House District 12: Politics runs deep in Ohio Rep. John E. Barnes’ family

By Mike Hippler

Photo from the candidate’s Twitter profile

In the elegant atmosphere of the Cleveland Marriott East, the peaceful sound of the hotel’s waterfall accompanied a reporter’s walk toward a man sitting at table dressed in a suit and tie. While from a distance the man at the table seemed intimidating, he immediately showed his approachable personality when the reporter introduced himself.

Rep. John E Barnes is running unopposed for re-election in the Ohio House of Representatives’ 12th District, which includes Maple Heights, Bedford, Warrensville Heights and Pepper Pike. A Democrat, Barnes has been the district’s representative for two stretches of time, the first between 1999 and 2003 and the second from 2011 to the present.

The son of an 18-year Cleveland City Council member, Barnes has a family that has dedicated close to 40 years to this city and its people.

District 12 is a diverse community made up largely of Democrats, which is one of the reasons Barnes has run uncontested by the Republican Party in his most recent campaign.

Barnes is talented in other areas as well. According to Barnes himself, he is also a singer and songwriter of rhythm and blues. He got his first taste in politics at a young age. His father, John Barnes Sr., served as a City Councilman for 18 years with many different positions and titles. Barnes Sr. instilled principles of how important it is to have a positive effect on your community, his son said, while his education at Case Western Reserve University helped to further develop his leadership skills. At a young age, public service was very important to him as well as his family. This is one of the reasons Barnes Jr. got involved in government, he said.

During the interview, Barnes talked about the role of government in our daily lives. “You are paying for government services through your taxes. It’s a matter of a budget that sets priorities and if those priorities, as a result of being a taxpayer, don’t reflect what you think they should be, it is your duty to act.”

The first time Barnes acted on this himself, he recalled, was around age five, at a meeting when certain trash-related services were being discontinued by the City of Cleveland. Trash would no longer be removed from people’s back yards—a small but significant change that would directly affect Barnes Jr.’s chores and responsibilities. Unlike many of his later political campaigns, Barnes Jr. said he did not win in his attempt to maintain those services.

Barnes’ involvement in running his predecessors’ campaigns for 14 years helped lead to his role as a member of the House of Representatives. He considered his work in the community at a younger age a “civic duty,” he said. The Lee Harvey community was where he was raised, and the responsibility he felt to benefit his community led him in the long term toward a path in government.

“It is an honor to represent this community as a direct result of your advocacy and involvement in the community,” Barnes said.

When asked how his education affected his final choice to go into politics, Barnes said, “Case Western provided me with important guidance and direction of what is positive and negative in government and how it is affected as well as how to analyze it.” Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has been ranked 7th nationally, according to its website, for contributing to the common good.

Barnes serves currently on three committees in the Ohio House: Ways and Means, Health and Aging and finally, Economic and Workforce Development. All three of these committees are bipartisan, with both Democratic and Republican members.

In a separate interview, conducted over the phone, this reporter had the chance to speak with Bedford Mayor Stanley C. Koci. Bedford is located in the 12th district, and Koci had nothing but positive things to say about Barnes and the contributions he has made to the city in the time Koci has served as mayor.

Koci noted the work that Barnes has done for the Bedford History Society. He said that Barnes played a key part in securing grants that have had positive impact on this public service. When asked about how much money these grants were worth Mayor Koci used the term “huge” to describe the financial value added. At the conclusion of the interview, Koci agreed that Barnes was a positive role model in his community and that it is critical to vote and participate in local elections.

One issue on which Barnes is adamant is the need for compromises in finding solutions to community problems and getting legislation through the legislature.

“Some people think compromise is dishonorable. I don’t,” said Barnes. “I think that compromise is absolutely honorable in the context of how you get the Yes—how you make incremental progress and how you can recognize that at the end of the day, our system of government is built on one thing and one thing only and that is the vote.

“I focus on smart politics and how to get the Yes, no matter who it is. I don’t seek partisan answers to questions. I seek the right answer.”