Candidate Q&A: Nan Whaley on Her Run for Governor of Ohio

Light blue background with blue-toned image of Ohio gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley, a sign that reads "OHIO Welcomes Voting," an blue-toned image of a map of Ohio and a person holding a ruler, an image of the Ohio state capitol and The Pine Club in Dayton, Ohio.

Leading the city of Dayton as its mayor since 2014, Nan Whaley is now vying for the state’s top position. Before her mayoral election, Whaley served on Dayton’s city commission for two terms. 

In her race for Ohio’s governorship, Whaley faces current Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who’s been backed by former President Donald Trump in his re-election campaign. During his first term as governor, DeWine has played a role in the state’s ongoing redistricting process, which, despite Ohio voters passing an initiative aiming to reform it, has produced unfair maps seven times over. 

In Democracy Docket’s latest candidate Q&A of the 2022 cycle, Ohio gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley lays out how she would use the governor’s office to protect the right to vote, discusses why Republicans continue to criminalize the voting process and tells us her favorite restaurant in Ohio. 

Responses have been edited for style and clarity. 

If elected as governor, you will most likely serve alongside a Republican-led Legislature. In addition to vetoing harmful bills passed by the Legislature, what other tools would you use to protect the right to vote in Ohio? 

We have a big opportunity in this governor’s race because the statehouse is basically an illegitimate state House that has been ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court seven times. That means that all of the districts will be redrawn in the next two years, and during the first half of my time as governor, we will draw fair districts. Once we have fair districts, we’ll have legislators who are making decisions around what voters think instead of what extremists think. One of the big reasons why [this race] so important is because the governor sits on the redistricting commission and getting fair districts is the key to normalizing Ohio’s politics, from protecting voter access to gun safety to abortion access — all the freedoms that we’re trying to fight for. We can’t do it when we have an illegitimate state House that is so extreme and out of step with everyday Ohio voters.

It’s been a year of map drawing in Ohio and the state still doesn’t have a congressional map for 2024 and beyond. What do you make of your state’s redistricting process and what, if anything, would you change about it?

It’s a failed process for sure. This was some of the concern when we passed the redistricting [reform]. 73% of Ohio voters said they wanted fair and impartial maps. They voted for that, and then the Republican politicians ignored them. And even though the Ohio Supreme Court, with a bipartisan majority, told them [that these maps] were unconstitutional, they still keep drawing these insane maps that don’t match with the Ohio Constitution. Once we get in, we’ll be able to be on that commission to make a difference. But frankly, we need to make sure it’s not based on who’s in office. If a politician ignores the Ohio Constitution to benefit themselves with no repercussions, that’s not going to work for fair maps. This is the basic core of democracy here. The first stopgap is to elect a new governor so we can have good legislative districts, but I think we will probably have to go back to the ballot to get fair districts without these big loopholes that these guys continue to walk through.

Though backed by Trump in his re-election bid, your opponent, DeWine, has dismissed Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. What do you make of people, especially Democrats, who are lionizing Republican politicians who refuse to push the “Big Lie”?

What’s interesting to me about DeWine is he has [dismissed Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen], but he had said it a year ago, and he won’t even bring it up again now. So he’s hiding, even from his position around this. It’s a real factor for democracy, frankly. One of the challenges that we see is when people don’t accept the election results; that’s when democracy really starts to falter, regardless of party. When we see 139 congressmen who didn’t accept the results and backed the Jan. 6 riot, that’s very, very concerning. In a way, democracy is definitely on a fine line here. 

We need to elect people who not only support an election outcome, but also will bolster democracy with having strong voting rights, making sure that we have a really strong democracy that doesn’t have terrible redistricting and that listens to the voters, not the politicians. For my opponent, he’s trying to have it both ways. Trump endorses [DeWine], and [DeWine] says the election, appropriately, was [President Joe] Biden’s win, but then he hid from all of that this election cycle. And that’s what we see about Mike DeWine. He’ll say whatever is politically convenient at the time. But if you ever count on him to do the right thing, when it gets really hot, he’ll be nowhere to be found and go with the extremists and the radicals.

On Oct. 6, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) announced the creation of the Public Integrity Division, a new division dedicated to investigating voter fraud. With other states like Florida and Georgia establishing similar departments, why do you think Republicans are seeking to criminalize the voting process? 

It’s because [Republicans] can’t win on a fair fight. They’re seeing that the only way [to pass] their terrible ideas that are out of step with the Ohio public is to make it harder for people to vote and to try to demonize voting.

LaRose is much like DeWine in this. He’ll say the right thing when it’s politically convenient, but when he needs to really fold for the extremists and radicals, he’ll do it in a really dramatic way, like we’re seeing on this unneeded initiative that he’s moved forward. The fact of the matter is that there’s a very, very small [amount of] voter fraud in the state. Any time it does happen, of course, it is bad, but to put so much money into looking for a very small number of folks is very telling about what he’s trying to do, and that’s to give some red meat to the radical extremists.

Also earlier this month, Look Ahead America, a group founded by one of Trump’s campaign staffers, announced plans for a pre-election audit of voting lists in nine states, including Ohio, where the group plans to identify ineligible voters and request their removal from the voter rolls as well as empower local activists to challenge voters’ eligibility themselves. What do you make of these plans?

This is just how [Republicans are] trying to attack free and open voting, and to try to scare people to not vote. And we’re not gonna let them do that. Voting is easy. We’ll make sure that in Ohio, we have a voter protection hotline. They want to destroy democracy by not encouraging people to vote, and we need to make sure that they don’t let that happen because that is the baseline of what a democratic system is like. Frankly, when there are actions like this, like you just mentioned, it shows that people aren’t really interested in democracy. Democracy is the basis of everything. Win or lose, you can go and say, “Okay, the people have spoken.” But now when you’re trying to get people not to be able to vote, then they’re not allowed to speak because that vote is such a key voice for how our government works. Taking that away is a big challenge that we have to fight first and foremost and always.

Last year, Ohio Republican legislators added a new provision to the state budget banning the secretary of state from conducting a series of voter education efforts that successfully recruited new voters last year. What impact do you think this provision will have on Ohio voters this November? 

It’s unfortunate that they’re trying again to not let people partner to encourage voter participation. That’s really all this was, and I think people are still doing that. But I think it’s a real disservice to the board of election members who are committed to encouraging voting, and so they’ve taken away that tool from county boards of elections across the state. It’s still happening, and we’re still seeing voter activists and folks engaging and making sure that people can vote and getting that information out. But to have to take the experts out of it just will increase voter disinformation long term and is, again, an attack on democracy. 

Liz Walters, the Democratic Party chair in Ohio, always says that they actually start these actions in Ohio and they move them to other states across the country. We’ve seen that happen, where we’ve been the canary in the coal mine on a lot of these anti-democratic actions coming out of the extreme and radical and corrupt state House that we have right now.

If you weren’t running for office, what would you be doing? 

I’d be back in Dayton for sure, which is where I live. I’m in Cleveland right now, and I’d probably be helping others to run. We’re at a really critical time in our democracy and I’ve always been proud in October to help folks in local races and races across the state to protect democracy and make sure that people have the ability to get to the polls. I’d probably be doing something like this, it’s just for somebody else.

Go-to walk up song?

Run the World (Girls) by Beyoncé.

Favorite restaurant in Ohio?

The Pine Club in Dayton. It’s a steak place, but bring cash; they take no credit.