Sooner or later we'll put an Obie on the moon, or in the White House, or maybe even in the seat of a state governor.
1973 Oberlin graduate and Board of Trustees member Lee Fisher is the Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, running against Secretary of State Bob Taft. The current governor, Republican George Voinovich, who cannot run again because of term limits, is running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Senator John Glenn. Voinovich's popularity has created a pedestal which Republican representative Taft was quick to assume as his own.
Although seven to eight points behind in recent opinion poles, Fisher has guaranteed victory to his supporters. However, one joint poll by the Toledo Blade and Cincinnati Post has Fisher trailing by only four points. Almost a third of registered voters said they are still undecided, leaving the race wide-open going into the final week.
In a traditionally Republican state, Fisher has been performing well in an expensive and highly charged campaign. At the end of August, Taft had over $7.7 million in his war chest, while Fisher had raised $6.2 million, according to the Cook Political Report.
"I heard it's a really tight race," said OC Democrats co-chair senior Jenny Kaleczyc. "He's probably as liberal a candidate as we'll ever get in mainstream politics." Fisher is pro-choice, encourages the use of job-training programs and has education and health care at the center of his platform.
As part of his campaign, Fisher has created a "Patients' Bill of Rights," providing citizens with more control of their medical care. He has encouraged increased funding for schools and state-wide achievement standards for public schools.
However, Fisher is moderate/conservative on some issues. He is particularly tough on crime, supporting expanded use of the death penalty, strengthened penalties and sentences for many crimes and increased state funding for construction of state prisons.
Fisher favors including sexual orientation in anti-discrimination laws, but does not believe that same-sex marriages should be recognized. Yet compared to Taft, Fisher is clearly the more liberal candidate.
From Tappan Square to the State Senate
Fisher attended Oberlin in the early '70s, a turbulent time on campus. A government major, student council member and WOBC newscaster, he is remembered by classmates as a well-intentioned and thoughtful political leader. Cynthia Stewart (OC '74) remembers Fisher for his consistent political leadership. "What I remember of him most is him working on campaigns," she said. "His politics have been formed by his desire to make the world a better place."
Stewart said that at that time everyone at Oberlin was politically involved. "Everybody breathed, ate and slept politics in those days," she said.
Thomas Theado (OC '73) remembers that Fisher's leadership skills became evident during their first year in the wake of the National Guard killing of four students at Kent State. Oberlin students voted to close the school in protest of the killings, with Fisher playing a vocal role.
Liz Burgess (OC '73) said that while they were both active politically, Fisher seemed more committed to making the existing system work. "He was much more seriously working within the system . . . while a lot of us were into more direct action and demonstration."
Theado also proudly noted that he is one of only two people to beat Fisher in an election. He upset Fisher for class president their senior year, when Fisher had to settle for vice-president. Fisher's only other defeat was a close loss in his 1994 bid for re-election as Ohio Attorney General.
Theado expresses continued support for Fisher. "My money's on him to be the first Jewish president," said Theado. "He always wanted to serve the people."
Fisher's life can be considered an inspiration to the many Oberlin seniors with no idea of what to do after school. In a student report he filled out his senior year, Fisher notably left the "career plans" space blank. He listed four ideas for the year after graduation: work for the Ohio Democratic Party, join the staff of then-Senator Adlai Stevenson, study in Israel or go to law school.
After leaving school, Fisher practiced law before being elected to the Ohio House in 1980, then the Ohio Senate in 1982. He was elected Ohio attorney general in 1990.
Fisher was scheduled to visit Oberlin last Monday but had to cancel when it conflicted with a visit with Lorain union members. However, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown came to encourage students to vote for Fisher.
"Fisher's race is real, real important for the state," said Brown. "I think Fisher's gonna win."
Fisher recently received an important endorsement from Cleveland mayor Michael White, but many media sources, such as The Plain Dealer, have given their support to Taft.
The race took a nasty turn earlier this fall when Taft repeatedly refused to face Fisher in a one-on-one debate. Members of the OC Democrats tried to confront Taft at Lorain County Community College in late September, when the two candidates were seeking the endorsement of the Lorain Morning Journal, which Fisher eventually received.
Taft agreed to participate if other nominal candidates were included. John Mitchel represents the Reform Party, and Zanna Feitler is an independent candidate. In a final debate which took place Wednesday night, the candidates had a candid and energetic discussion. Following the debate, Thursday polls indicated a slight shift in Fisher's favor.
Students on campus overwhelmingly support Fisher, for obvious ideological and sentimental reasons. The OC Democrats sponsored Brown's visit in part to push for strong student turnout on November 3. "Lee Fisher is one of us; his experiences at Oberlin must have rubbed off because he still reflects Oberlin values in his politics," said Kaleczyc.
College senior Meagan Willits said, "I'm optimistic but educated. I think that he's been doing good campaigning but that it might just come down to the fact that this state has more Republicans than Democrats."
Fishing for votes: Lee Fisher
Circa 1973: Future Governor?
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 7, October 30, 1998
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