This week, I had the pleasure and privilege to sit down with Joan Sweeny, candidate for state representative in House District 7. If you are in Berea, Olmsted Falls, Olmsted Township, Strongsville or North Royalton, I implore you to read this and continue to get to know Joanie. She is a brilliant leader and has the chance to turn this seat. I’m so excited to share our conversation on her community, the young vote, police brutality and more.
Jenna: Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you decide to run for State Representative?
Joan: My name is Joan Sweeny, I was born and raised in Lakewood, Ohio and currently live in Berea. I served in the Army for 25 years. One of my duty assignments was in Columbus, Ohio, and while I was in Columbus, I was working for the Army full-time but also had the opportunity to get my master’s degree. So in 2009 while I was studying public policy at Ohio State University I had the opportunity and privilege to hear Mary Robinson speak. She was the first female president of Ireland, and her speech was on why more women need to be in politics. She said we need more women in politics so we have different viewpoints to help solve difficult problems. Diversity brings different perspectives, and from that we are stronger.
That planted a seed. It was not necessarily a career I thought about pursuing, but that conversation planted a seed over 10 years ago. When we moved back to Ohio I saw our legislature, with its one-party rule, was out of balance. The more I would read and pay attention, the more I saw Ohioans just not being represented. It was too one-sided.
I believe that — from my upbringing and my career — when you see an inequity and can do something about it, you have a duty and responsibility to do something. This opportunity to run for office came up and I realized it was time to serve again.
As a veteran, I’m a leader. I have a lot of experience in coalition and consensus building, working with diverse groups of people, negotiating agreements, and crisis management. I have the experience we need.
Jenna: Can you talk about House District 7? What are some of the needs in your community and how will you address them?
Joan: The community is about a 95% white community and the median income is around $55,000-$60,000. It’s a fairly middle-class and upper middle-class area. The cities have good schools that they want to make sure stay good schools. One of the needs District 7 has, that unfortunately a lot of our communities have, is the reduced funding that our state is giving municipalities. It then forces our municipalities to turn around and find revenue in other ways, which often comes back to the residents.
Since the pandemic, now with the even more reduced revenue, is really a challenge to our cities. The reason people live in our communities is because they are part of the community, and invested in taking care of it. In state government, education funding is a very big issue. That has been broken for 20 years in the state of Ohio and has yet to be resolved. It’s almost dismissive, saying that it’s not that big an issue and we don’t need to fund our education. Education is the basis for any community, and District 7 has strong schools which means strong communities. But when you don’t fund that you start chipping away at the foundation.
As I’ve been making calls and talking to people, there’s also concerns about jobs. The district is home to a number of manufacturing jobs, and I think there is real importance in rewarding businesses that create jobs. Right now we have loopholes in our tax system that reward what they call “small business owners,” and I respect them, but they’re not tied to job creators.
One of the things that really resonates with the older members of our community is safe voting. They are worried about the lack of preparation going into November so they can cast their vote safely. I mean, it’s a fundamental right.
Jenna: What can you bring to the Statehouse? Who is your opponent? What are some distinctions between the two of you?
Joan: As I mentioned, one of the things that I bring is that I am not a politician — I am a public servant. I have served the public, and I have served my nation for 25 years. I have extensive leadership experience. Building coalitions and not dividing is what we need to do. When I was in Afghanistan, we had an organization that supported the transition of logistics to the Afghan Army and police force. Our organization was a coalition of five nations and all United State military services. I was the Executive Officer, or Deputy Director, if you will, of that organization.
I’ll bring a new perspective, which I think is important because we have people in our legislature who have just been there too long and it’s time for change. My opponent is Tom Patton, who has been our legislator for I think 18 years between the House and the Senate. As I mentioned, the school funding isn’t fixed. The tax loopholes that don’t support job creation aren’t fixed. He voted for House Bill 6 which used tax dollars to bail out nuclear power plants and coal plants, which does not improve the life of Ohioans. Some of our legislators are out of touch and it’s time for change.
Jenna: Can you tell us about running a campaign during a pandemic?
Joan: I’m sure like most individuals, working from home is a transition. The main problem is that we can’t have in-person conversations and gatherings, which makes reaching people different. We are trying to talk to people on the phone, use our social media platforms, and reach people by mail. We are also really trying to use the person-to-person network.
The other thing is that the overarching conversation we are having is about the pandemic and the impact it is having. It’s concerning to people, and it’s important to know that although running a campaign during the pandemic is difficult, the pandemic itself is incredibly important to voters right now. It’s not just about the actual illness, but it’s also about health care and the economy and what our priorities are. I believe our priority needs to be Ohio. Our legislature is not in session right now, when there’s a lot of things that really need to be done.
The campaign part is challenging. We are trying to use all different avenues to talk to people, but it’s also really pulled the curtain back on things that are in need of work and fixing. It has shown serious inequities. We need bold, courageous leaders to get through these difficult times. We don’t need more of the same. That is one of the many things the pandemic has really shown.
Jenna: How will you work to turn the young vote out?
Joan: That’s a great question….and I’m gonna ask you, you know? This is what I have to say to young people: we need you. We need your vote, we need your energy, we need your enthusiasm, we need you to make this change that needs to happen.
Unfortunately, things may have not gone the way people wanted. We have a lot of young people that supported the Bernie Sanders campaign, and that didn’t pan out, but we cannot afford young people to be on the sidelines. I can’t stress it enough. Young people: YOU ARE NEEDED. It’s obvious in the streets today what the motivation of young individuals can do. Historically, it’s obvious the change young people can bring about. Now is not the time to be on the sidelines, because the opposition is counting on people sitting this one out. I will do whatever I can to turn out the young vote.
So my question to you and to the people that read this is: what do I need to do to turn out the young vote? It is imperative. This is a serious opportunity for change. I would love for them to look at my website and love for them to talk about the policies that impact young people in our state.
Jenna: As a former police officer, can you address the increasing awareness of police brutality and the calls nationwide to defund police departments?
Joan: As a former police officer, being a police officer is an incredibly difficult and stressful job. It is something that good, quality training is imperative for. I know and have worked with some amazing individuals who are incredible police officers. What we need to understand is that police brutality is absolutely not acceptable, and the culture that allows that is not acceptable. There are some significant problems in police departments, but it’s also the policies and the laws that legislators pass that police officers enforce.
Every time they call to “defund police,” it means a different thing depending on the person using it. What we do need is sweeping reform. Police brutality must be dealt with in a way that ensures that people are held accountable for their actions.
Police are enforcers of a three-pronged system. The legislator makes the laws and the judiciary interprets it, and all three of those pieces must be included into police reform. We expect police officers to enforce bad laws and judges unfairly apply bad sentencing. The reform has to be much more encompassing than just reforming police.
Jenna: Anything else you want the readers to know?
Joan: We need bold & courageous leaders who can lead through a crisis, and that is exactly what I am. I have the experience that our government needs and our community deserves. I believe we need change in our legislature because Ohio has so many opportunities that are going unheeded. We have the potential to improve the life of all Ohioans, but unfortunately people are distracted by special interests and single-party lines, which are not representative.
I ask people to go to my website at joanieforohio.com. We are having our fundraiser on July 9th — a virtual “Spaghetti with Sweeny” (found here). Any support you can give me means a lot’ we are of course looking for volunteers.
We have to be engaged. We have to be active. It’s so important to partake in our democratic process.