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Secretary Husted Speaks to City Club of Cleveland on American Democracy

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COLUMBUS – Secretary of State Jon Husted yesterday spoke to The City Club of Cleveland about the state of democracy and how the 2016 Presidential Election is fueling change in America.

Secretary Husted also noted that the changes occurring this cycle have been in motion in Ohio and across the country for the last 40 years. Drawing on his personal experience of being raised in Montpelier, Ohio, Secretary Husted recalled the changes seen in Williams County during his lifetime.

“If you want to understand what is happening in American politics, you need to understand what is happening to the people in the places like the one where I grew up,” Secretary Husted said. “The reality is that many families throughout America are hurting because the opportunities that were once available are gone.”

Secretary Husted called on political leaders on both sides of the aisle to be honest about what it will take to rejuvenate the American middle class, to work together and unite around a common vision that speaks to Americans’ hopes and aspirations rather than biases and fear.

“We can believe in American democracy for as we speak it is fueling change in our political system… it’s sending a message and it’s finally getting our collective attention,” Secretary Husted said in closing. “Sometimes change does not come from the top down, but rather the bottom up. And that’s why democracy is such a great thing.”

Video from yesterday’s remarks and the entirety of Secretary Husted’s speech are available below.

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For more information, please contact Joshua Eck at (614) 466-2729

 

Cleveland City Club
What’s Happening to American Democracy and Can We Still Believe in It?
Secretary of State Jon Husted
Thursday, May 12, 2016

What I was going to talk about changed in the past week. I literally was going to discuss a different topic, which I do plan to come back and discuss in the future, but there is an entirely more dominate issue being discussed in America today.

And as the Chief Elections Official of the state, it’s a topic I cannot ignore.

And that is, what in the world is happening to American democracy and can we still believe in it?

Yes, Republicans appear to be in the process of nominating Donald Trump.

And while somewhat overlooked, an also revolutionary event is occurring on the other side of the political spectrum - a guy who was a Socialist before becoming a Democrat has seriously challenged the political establishment for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But it looks like it will be Trump vs. Hillary. Who, much like in our pop-culture these days, do not need to have both first and last names.

According to recent polling data, the majority of people in America already have a negative opinion of each candidate and that's before the flame-throwing tactics of the General Election campaign have even started.

For whatever objections you may have about super-delegates, the caucus system, or independent voters voting in primaries, these two candidates, whom everybody seems to dislike, were chosen by the same American people who have a negative opinion of them.

That begs the question of why? Why would a majority of Americans choose candidates who they dislike?

Political scientists, journalist and pundits are trying to explain this and I'm sure they will be trying for years to come.

I can't explain it all, but I do believe I can offer some insights, as seen through the eyes of my own family and the town I grew up in, Montpelier, Ohio. This is not just a political assessment; it's the story of economic and social change in America.

Not long after Harry Truman finished his final term as President, my dad, Jim Husted, turned 16 years-old and dropped out of high school.

The oldest boy of eight children, the family struggled financially and needed help to make ends meet so he got a job installing a gas pipeline in deep trenches across northwest Ohio.

It was hard and dangerous work six days a week, but he made more money in one week than my grandparents did in a month.

Just pause for a moment to think about that, he was making good money as a 16-year-old high school dropout.

But it was hard work, and after two years on the job, one day a trench collapsed and he barely escaped being severely injured. He knew he couldn’t do this for the rest of his life. He decided that he wanted to go back and finish high school, so he stopped in to see his principal and asked if he could come back and finish.

His principal welcomed him back, he even gave him study hall for his first period, which was important because my dad still had to work second shift at an aluminum factory.

He worked there until midnight, went home to sleep, then got up and went to school. He did this every day until he graduated.

After graduation, he found work at a factory in the machine tool industry.

Eventually, I came along when my parents adopted me and we settled in Montpelier, Ohio – a town of about 4,000 people in the furthest northwest county in Ohio, Williams County. That's where I grew up.

In the 1970s, Montpelier was a place with farming families and small manufacturing companies that served the auto industry that flourished in nearby Toledo and Detroit. It was a place where factory jobs were available that you could raise a family on.

Between manufacturing and agriculture, it supported other services and stores and it was a typical Midwestern place to live.

My dad worked at one of those machine tool companies, Mohawk Tools.

The company made tools that machined parts for the auto, truck, farm and construction industries.

At its height, Mohawk Tools employed over 400 people in a town of 4,000, it was a big deal to this small town. It was a family-owned business that would later be sold to a larger corporation. In addition to my dad, two of my uncles worked there and so did my aunt, along with many of my friend’s parents.

Between manufacturing and agriculture, the people of Montpelier made enough to support the family owned-stores in town: Zulch's sold televisions and appliances; Easler’s sold men's clothes; Siebenaler's sold shoes; Ring's owned the drug store; and, there was a furniture store, restaurants and a lumber yard - all locally owned. Those owners supported the town through sponsorships of little league baseball teams, served on the school board and stepped up in times of need because the people in this town were their friends, neighbors and customers.

But by the mid-1980s this was all changing. It was the beginning of the more global and automated economy that we are now living in the midst of today.

Mohawk Tools was in trouble and on its way out of business due to a declining domestic auto industry and competition from foreign automakers.

Other manufacturers in town were also feeling the pain of a changing economy and would follow suit, leaving Montpelier with fewer and fewer good jobs and little opportunity to fill the void.

Roughly 10 percent of the people that lived in my hometown worked at Mohawk Tools. Its closure was devastating.

There weren't many other places to go to work. My aunt, uncle and the cousins I grew up with moved to Arizona and later to Arkansas. My own family, mom, dad, brother and sister moved to Arizona in search of work and eventually settled in South Carolina.

