Home Election 2020 Daniel Kilgore could become the first openly gay Ohio congressman

Daniel Kilgore could become the first openly gay Ohio congressman

41 min read
Daniel Kilgore. Photo courtesy Daniel Kilgore.

Daniel Kilgore, a 27-year-old Democrat who volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, is running to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Stivers for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District. If elected, Kilgore would become the first openly gay member of Ohio’s congressional delegation.

He will face off against Ohio University alumnus Joel Newby — who previously served as Ohio U’s Graduate Student Senate president — in the state’s Democratic primary, which is scheduled for March 17.

Kilgore is a resident of Whitehall, a city along the east side of Columbus. However, Whitehall is not part of Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.

Unlike Stivers, Kilgore has no prior experience serving in a political office. In fact, he’s running for Congress while still working his day job at a call center. He believes he can appeal to voters, much like former President Franklin D. Roosevelt did, because he said he understands what it’s like to go through tough times.

In an exclusive interview with The New Political, the candidate recounted the tragic death of his grandmother who urged him to run for office and explained his platform as a progressive who hopes to help pass “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All” bills if elected.

Q: What inspired you to run in this particular election and in this particular year?

A: It all started in 2016 — when I was a volunteer with the Clinton campaign — and I got more and more involved with how things would work. Then, of course, we all know how it turned out, which was quite devastating because you put in all that work, listen to all those voters, and try to pass on their concerns to people higher up in the campaign, and to see that we end up losing the election — that hurt.

I pondered the idea in 2018, which my grandmother was kind of mad I didn’t do it in 2018. It was two weeks before the filing deadline, and I was like “there’s no way I’m gonna make this happen.” So I put things on the backburner, still volunteered with the pride parade … (running) was something I kept in the back of my mind.

We got closer to the 2018 election, (and) me and my grandmother were talking about politics again. She kept telling me how things are just bad. She said: “The next election, you need to run.” I said if I do run, I want to be like Franklin Roosevelt and follow his model that he had. Because if it wasn’t for Franklin Roosevelt I don’t think the programs that my grandparents depended on would’ve existed.

I said OK, the next election cycle, I will run. It was about four hours after that phone call, she ended up having a massive stroke and passed away two weeks later. 

I know if I didn’t do it, she’d still be screaming at me saying you have to because that was one thing she always hammered home when we were talking about politics. She said, ‘you understand how things work.’

Q: You mentioned that the three biggest aspects of your campaign are jobs, poverty and climate change. Could you give a broader description of what your campaign will focus on, and what you will run on to win over voters in the district?

A: When it comes to jobs, the district has an unemployment rate of 8.2%. That is double the state’s unemployment rate, and pretty close to triple the national unemployment rate. Stivers is always bragging about how entrepreneurship is on the rise, yet more and more jobs keep leaving the area.

(Fact check: Ohio’s 15th Congressional District has a 3.6% unemployment rate as of 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau)

If we can get the Appalachian mountain area coal miners that are no longer working because the coal mines are shut down, we can get them into a retraining program and teach them a new trait, like solar panels, windmills, hydroelectric power, or even construction and helping build new roads and bridges. Those types of things are desperately needed in places like Hocking County, where they need infrastructure big time.

Now in regards to climate change, we need to get back into the Paris Agreement. We also need to pass the Green New Deal and get aggressive about fixing our climate problem. The more fossil fuels that we burn, that’s putting more CO2 in the atmosphere that’s trapping heat. Things are going to continue to get worse. And a good example of that is, it’s the middle of January, and it’s been 75 degrees in Ohio. We normally have six to seven inches of snow at this point or at least had a blizzard. We haven’t seen that. We’re lucky if we’re just getting a dusting of snow. That’s not normal. And things are just gonna get a lot worse.

