Inner View: Senator Bride Sweeney Continues Four Generation Family Legacy of Service to Ohio

Inner View: Bride Sweeney Continues Four Generation Family Legacy of Service to Ohio
by John O’Brien, Jr. @jobjr

The Sweeney family’s public presence is generations in the making.  Bride recalls, “Growing up, politics were always a part of our life. I remember my grandfather, Judge Gerald Sweeney’s retirement party and his travels around the state as a visiting judge. When I was growing up, my dad was always helping people. Constituents would stop over the house constantly and call our landline. I remember helping my father run for election, knocking on doors and walking in our  neighborhood parades.

“My great grandfather, an immigrant from Ireland,  was a State Representative for this same area. He started off as a carpenter; he built houses. Then he became a State Representative in West Park; the state representative went by the county then.

“Seeing them throughout my life, being in the public eye – I always thought, what a great way to spend one’s life – serving the public and helping people. However, the older I got the more I was exposed to the nastiness of politics.

“I felt I couldn’t handle that. I didn’t want to handle that. What I wanted was to have a passion for my work and to make a difference. During college at John Carroll University, I made the decision to study political science.  I never saw myself running. I want to be behind the scenes.

“After college, I was fortunate enough to land a job in the state legislature working as a policy aide. I worked in the Senate, while my dad served as a State Representative. At first, I didn’t tell anyone who my dad was because I wanted to earn my own reputation.

“I just soaked up the entire experience of working in the state capital. Most people learn how a bill becomes a law from a book, but I get to see behind-the-scenes. My favorite part was the constituent service, and helping people all across the state.

“I’ve learned so much from my dad. He is a roll up your sleeves kind of public servant. He believed you served by taking action. He is a go above and beyond kind of person; that’s just who he is.

“Seeing him in action every day was so impactful to me, in our home and throughout my life. Everyone has a story about my dad. How he got things done when no one else could. He made me understand that this is definitely not a 9-to-5 job. It is 24/7 all the time. You are always on the clock.

“While working in the Senate I started to gain the confidence to run for office myself, I heard people reading my speeches on the Senate floor and seeing my exact quotes printed in The Plain Dealer. I thought if I can write their speeches, then why shouldn’t I use my own voice to represent my community?

“People discouraged me from running for office. They said this just isn’t my time and I should wait my turn. But after meeting the individuals running to replace my dad in the legislature, I quickly realized I knew far more about the issues and governmental processes than they did.

“I entered into the race two weeks before the filing deadline. I knocked on doors every day from the filings to the election. I personally knocked on 7,000 doors; I had to prove my work ethic. Older constituents were supportive of seeing a young person get involved in government, and they were thankful I stepped up.

“Yes, I was the youngest person running. However, with my experience in the legislature I was the most qualified for the position., It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. To prove I am my own person and that I had what it takes to win and serve.

4 generations Bride next to her brother Marty, next to Marty’s sister Maureen Sweeney C standing around their father The Honorable Gerald Francis Sweeney, holding a picture of his father Michael E Sweeney

“I thought about my mother a lot when things got tough. My mom, who we lost five years ago to cancer, made me promise to always believe in myself and to never let anyone make me feel less than what I knew I was capable of. I would not have been able to do it without my mom instilling that in me.  I feel like I knew I had to do this; I had to work hard to make it easier for the next woman to run.

“At the time, I was aware that people were saying I will be the first woman in this position. That was part of my sense of obligation, my calling. I think it is an important story to tell, about the need for equal representation of women in positions of power.”

What is a Day in the Life Like?
“Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I am often in Columbus because that’s when the Ohio House meets. Mondays and Fridays, I spend time with constituents, tour local businesses, and keep in touch with local governments. I have to be out there in the community to listen to people and let them know how state policy will affect them; it’s my job.

“Sometimes I have to remind myself to block off time to respond to emails and calls etc. Committee Hearings take up a lot of time. Because Ohio has term limits, out of thirty-eight Democrats, eighteen of them are freshman. When I was running for my first term, I could say, “I’ve worked here, I already know how this place works,” because I’d been there for years. I came in ready to do the job on day one, and I dedicate a lot of time to the work.

“Many people underestimated me as a young woman, twenty-six years old. After my election, I made it onto one of the most powerful committees, the finance committee, which writes the state’s seventy-billion-dollar budget.

“Finance is my favorite, especially after serving as the Ranking Member for the Subcommittee on Higher Education during the last budget. It’s amazing  to see something you worked on become state law; nothing is more rewarding. I also serve on the Insurance and the Commerce and Labor Committees.”

District Concern: Healthcare and Rising Costs
“My concerns are my constituent’s concerns.  They care most about healthcare. I knew from the start that that was something I wanted to address. Far too many Ohioans are one bad medical diagnosis away from bankruptcy. We need to find a better way to make sure everyone has access to affordable quality healthcare”

District Concern: Voting and Voting Rights for a Fair Election
“In Ohio, if someone does not vote for six years, they are removed from the rolls. It is a very flawed process known as voter purging. We found this past year that the state does a very bad job at actually removing people who should be removed. In some cases, voters were wrongfully removed about 20% of the time.

“I offered a solution with automatic voter registration. My bill has an opt-out system. Instead of an opt-in one, when you go to renew your license or change your address, the clerk will say, do you want me to register you? It is so simple, and makes the current process obsolete. This would ensure that every eligible voter is able to participate in our elections if they so choose.

“Fair elections are the basis of democracy. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to vote.”

District Concern: College Affordability
“Another priority for me is college affordability. My House Bill 9, which deals with this issue, passed unanimously out of the Ohio House. General education courses, like English 101, don’t always transfer between schools, even though they should.

“There are too many people who aren’t graduating on time or at all; they go to school, have to leave before finishing, and they end up with nothing, because the courses they took aren’t transferring to whatever school or program they are going to next. They lose all of their hard work, their money, and their credits. If I wasn’t there, would this topic even be talked about?

“Town halls let people see what is going on with their government. People come to learn if you give them opportunities.

“Part of my work is helping constituents navigate through government bureaucracy. I can reach out to the government entity or agency that can help them, from members of city council to member of the U.S. Congress. I want people to be more aware of government and to hold leaders accountable to the people they are supposed to represent.

“I represent 110,000 people. When I got elected, some people assumed I went to Washington D.C. I encourage people to find out who their elected leaders are; call them, find out what they are doing; what are they working on? Are they doing the things that matter to you?

“Some people say, it doesn’t really affect me, so why should I care? They don’t realize how much it’s all connected: retirement, energy costs, and on and on. This can be a lightbulb going off in their heads. Well, this affects me; I should learn more and understand more.

“If you show up and work hard, you can make a difference. I am aware of people saying that there is a stigma against young people getting involved. I want to leverage the opportunity for the next person.

 “I grew up in politics. I have worked in it for six years now. I have something to say. I can and will make a difference, for people now, and for those coming after me.

“There are people’s lives at stake here; it is bigger than me or my party. I make decisions for all the people of Ohio. I represent 110,000 people; you’re not going to keep me quiet!”

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