I’m running against, when he was [President George W. Bush’s] budget director, tried to eliminate. Now, he says he’s for it. But I think he says he’s for it because I’m running against him. I think we ought to absolutely make it possible for a student to only pay a reasonable portion of their incomes when they pay back these loans. I think we ought to make it possible for students to refinance their loans, get a lower interest rate. Here again, something else Sen. Portman voted against. I think we ought to make it possible for students who go into particular jobs that are public benefit to have the ability as a result of that to have their loans diminished or eliminated over time. I think we need to be focusing more attention on the student that comes from a lower-middle class family, where their income is such that they don’t qualify for certain kinds of subsidies or grants, but their incomes are such that they can’t afford to pay for the high tuition. So I think it’s that family that’s caught in the middle area that’s in need of some help and attention.

But the bottom line is that we’ve got to make a decision as a nation and as a state as to whether or not we value higher education. And if we do, then we ought to make sure that’s of high quality and it’s affordable without students being saddled with a lifetime of debt.

Let me give you a statistic: in Ohio, 70 percent of graduating seniors leave the universities with an average debt of $30k. And that’s intolerable, unacceptable.

AL: Switching topics, sexual assault is becoming an increasingly big issue on campuses, this one especially. We’ve so far had 10 sexual offenses recorded (since the start of the semester.) And I know (New York Sen. Kirsten) Gillibrand is making more of a push towards Title IX, and there’s been some Title IX offenses at Ohio public (universities). What do you think can be done on the federal level as far as making sure schools are more transparent sexual assault policies?

TS: Before I started running for the Senate, I worked for a think tank in Washington, the Center for American Progress, and we worked very closely with the White House on this issue. And we came up with certain recommendations. Number one: we think – I think – that school and universities should do annual surveys as to (the) sexual assaults that occur, and that information should be made public so that students and parents as they contemplate where they want their young person to go to college … so they can compare how different institutions and different campuses are dealing with this problem. Full information, full disclosure, complete transparency is essential.

It’s also essential to have programs in place for those that are the survivors of sexual assault to make sure that they are adequately and fully supported. They need to have no fear or concern about coming forth and telling their stories and exposing those that violate them in these ways.

Also, I think there needs to be uniformity in the way sexual assaults are investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted. There should be no distinction regarding who commits that assault in terms of what program they’re in and whether or not they play in a sports program. All of the accusations of sexual assault need to be thoroughly investigated, and the perpetrators need to be held accountable.

AL: Now, you come from a rural background, coming from … Scioto County. So you have a unique perspective when it comes to rural poverty. As a senator, how would you try to address what is often an ignored part of America?

TS: I come from Appalachia, as you say. I come from a family where we, for a period of time, actually lived in a chicken coop when our house burned down. I went barefoot most summers because, often times, that saved our shoes. And I never forgot where I came from.

I was visiting my home county last weekend, and I was talking to one of my relatives that works in the high school cafeteria where I went to high school. And she told me that there was a number of students that, for one reason or another, had been unable to pay their bill for their lunches and that they were being deprived of their ability to eat the same meal that the other kids could eat. So they were given a brown bag with a peanut butter sandwich in it and some milk and some carrots. And I find that heartbreaking.

As I’ve said, I never forgot where I came from. I never forgot that those kinds of circumstances exist and that there are people in poor, rural areas as well as massive numbers in large, urban areas that are living in poverty that is preventing them from having food, adequate clothing and an education. It’s also true in these areas that the funding for education tends to be less than education funding in other schools. I hate this whole “pay to play” system that is involved in so many schools that for a young person, if they want to participate in school sports, they are expected to pay so much that so many of these kids from low-income families just simply can’t participate. That’s wrong and shameful.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m painfully aware of the problem. When I was in the Congress, I worked on it, trying to do what I could to alleviate, to get the resources into my congressional district. When I was governor, I never forgot the fact that the people that needed me as a governor the most were the people who were most in need. So, when times were tough, I tried to make sure that we didn’t cut back on programs that were designed to help the poorest. I also say very frankly in my speeches that I give in the Senate race that we’ve got an obligation here for the neediest among us. That’s part of the democratic value system, it’s part of what I believe. But I also believe that in order to help the poorest among us, we’ve got to have a growing, thriving, healthy middle class. And the middle class is also suffering as the wealth disparity between the richest one percent and everybody else expands. And the middle class is under pressure, and sometimes, it’s hard for those that are in the middle class to contribute as they should to help the neediest among us because they’re fighting so hard to meet their own obligations.

So, it’s a big problem. We need an economy that’s available to everybody, and we need educational opportunities available to everybody. I mean, it’s what I believe as a human being, it’s certainly what I believe as a Democrat. And if I’m in the Senate, I’ll never forget my obligation to care for those people who live in those circumstances.

AL: One last question: what is your favorite sandwich?

TS: No question, there’s nothing that comes close to the Big Boy sandwich. You ever have a Frisch’s Big Boy sandwich? I stopped and got one last night we were leaving Cincinnati. I said, “Ooh, there’s a Frisch’s. Let’s stop and get a Big Boy sandwich.” If you haven’t had one, you ought to try it, man.

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