And it’s also affecting the farmers. Because it’s raining when it’s normally not raining all that much so they can’t plant their crops. Or it’s been so hot that a lot of their crops are just dying before they can even be harvested and make any money. …

Again, this district has a vast array of issues. Poverty seems to be the one issue that everyone keeps talking to me about. The district as a whole has a poverty rate of about 11.8%, but you have four counties with some of the highest poverty rates in the state. The only way we can fix the poverty issue is giving people a living wage, bringing more jobs into the area — not just manufacturing jobs, but clean energy and renewable energy jobs — training the people who lost their jobs into a new line of work, and giving companies an incentive to stay in the area. 

(Fact check: As of 2018, 12% of all people in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District are below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

One thing that could be very beneficial to the state and to the country is if Ohio got a public rail system, like Chicago or New York City. 

Q: What makes you stand apart from Stivers, as well as your primary opponent, Newby? 

A: One, with me being 27-years-old, I’m the youngest person running for a federal office. Two, I’m openly gay, so that puts me at odds with both of them. 

But also, the fact that I understand where people are coming from when it comes to struggling. People are working hard, and they’re still barely getting by. That’s been almost my entire adult life. I’ve worked two jobs, was barely making ends meet, and even now with the jobs I currently have, I’m still barely getting by. And I’m being crushed under student loans, I still have rent I’ve got to pay for, and I could lose my job at any moment, simply because of the way the economy is, and the way businesses keep changing things. 

When I first started at my job, you got a monthly bonus based on performance, and you got a Christmas bonus. Since the new (President Donald Trump) tax bill, they’ve gotten rid of the monthly bonuses, and they’ve gotten rid of the Christmas bonuses. And they’ve opened four call centers overseas and laid off 1,100 people. 

There’s a lot of people that go to work not knowing if they’re going to have a job when they leave work. Even in factories, because of automation. 

I think that’s what sets me apart. I’m much more of an average person. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a career politician. I’m running for Congress while working a regular job. 

When you’re looking at everything and find out Stivers is worth $1.5 million, and he pays a lower tax rate than I do, someone who makes $38,000. 

Newby is an attorney. I’m not. I answer calls at a credit card company, I help people pay their bills while I struggle to pay my bills. I think that’s what sets me apart from both of them. 

Q: Are there any policies or opinions of Rep. Stivers that you disagree with and plan to focus on while running? 

A: When it comes to Stivers, I’ve been trying to hold his feet to the fire on certain issues that he hasn’t been addressing, or things he’s been bragging about that are so good, when (they are) actually not. 

When it comes to Newby, I don’t want to attack any fellow Democrat, but there are some things I disagree with. 

There’s a lot of stuff that Stivers has not done. A lot of money that comes into the district is going to the city of Columbus and not going to the rest. He voted against the bill that would have given disability benefits to Vietnam veterans affected by agent orange. He’s a veteran himself, but he voted against the veteran’s bill.

(Fact check: Rep. Stivers voted for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, according to The Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. The law allows Vietnam veterans who believe they have an illness related to agent orange to apply for disability compensation, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.)

We have children being kicked off of CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) that desperately need that insurance to be able to ease the burden on their parents so they can get medical care. And he’s letting it expire. He’s OK with kicking 700,000 families off of food stamps to OK funding for Space Force. These are all things he’s gone along with.

His constituents, they keep asking why he’s doing what he’s doing, and not helping protect their healthcare, or their medicare, or their social security benefits. He’s just ignoring them. So I’ve been trying to hammer him on that, and trying to provide what I think might be good solutions to try and help people.

That’s why I support Medicare for All. I went through my personal healthcare costs through my work vs. how much I would pay if I went to the doctor twice a year, after I paid all my insurance costs in covering my deductible and copays. Under Medicare for All, I would be saving about $2,400 a year. 

So, there’s many things that I’ve been trying to get out there, and let people know “I am with you, I understand you, I hear you.” Because I’ve gone through the exact same things. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had to sleep in my car. I’ve had to sleep on people’s couches. Imagine sleeping on someone’s couch while working two jobs. You shouldn’t have to do that in America. 

