House District 8: Rep. Kent Smith is not Superman but he is super-active

By Rachel Santo

The hallway of the local high school was filled with people shaking hands, picking up flyers and greeting strangers with friendly hellos. A long table filled with election literature stretched across the lobby on the warm, summery evening as candidates mingled with voters, answering questions and educating those who passed with voting concerns. The crowd mumbled quietly, waiting for the public forum to begin. Those in attendance at the Eastside Candidates Forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the National Association of Jewish Women had one major goal: to learn more about the candidates running for a seat in Ohio’s General Assembly—its House, Senate and Board of Education—whose names would be on the ballot on Cleveland’s East Side.

Of the two candidates for District 8 in the Ohio House of Representatives, Republican Cassandra McDonald has never held a seat in Ohio’s General Assembly, while Rep. Kent Smith, a Democrat, has been the district’s representative for the past two years. Smith was on the Euclid School Board for 12 years prior to that.

The two candidates were captured on video at the forum. The District 8 segment begins just after the 1 hour mark on the video below. (Story continues below the video.)

To get a better understanding of Smith’s political views and future plans, Smith was contacted prior to the forum for an interview, to which he agreed. However, upon arrival, Smith seemed rushed and bothered, quickly claiming that he didn’t have time for the interview at that exact moment, and that he and his “lady friend,” as he called her, could meet with the student reporter after the forum to conduct the interview.

During Smith’s presentation, the audience learned about his political ideas and background. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Miami University, and then continued his education at Cleveland State University, where he started to work on his Ph.D. in Economic Development. He has completed all but the dissertation, he said.

Smith worked at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office from 2004–2012 and also served on the Euclid School Board from 2001–2013. He has experience working with fair housing and non-profits, and even wrote a book called Please God Save Us.

In the state house, Smith is constantly working on, and trying to pass, legislation. A list of the bills he has sponsored and supported is on his Ohio House website.

In the forum, he mentioned that he recently voted Yes on the Charter School Reform Bill, which will regulate charter schools. Even public school teachers seem to agree with Smith’s claim that charter schools need more oversight. In an email interview after the forum, former teacher Jen Jakuben of the Mentor School System said she agreed with the bill.

“Typically the position of a public school teacher is against charter schools because they receive taxpayer money, so kids might be taken out of the public school system and be given an inferior education, but some charter schools perform really well. The only problem is that sometimes there isn’t a lot of oversight. It’s really easy to start and run charter schools, especially in Ohio but there wasn’t enough supervision. This bill will, at least, lead to a law behind some kind of checking-in to charter schools. It is safe to say that Smith has a lot of experience and knew what he was talking about with regard to the education system and necessary improvements.”

Back at the forum, as soon as the candidates were finished speaking, questions started to flood in from the audience. Smith’s responses were full of talk about legislation and political jargon, whereas, McDonald’s were simple and personal.

After the forum, Smith kept both promises. First, to continue the interview in the Brush High School Library, and second, to bring the woman he introduced as his “lady friend” to the interview.

When asked what advice he would give to young college students regarding why it is so important for them to vote this election. He responded: “If you don’t get involved in the process, you’re going to get governed by your inferiors.”

In the interview, Smith seemed intent on explaining how government works: “The functionality of government is such that most of the work we do is based on the committee assignments that we have. So, the first step as to how I would engage would be what committee assignments would the leadership of the Democratic Party down there put me on.

“One of the things we didn’t get to in [the forum],” he continued, “is that committee with the really long name — the Financial Institutions, Housing, and Urban Development. The Republicans introduced a bill to basically roll back fair housing rights in Ohio, and they introduced it into that committee and I became the firewall to save fair housing rights in the state of Ohio.”

As a rookie member of a state House of Representatives, Kent said, “I’ve introduced nine pieces of legislation, and if I don’t get any of those passed, I’m probably going to introduce them again. But there are over 1,200 pieces of legislation in every General Assembly and we’re not experts in all of them. Anybody who tells you otherwise is just wrong. But, you better damn well know what’s coming through your committee cause that’s where the real work is being done.”

The next question attempted to get Smith to speak more clearly. Kent was asked to better explain the bills and issues that he mentioned in the forum, in an attempt to provide some sort of advice for college students who sought to further educate themselves on these topics.

Smith’s response: “You can subscribe to my newsletter.”

Needless to say, the interview ended quickly after that. Not only was Smith’s demeanor discouraging, but he made practically no attempt to connect with his audience, even when speaking to an interviewer one-on-one.

Living in a time of political uncertainty causes voters to hope that their state’s politicians maintain some sort of credibility. Yet, after this forum and interview, it seems as though voters can only rely on their best judgments when deciding who would be best suited for office.