Ike Mgbatogu – Let me start by asking you to introduce yourself to our readers – your hometown, your background, the district you represent, and of course, whatever else you would like to say about yourself.
Rep. W. Carlton Weddington – Thank you Ike for the opportunity to speak with you. I am W. Carlton Weddington, state representative of the 27th House district, here on the near eastside of Columbus. I am a lifelong resident born and raised here in Columbus Ohio, attended Westerville Public Schools, Westerville North High School, graduated in 1988, and went on to Hampton University where I was a political science major, graduated in 1992. I first gained my interest in politics when I volunteered to work for Douglas Wilder who was a candidate for governor [of Virginia.] He in fact won that year and became the first African-American governor of the state of Virginia. That led me to come back home after graduating and helping on a number of campaigns, one being for mayor for the city of Columbus and that was Ben Espy. Interned for William Bowen who was a senator from the city of Cincinnati and that just continued my interest in politics and grassroots initiatives. I worked for Les Wright…and with Charleta Tavares and then later was given the opportunity to work with John O’Grady as a manager in the clerk of courts Franklin Co. After working at the county, I then decided to run for school board in 2005, elected in 2006, served 3 years. And then ran to replace Joyce Beatty who was the minority leader and became the state representative from the 27th district.
Mgbatogu – The House recently approved the governor’s $55.6 billion bi-annual budget, keeping intact nearly all of the governor’s cuts, to education, local government, school districts, and others. The senate approved it, and now it is in the conference committee. What’s your general take on the governor’s budget?
Weddington – Well, Gov. Kasich had his hands full coming into this administration and the 129th general assembly. The state had a $6 to 8 billion budget deficit to attempt to balance. But I am not quite sure that his ideas and perspective is what Ohio needs…you see drastic cuts to local government, you see cuts to education, you see an attack on the middle class through aspects of SB5 that have also been placed in the budget. You see attack on labor as it relates to prevailing wage. You see seniors, minorities and children taking hits as it relates to social services and those who are the neediest of our populations are taking the burden and brunt of this deficit, and so while the governor may say he has balanced the budget and in fact House Republicans passed his budget, I don’t think that it is the right budget for the state of Ohio as a whole.
Mgbatogu – Senate Bill 5, which eliminated collective bargaining laws in Ohio, and recently signed into law by Gov. Kasich, is one of those instances where the governor offered clear hints about where he stood with organized labor when he talked about breaking the back of the unions during the campaign. You are opposed to this bill. Why?
Weddington – I am opposed because once again what SB5 does is, it takes collective bargaining and makes it collective begging. It is an attack on labor as an institution; it is an attack on the middle-class. It would hurt police, fire, teachers, correctional officers, nurses. It is part of the Republican extreme agenda, and I think we need to make sure that when we go to referendum, that we defeat this SB5.
Mgbatogu – Opponents of SB 5 will try to overturn the law in the November Ballot. How would you assess the chances of SB 5 being struck down by Ohio voters?
Weddington – Oh, I think we are well on our way. They just put forth the signatures, the petitions with three times the amount of signatures needed to be placed on the ballot. I think that it has in fact galvanized the Democratic base, the independents; it has galvanized even some Republicans, to make sure that this does not hurt the state of Ohio.
Mgbatogu – It’s been quite an interesting 100 days for Gov. Kasich. During the campaign, he did say he would pursue some of the policies he is pursuing today, and yet folks voted for him, including some who are now angry about his policies. Certainly, the governor did not get a huge mandate, but he won. What’s your reaction to that, and what message do you have for the people of Ohio in the next election?
Weddington – Well, my message to Ohioans, be they Democrats, Republicans, Independents or otherwise, is they have to pay attention to what candidates say; pay attention to their understanding of what it is to move the state forward; pay attention to those that they have surrounded themselves with. Gov. Kasich today may have won by 2 percentage points, but he doesn’t have mandate. It was a win and with that win he is able to do what he wants, but it should be within the understanding that half of those who voted didn’t vote for him. So he still has to balance his interpretation and his ideas with what the other half was expecting out of the governor or expecting in having Ted Strickland being their governor.
Mgbatogu – Ohio law requires the state to set aside 15% of its contracts for minority businesses. Recently, Kasich hinted he was thinking about raising that number. One thing is very clear. The goal of 15% is not currently being met. What should the administration do to meet that goal, which by the way wasn’t met in the Strickland administration, either?
Weddington – Well, he has to be realistic. That would require him to put forth some real effort in reaching those goals. He can’t just come into a meeting and say, oh, I want to do more than 15%. Well, you have to start with what you have already set in law, 15%. Start there. As you have pushed through many of your achievements, your so called achievements in the first 100 days, do the same thing for this goal. Honor what’s currently on the books. Enact the same executive order that Gov. Strickland did. Have them give you quarterly reports.
Mgbatogu – Gov. Kasich appointed the first 23 members of his cabinet before naming one African American. That didn’t sit well with you and the other Black lawmakers. But since then, he has named two African Americans to the cabinet, Michael Colbert in the Department of Job and Family Services, and Harvey Reed to run the Department of Youth Services. How would you assess the governor’s mindset when it comes to question of inclusion and diversity?
Weddington – In a cabinet of 25 plus people, he has 2 African Americans, I would say, so what. What does that really mean? How is that really showing diversity? We forced his hand. He was talking about metrics, about having people that had the same political ideology as he, about people that could move the state forward, that could address the budget ills of the state as if there was no one of color, no one from the African American community or Hispanic community or Asian community or Indian community or whatever other minority population, could assist him. It’s a good start with the two cabinet positions that he made with two African American men. [But] You have some mid level positions that could be filled with minorities. You have people that are surrounding the governor himself that could be filled with minorities. You only have one woman who is supposed to be the minority liaison, but she is unseen and unheard from. And so where as you have put someone in a position that says you are the liaison for minority affairs, we don’t know what you do and we haven’t see you do anything.
Mgbatogu – Do you think that a Black person can win a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio?
Weddington – Eventually. Not yet, though. As you have seen, all of our African American candidates that have run have been appointed. Other than Ken Blackwell, who is a Republican, no one has maintained their seat or won their seat outright. It’s unfortunate. It wasn’t until Barack Obama who ran for president did an African American win a statewide office on the Democratic side. Ken Blackwell did it. Yet when he wanted to run for governor, he did not succeed.
Mgbatogu – Growing up, did you aspire to be a politician or did you consider going into a different career?
Weddington – Actually, I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a political science major and go to law school, but as I was going along that path, getting involved led me to being involved in politics.
Mgbatogu – Outside of folks in your family, who would you consider your hero(s), living or deceased?
Weddington – I would say from a political perspective, it’s the woman who I learned how to be a state person under, and that would be Les Wright. I think Barack Obama is a hero, how he was able to go from a single parent family not knowing or having spent much time with his father to coming up going to law school, representing in the state legislature, running for the US senate and then running for president. He is a hero. I think those are two people that I reflect on.