Former U.S. Rep. Zack Space understands the dysfunction and the rigged game that is killing true democratic representation in Ohio, and America, and he is running for Ohio Auditor in 2018 to fight it, to fight for us.

Space announced his candidacy for auditor Tuesday during a four-stop statewide tour, starting with an event in Martins Ferry and followed by events in Zanesville, Columbus, and Lima.

“Ohioans in every corner of the state know that our democracy is broken,” Space said, announcing his candidacy. “Too many feel left behind and ignored by a dysfunctional process that caters to wealth and privilege. They are right to feel this way – their voices are muffled by the din of special interests and self-serving politicians.”

Space, from Dover in eastern Ohio, represented Ohio’s 18th U.S. Congressional District from 2007 to 2011. He said he is running for auditor in 2018 because we need change.

“The auditor is the people’s representative, and I intend to use the broad powers of the office to honestly and independently stand for every Ohio family,” he said.

The state auditor is a constitutional officer charged with a broad mandate to ensure that public officials act with the best interests of all Ohioans in mind. Ohio’s auditor also sits on the Bipartisan Redistricting Commission (formerly known as the Apportionment Board) which will determine the next decade of Ohio’s legislative elections.

“We deserve a government that is responsive and accountable to us,” Space said. “I will shine a light on the influence of money in the process, and oppose efforts to politicize the creation of legislative districts.”

Man On A Mission

In late April, Space spoke to the Athens County Democratic Party. He delivered one of the most candid assessments of the major threats facing American democracy I’ve seen in a public speech. And as a crusty, 15-year veteran of the newspaper trade, I’ve seen more than my share of public speeches, most of them banal, uninspiring, full of platitudes.

This speech by Space was different because he so directly confronted the two predominant poisons striking at the lifeblood of democracy in our republic.

The two biggest threats to democracy, Space said, are gerrymandered districts and the undue influence of campaign donations and moneyed interests.

Unless the system is fixed, Space warned, Americans will continue to see a lack of participation and more of a bend toward authoritarianism such as he said has been seen since January.

“There are two major issues that account for most of this dysfunction,” Space argued, first pointing to the politicized process for determining how U.S. congressional district and Ohio General Assembly district lines are drawn after the U.S. Census every 10 years.

Space noted the fact that in Ohio and across the nation, fewer and fewer congressional races are competitive. U.S. Congress regularly receives less than 20 percent approval in opinion polls, and yet has an average 96 percent reelection rate.

Ohio has 16 congressional seats, four with incumbent Democrats and 12 with incumbent Republicans, and every one of those seats is safe, Space said.

“They’ve been drawn up by the very politicians who sit in those seats. It’s human nature,” Space said. “I was in Congress. I was prepared to play that game. And if you don’t play it, you’re a fool, because somebody else is going to beat you to the punch.”

But the end result of allowing politicians to draw up their own seats is that none of them are politically vulnerable in a general election, he said. The only vulnerability they face is during primaries when challengers in both parties go further to the incumbent’s right or left, depending on party, he said.

“So you’ve got this force that’s pushing everybody to the extremes, not leaving any room for compromise, for negotiation, or even civility,” he said, contending that this is responsible for much of the polarity, extremism and acrimony in American politics today.

Fixing the redistricting process is possible, Space said, encouraging people to sign petitions that call for fair redistricting in Ohio and elsewhere. Ohio has a ballot initiative to help fix Congressional district gerrymandering currently gathering steam.

Money Talks

The second thing that’s broken the system, Space said, is how campaigns are financed. He recalled his own tenure in Congress, pointing to the time he and everyone else spent in the U.S. congressional “dialing for dollars” call centers.

Known to some as “the bunker,” these are essentially phone banks for members of U.S. Congress where they sit with a list of potential donors, cold calling and asking for money for reelection efforts. Space said he spent over 40 hours working each week and another 30 to 40 hours fundraising.

“They’re all sitting at these little cubicles calling people they don’t even know, asking for money. That is a colossal waste of a legislator’s time. I’d have rather spent that time working on legislation or meeting with constituents, or with my family,” he said. “It’s also humiliating and debasing.”

Finally, he said, it harms the legislative process itself.

“Any legislator who tells you, ‘I’ve never thought about what my vote on any issue would mean for my ability to raise funds,’ is lying to you,” Space said. “It is a component. It’s not the only component – maybe for a few it is – but it has no business being a part of the equation.”

Space said that America needs to take the money out of the process with campaign finance reform and stop allowing legislators to draw their own districts.

“If we fix the structural parts of our democracy that are broken, then we can start governing with tolerance and compromise and with understanding to rationally and objectively deal with the problems we face as a state and a nation,” he said.