Q: How do you plan on appealing to college students within the 15th district? 

A: I went to film school, and I wanted to be a director. And I basically ran out of financial aid money. They told me if I wanted to finish school, I had to pay $10,000 within a month and a half window. I’m like, “how in the world can I come up with $10,000 in six weeks? There’s no way.” 

I know there’s a lot of students who want to finish their degree, but they had to stop because they could no longer afford going to school. I talked to one student who wanted a tuition-free option. And, I do believe that is a good idea, tuition-free public colleges and universities, and also a trade school program with more options. 

When my mother was going to college — back in the ‘80s — you were looking at a semester being about $1,700. As for 2010, her son’s going to college, and it’s now almost $18,000 a semester. 

I understand where a lot of students are coming from because I’ve been there. Especially when you’re trapped on campus during spring break and nothing is open. 

Q: You said you did not graduate from college. Do you think that’s a disadvantage?  

A: I know that people are going to try to throw the fact that I didn’t complete college at me. But, there’s a lot of people in this country who couldn’t complete college because they ran out of money. But, there’s a lot of people that didn’t even complete high school, yet they were able to go on and have a successful life.

Bill Gates dropped out of college … Zuckerberg dropped out of college and he’s one of the richest people on Earth. This thought that you can’t get anywhere in life without a college degree is simply not true.

If you look back through our history, a lot of our elected officials were farmers. President Abraham Lincoln didn’t go to school, he was self-taught, and he still became president. I know in modern times, there are more lawyers or professors that become politicians. It’s not an advantage to them, but they might understand the lingo a little bit better. 

But in order to have a true government for the people, by the people, you need to have people that are able to represent the majority of the people. 

Q: You could potentially become the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Ohio. What does that mean to you, and what could that mean to the state’s residents? 

A: I’m not in this for myself. It would show a victory for Ohio because Ohio has a weird history when it comes to gay rights. The major metropolitan areas — they have pride. The rest of the state kind of has no idea what it is, and also the city of Columbus has gay inclusion laws, but the overall state constitution states you can be denied housing and medical care, or be fired from your job for being gay or trans.

(Fact check: The Ohio Constitution does not explicitly state one can be denied housing or medical care on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The document, however, does not provide protections for housing, employment and medical care discrimination on those baseis. But many local municipalities in the state legally protect those classes from discrimination.)

By showing we’re able to elect an openly gay member to the United States Congress from a state that has laws like that, I think that would be a huge victory and shows that equality does exist and people don’t care if your gay, straight, trans, bisexual or everything in between. They care about how you’re gonna help them.

Q: What is your opinion on gun control? 

A: It has to be done. Just the whole notion that a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun, it doesn’t always work. 

I fully support the Second Amendment, but I support it in the way that James Madison and Alexander Hamilton defined the Second Amendment. Under the Federalist Papers — I believe it’s Essay 45 — they described it as a well-regulated militia, which the United States did not have a standing army at the time. Similar to the National Guard that we have now. That seems to be the way they envisioned the Second Amendment to work. It didn’t mean that you could own every weapon under the sun. Even in the ‘90s, we had a ban on military-style weapons. When that expired, we saw a skyrocket in the use of AR-15’s and machine gun-type weapons. 

So, we need to get back to not having those military-grade weapons being used. Now, I’m not saying we’re going to have people come and take people’s guns away because that would be absurd. But we must prevent the future sale of those types of weapons and close the gun show loopholes and also the high magazines. 

Q: In the state of Ohio, over the past year or so, there have been several controversial bills introduced in the state legislature regarding abortion. And in many elections, abortion is a prominent issue. What is your opinion on the matter? 

A: One, I’m not a woman. Two, I’m not a doctor. 

I view myself as pro-choice. I’m not saying someone can go out and have an abortion for the hell of it. I don’t believe there should be an all out ban on it either. Men should not be making medical decisions for women in any situation. 