They worked in the machine tool industry all of their lives, none of them had an education beyond a high school diploma and they had to go where there was work in a shrinking industry.

Their choices were limited.

This not only created economy anxiety, but their social safety net was being torn apart too. My dad and his seven brothers and sisters had all lived within 30 minutes of each other. They watched each other's kids, helped repair and build each other's houses, spent holidays together and when they needed something they were there for each other. Now that was gone.

Most of those family-owned stores I mentioned earlier that were supported by the people who worked at places like Mohawk Tools also eventually closed.

The small family-owned farms changed too. They either grew or were sold to another family or corporation.

There is nothing special about my family’s story or what happened in the town I grew up in, but that's the problem. This is not the exception for many people and towns in America, it is the new normal.

I am not suggesting we should turn back the clock, we can't.

And besides, there are many people and places in America who have thrived in this new automated, global economy. We have seen innovations that have improved and added conveniences to every aspect of our lives, from health care to how we communicate.

For those with a good education or the right kind of skills, or people who work in growing industries, things have never been better.

But if you don't have the right kind of education or skills, or if the industry you worked in all of your life is dying, times have been pretty rough and this is the story of a large segment of America.

If you want to understand what is happening in American politics, you need to understand what is happening to the people in the places like the one where I grew up.

Here are some of the facts:

In Ohio, since 1999, adjusted for 2014 dollars, the median household income has dropped by 16.1 percent.
In Ohio, since 1999, adjusted for 2014 dollars, the median household income has dropped by 16.1 percent.
The county in the worst shape in Ohio is Williams County, where I grew up, which has seen its median household income drop by 26.7 percent since 1999.
The county in the worst shape in Ohio is Williams County, where I grew up, which has seen its median household income drop by 26.7 percent since 1999.

The story is not much better here in Cuyahoga County, which has seen a 20.6 percent decline.
The story is not much better here in Cuyahoga County, which has seen a 20.6 percent decline.

People from these kinds of places have voted for politicians of both parties for the past 30 years, they’ve heard them talk about the economy, poverty, balanced budgets, the middle class and how they were going to fix it. But they haven't fixed it, especially not for them.

For most Americans, they have seen healthcare costs go up and college tuition go up even faster, while big banks get bailed out and their neighbors get foreclosed on.

They've seen the Washington DC economy grow, and people who go there get wealthy as they've fallen further behind and they’re absolutely fed up with it.

I recently called a friend, Brian Davis, who is the Republican Party Chairman in Williams County, and who, also at one time, worked for one of those companies that closed its doors in Montpelier.

I asked him, “What will people do there, who will they vote for?”

He said, "Trump, definitely Trump.”

He elaborated by saying, “As corny as it sounds, people here do business on a hand shake. They feel like the establishment of both parties have lied to them, and they just don't want any people from the same old establishment anymore.”

As I talked with Brian, I thought to myself, how can the handshake logic apply to Donald Trump? The man often changes his positions in the same conversation. Logically, to me and probably many of the people in this room, this conclusion doesn't make any sense.

But anger and frustration are sometimes not logical. And these people know what Albert Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results -- that's not logical, it’s insanity.

The reality is that many families throughout America are hurting because the opportunities that were once available are gone. This is just as true in the neighborhoods of Cleveland and Akron as it is in small rural communities like Montpelier.

So, whether you relate to this story as best told through urban change depicted in Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” or the rural plight John Mellencamp described in “Rain on the Scarecrow,” the consequences of rapid economic social change and the failure of our political system to respond are resulting in the erosion of trust and perhaps the out-right rejections of the establishments of both political parties.

The people that live in these towns and neighborhoods have endured the pain of a changing economy and political dysfunction for long enough. They want change and they are crying out hoping someone will hear their plea.

The good news is that a wake-up call has been sounded in our democracy... and political leaders are listening in a way I don't believe they've done in a very long time.

Here’s the evidence that these voices are having an effect:

Republicans and Democrats are not ready to unify around their presumptive nominees just to win an election; and,

Further evidence is that Republicans and Democrats, within their own party, are questioning long-held ideological views on crime, poverty, trade, military, foreign policy-alliances and our culture.

Change is hard. Busting up old political alliances and making new ones is hard. Admitting that times have changed and old ideas must go and new ideas must prevail is hard.

Slow and difficult as it is, I do believe change is on its way.

I don't believe this is going to be a simple process and I expect it could take several election cycles for the dust to settle.

In meantime, this is where I believe the conversation will start:

Our Economy: Working-class Americans need their leaders to be honest about what it will take for the American middle class to achieve victory in a global, automated economy;

Our Politics: The next president will be viewed negatively by most voters. So, in order for meaningful change to happen, Democrats and Republicans will have to work together, and we will need a leader that can unite us around a common vision that speaks to our hopes and aspirations, not our biases and fears. And the opposition party has to be a constructive partner in search of ways to agree.

Our People: Change in America cannot be assigned solely to the presidency and to congress, but also state leaders, media, business and labor leaders, educators, faith leaders and moms and dads. Most of what will make our communities stronger and better can be done with or without federal government. And remember, real solutions involve shared sacrifice, don’t expect leaders to do big things if you’re not willing to sacrifice something.

So let me ask again? What in the world is happening to American democracy and can we still believe in it?

The answer is absolutely yes. We can believe in it, for as we speak, it is fueling change in our political system. Because in 2016, American democracy is sending a message and it's finally getting our collective attention.

Never forget that our democracy and society has faced deeper divisions. From the Civil War to Vietnam, our nation has always responded to the challenges we've faced. Every generation faces a new set of challenges, and these are ours.

Sometimes that change does not come from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. And that's why democracy is such a great thing.

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