For all but four of the last 23 years, Republicans have held control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Ohio General Assembly. Buoyed by conservative support across huge swathes of the state’s rural landscapes, the GOP has dominated politics in Ohio and placed a chokehold on the our state’s working class.

A generation of Ohioans has grown up in the shadow of this conservative death star, constantly clamoring for lower taxes, more deregulation and more handouts to big businesses, even as their rural constituents struggled to make ends meet. Jobs were slashed en masse, wages plummeted in relation to costs, good healthcare became ever more scarce and unions have been systematically hamstrung in the workplace.

D.J. Byrnes, a native of Marion, resident of Piqua and the Democratic candidate in the race for the 80th district of Ohio’s House of Representatives, is one of those sons of Ohio.

After seeing the devastation that conservative politics have wrought on his communities and the way many of his neighbors, friends and family members have felt abandoned by the Democratic Party or any other alternative, Byrnes could not stand idly be. His candidacy is of, by and for the working class, a solution to the tyranny of big business interests.

“Our message can win anywhere — a good, strong, Democratic message with good people can win anywhere,” Byrnes told Plunderbund. “We can’t cede rural Ohio. The power of the government is set up to be in rural areas. We’ve seen that on a national scale now, where Republicans are able to dictate an agenda of the minority through Senate positions in places like Wyoming and Utah. The government was set up, designed by wealthy rural landowners and that’s who it was designed to benefit.

“We have to make Republicans defend every inch of the map. We can’t abandon rural Ohio in the way that Hillary Clinton did. If we don’t fight them out here, we can’t win the government. Even if Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland continue to churn out Democratic machines, it’s not enough to win statewide elections, unless we do the work in rural Ohio.”

Byrnes’ message is a simple, yet critical one — the Democratic Party must back workers’ rights and fight back against private insurance companies in every corner of the state. The party must return to being that of the working man, not yet another party of capital and of big business.

As he aptly points out, we can all see the results of conservative governance in our state and what kind of havoc that policies designed to work for the few, not the many wreak on Ohio.

“This is what I’ve been telling Republicans — the Republican government has not been kind to rural Ohio. All of the wage stagnation, the wealth inequality, the opioid epidemic — all of this occurred under Republican watch,” Byrnes railed. “We’ve been deregulating business and cutting taxes for the last 30 years and then we sit around and wonder why kids flee rural Ohio for the big city with jobs that actually pay. Meanwhile, those kids just graduated college with 30, 40, 50, 60 thousand dollars in debt.”

These are red meat issues for working class folks across the state, and all of the country — restoring good jobs with strong labor protections; providing good, dependable healthcare (not access to insurance, but actual healthcare) to all Ohioans, but especially our most vulnerable; affordable, excellent education; and a prosperous life and living wage for those willing and able to work.

Byrnes is running against Jena Powell, a Republican from Darke County, whose ideologies rely on a continued deference to private business profits over working class people. During voter forum scheduled to take place in Troy on Oct. 17 and Greenville on Oct. 23, Byrnes intends to highlights how clear the divides are between the two and what they’ll mean when it comes down to it.

“There’s a stark option this year. Healthcare is going to be such a big thing and the word healthcare isn’t even on her website once. She’s on record as saying ‘Medicaid expansion did nothing good.’ 800,000 Ohioans having health insurance is nothing good? She was pandering in the primaries, but those are her words,” Byrnes said. “Not to tip my hand too much, but she’s going to have to reckon with her own words down the stretch. I think Republicans are vastly, vastly, vastly underestimating what healthcare means to the average voter.”

This campaign comes not just with a message, but with a warning. Byrnes has watched closely as the Democratic Party’s hold on rural Ohio’s working class communities has slipped — worse and worse by the year.

Allowing cynicism to creep in, staying home from the ballot box, ignoring state and local elections in favor of talking points against Donald Trump — these are all decisions that can make the current balance of power even worse for Ohio’s progressives and working class. That would be disastrous for Ohioans, Byrnes says.

“In the age of Trump, it’s very easy to focus on the ills, the Supreme Court and all of the national stuff, but that’s not the main stuff that’s going on in Ohio. State governments have incredible power. They effect your day to day life more than the federal government,” he explained. “It’s a battleground state, but they have all nine seats on the Supreme Court, the governor’s mansion and supermajorities in both houses. This is in a battleground state.

“Democrats have to get better at voting in every election. If there’s candidacy you don’t like, then become the candidate. I’m not the perfect guy and I’ve made mistakes in my life, but you have to be the change. If we don’t go knock on doors and raise money and run for office and vote, then it’s going to happen like Texas where the right just controls everything. The other side is obsessed with power, they’re organized and they’re well-financed. If we don’t get our act together quick, then the scales will tip even further. That’s not a future I want for my state.”

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