But, I do understand that there will come a time when a woman has to sit down and have that discussion. They should be able to consult their doctor, priest, rabbi, whoever their religious adviser is, and their family before they make that choice. There will be times when that option is thrown on the table to save the woman’s life, and that choice has to be made. 

Q: What would your policies be on immigration and citizenship, and what is your opinion on DACA?

A: I do believe there has to be a pathway for citizenship. For the past two centuries, the United States has been a beacon to the world of equality, freedom and symbolism. The migrants that have been coming here through our southern border, they’re coming here for those things. They’re fleeing dangerous situations. 

The policies of input so far have led to children dying in custody, which is horrible. So, there should be a pathway to citizenship. I do believe our asylum laws should be easier for people to navigate through the system. Right now, the system has become so burdened. They can’t process all the requests. But also, so many changes have happened to the system that the people going through it are confused by it. 

Now when it comes to DACA, we’re talking about kids that were infants or toddlers when they were brought to America. They had no idea they were breaking the law. These are infants. How do you blame an infant with a crime when they don’t even know what “mother” and “father” are yet. 

I do support DACA, because it is a safety net for these kids that have only known the United States as their home. It’s the only place that they know. 

Q: Trump’s foreign policy is viewed by some as controversial and polarizing, especially regarding the recent killing of the high ranking Iranian military general Qasem Soleimani. In Congress, what would your approach to foreign policy be? 

A: I’ve had to sit down and wonder, if I did make it to Congress, if I would have to in my first year of serving possibly having to vote for war. That’s something I’m extremely worried about. 

My half-brothers are veterans, my uncle’s a veteran, my grandfather was a veteran. I would have to sit there and think, would I be sending my family member into war? I don’t want to be the person that says OK, let’s go to war, then I get the phone call that one of them was killed in action. That’s on my conscience. 

Any act of war has to go through Congress. Congress has to give the authorization. 

When it comes to overall foreign policy, the U.S. shouldn’t be the policeman of the world, but we should at least be the gentle guiding hand when it comes to events that are happening. We see tensions are starting to boil, we should come in as the mediator, bring the people to the negotiating table and talk it out. Don’t settle it by firing rockets — that’s the way I view our place in the world. 

Q: Polarization has become a huge problem in this country, among both voters and members of Congress. What would you do to try and de-escalate polarization within the district, and how will you try and appeal to all voters? 

A: I’m just gonna be myself (and) treat everybody with respect. When I was going out to collect signatures to get on the ballot, I had a group of Republicans that went with me, simply because they liked me for being myself. We talked about the things we disagreed on, but we all had a common thing that we wanted to see done. We wanted to see something done about climate change. We wanted to see something done about healthcare. They were still willing to talk to me and understand where I was coming from. 

I might have some ideas or suggestions on how to fix the problem, but I’m gonna listen to anybody and everybody on how to fix the problem, regardless of what party they’re in. 

If I just listen to all Democrats, I’m not going to see the whole picture. So, I’m talking to anybody and everybody. I’m letting them know that their voices are heard and we’re hearing their concerns, and that no matter what, I always gonna come and ask them for advice.

Q: What’s your take on gerrymandering? How should we ensure that all citizens, especially in the state of Ohio, are being fairly represented?

A: Gerrymandering is an extremely rigged system. The party in charge gets to draw the map, and they get to hand pick their voters. Right now, the state of Ohio has 88 counties, and I believe we have 16 congressional districts. The third district is half of Franklin County, whereas the 15th district is 11 and a half counties. Then you have a district that is literally a mile wide that runs the entire length of Lake Erie.

The way things are drawn has been so messed up for years. So we have 88 counties, you divide that by 16, and each district ends up being about 5 and a half counties. Now, that might change the power dynamic of Ohio representation. But it would make it much more even, and a little fairer to the public. 

I personally think we should when the new maps are drawn. The public should be able to vote on the map. 

Editor’s Note: This interview was slightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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