Ohio Dem. Chair Liz Walters On Abortion, Weed, and Calling Frank LaRose a 'Loser'

"If this issue fails, it will force extreme out-of-touch views from the Ohio legislature on all Ohio women—full stop"

click to enlarge Elizabeth Walters is the current chair of the Ohio Democratic Party and a councilwoman in Summit County. - Elizabeth Walters
Elizabeth Walters
Elizabeth Walters is the current chair of the Ohio Democratic Party and a councilwoman in Summit County.
Elizabeth Walters, the head of Ohio's Democratic Party since January 2021, seems to pride herself on her outspokenness. In a way, she's come to match the rhetoric powering out of the state's conservative leaders and hopefuls, and even called one of them, Senate candidate Frank LaRose, "Ohio's biggest loser." (LaRose was the primary champion of the proposal to raise the voter threshold to change the Ohio Constitution to 60%, which Ohio voters voted down in August.)

On November 7th, six million Ohio voters will decide on two hot-button issues: the right to a legal abortion, and other reproductive matters, without state intervention; and legal marijuana.

Elizabeth Walters, the head of Ohio's Democratic Party since January 2021, is confident the resounding defeat of Issue 1 this summer, which would have raised the voter threshold for Ohio constitutional amendments to 60%, bodes well for both issues.

Walters said her office made one million calls and knocked on 243,000 doors in their battle to knock down the legislature-proposed constitutional amendment change. As work continues in advance of November, Walters talked with Scene about the stakes for Ohio, the stakes for the nation, and voter outreach.

SCENE: What confidence does Issue 1's failure in August give you?

WALTERS: I think I said this on election night on August 8th: we'd be foolish to be overconfident for any election. Every election is its own unique beast. Every issue that we take up or candidate we work for needs a full campaign to communicate to Ohio voters what it's about, what it's for, and not just how they should vote on the issue, but how to cast their ballot in November.

And I think we've seen overwhelmingly on August 8th, and we will see overwhelmingly this November that Ohioans don't want anybody to mess with their democracy. They don't want anybody to mess with their freedom and their ability to make choices that are best for them and their families.

And ultimately, that's what the yes vote in November is all about, right? It is about stopping a total abortion ban from taking effect here in Ohio and making sure that Ohio women have the ability to make the best health care choices for themselves in consultation with their families and their doctors, and without politicians in the Columbus State House inserting themselves into that decision making.

You famously called Frank LaRose "Ohio's biggest loser." I'm wondering what kind of response you've gotten for that. Has he contacted you at all?

WALTERS: He hasn’t exactly called me up and shared his feelings about my commentary, though that would be interesting.

You can be a loser in a lot of different ways. You can be a loser in a factual way by being the person who made themselves the face and name of a losing issue campaign that was wildly out of step with the will of Ohio voters and frankly, using an immense amount of taxpayer money to get around the state and try to campaign on behalf of a political issue.

But you can also be a loser by trying to rig the game and make things unfair for Ohio voters. Frank has shown himself to not really have a true north in terms of values and ethics, and he's shown himself to be pretty incompetent in his job. So I stand by it. Frank is Ohio's biggest loser.

It seems like the Democratic Party's a little bit more interested in Issue 1 than Issue 2. I've interviewed pro-choice pastors who've told me they receive at least a death threat a month. What is your sort of message to fellow Democrats that support the right to reproductive freedom?

WALTERS: We've had this conversation with activists too. We've had county party events be threatened with and actually have counter activists show up and try to barricade folks in their office. And I think we can't take those things lightly, like any threat of violence against anybody for a political perspective, it's just not in keeping with the founding principles of our democracy.

But I do think that for people like the pastor or people like Kim McCarthy, our Greene County chairwoman, who continues to show up every weekend despite those things. It's a real testament to their patriotism, where we remember that sometimes being a patriot is also about taking up ideas and having really hard conversations with friends and family and neighbors and people in our community who don't agree with us to try and move this country forward in a better direction.

Have you received any threats?

WALTERS: You know, I would hesitate to kind of label it as such. But there's definitely a lot of angry people on the internet, I’ll say that.

The regulation of marijuana in Ohio would permit someone over 21 to pretty much own and cultivate at least six plants in their home, and would lead to a 10% "adult use tax," and the usual sales tax. What sort of most interests you in Issue 2?

WALTERS: From a party chair standpoint, really, that whole thing for us was about timing, not about the content of the bill. We opted instead to just kind of take a neutral stance and encourage our county parties and our local candidates to do what makes sense for their community. And we're seeing county parties all over the state take up a yes endorsement, which we think is great.

The policy itself? We're all for anything that brings more justice to this space. We don't think kids should be going to prison because they get caught with a joint in their pocket.

Personally, I'm a yes vote. I'm an adult caregiver of an aging parent who uses medical marijuana for pain relief for really bad rheumatoids. So anything that makes it easier for her to get access to some of this stuff in a safe and healthy way, I fully support.

In the Dispatch op-ed, you claim you made a million a million calls for the first Issue 1. Can you share a bit about the sort of behind the scenes for the upcoming election?

WALTERS: So we have what we call our County Action Network model. So this is every county. We have an organizing lead who takes point, working with and through the county party, working with Democratic clubs, working with local candidate campaigns to kind of make sure everyone's rowing in the same direction.

And so these folks are the ones leading the charge. We have 63 active networks right now across the 88 counties and collectively these folks are knocking anywhere in the summertime. In the four weeks before the August election, they were doing 35,000 doors a week. We're already at almost 15,000 doors a week with quite a few more weeks till the ramp gets big.

We really haven't stopped. I wasn't joking when I gave people two days off and I was like, okay, back at it, let's go. And so we've continued to grow in that.

And what's really interesting for us this fall is that there are 6,000 local races on the ballot across Ohio. Thousands of school boards, city councils, mayors, township trustees, and in counties all across Ohio. Being able to work alongside of them has been really exciting to kind of see the whole broad Democratic family come together to turn out voters for a host of things both for that local school board race but also to vote yes on Issue 1 in November.

Ohio is the only state in which abortion is on the ballot. Meaning the country is going to be looking at us in November for a sort of legal and philosophical kind of framework, right? And then again, conservatives will always have a pushback that revolves around the notion that we're killing potential children. What do you think about this philosophical framework? How is Ohio going to sort of lead this sort of philosophical push?

WALTERS: One, we're very aware that the entire fight for abortion rights in this country, Ohio is now the center of the universe for that. And so we take that very [seriously]. At the end of the day, this campaign is about Ohioans, about Ohio women. And it's being led for and by voters.

I think, though, philosophically, and I say this to someone like, listen, I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school. And here's the thing about a yes vote on Issue 1. If you don't like abortion, you can still not be for abortion with a yes vote on Issue 1. Right? This is about democracy, freedom and choices.

This is not us trying to force a pro-abortion view on others. It is about trying to enshrine the right for Ohio women and their families to make deeply personal health care decisions in privacy with their doctors, rather than with politicians guiding what those decisions should be.

And so whether you are an undecided voter, whether you don't like abortion, a yes vote still empowers you to have those viewpoints, right? But if this issue fails, it will force extreme out-of-touch views from the Ohio legislature on all Ohio women—full stop.

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About The Author

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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