Kamrass, Dever lock horns in tight Ohio House race

Oct 24, 2014

Micah Kamrass (l.), Jonathan Dever (r.)

28th Ohio House District

This district of about 110,000 people sprawls across some of northern Hamilton County’s largest communities; and has become one of the most competitive districts in Ohio. This year, there is a no incumbent – Democratic State Rep. Connie Pillich is running for Ohio treasurer. Pillich took the 28th District seat away from the Republicans in 2008. After the 2010 census, the Republicans in the legislature re-drew the district to make it friendlier to Republicans, but Pillich won again in 2012. It includes communities such as Forest Park, Glendale, Greenhills, Blue Ash, Deer Park, Evendale, Springdale, Sharonville, Reading, Madeira, Montgomery, Springfield Township and Sycamore Township.

The Candidates

Jonathan Dever (Republican)

The 41-year-old Dever, a lawyer and business owner, was something of a surprise winner in the May primary.

A first-time candidate for public office, although he had been active in party affairs, was up against Rick Bryan, the long-time Blue Ash council member and former mayor who went into the primary as the favorite.

In the end, though, Dever, who had grown up in Montgomery but only moved back into the district last year, ended up winning the primary over Bryan by a scant 66 votes out of 7,666 cast.

It left some hard feelings among some Republicans; and a handful of present and former elected officials in the district have endorsed his Democratic opponent, Micah Kamrass of Blue Ash. But the vast majority of GOP leaders in the district are backing his candidacy; Dever's campaign website lists 56 GOP leaders at the federal, state, county and local levels of government who have endorsed him.

He’s also racked up a number of endorsements from political action committees, including the Cincinnati Right to Life PAC, the Ohio Right to Life PAC, the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati and the Buckeye Firearms Association.

“I can count on one hand the number of people who are not happy with me,’’ Dever told WVXU. “I didn’t see the primary as being divisive, just very competitive.”

Dever is not a complete novice to politics; he’s been active in party affairs. He was active in a campaign to stop the Cincinnati streetcar. And, in 2012, he co-chaired the county party’s get-out-the-vote effort.

“Early on, I worked as a campaign volunteer,’’ Dever said. “I was out knocking on doors for candidates like (congressman) Steve Chabot, (former state senator) Dick Finan, (former county commissioner) Phil Heimlich.”

Republicans hold a solid majority in the Ohio House and are almost certain to keep it in the November election. But the GOP House caucus wants this seat back badly, after it was wrested away from them in 2008 by State Rep. Connie Pillich, the Montgomery Democrat who is now running for state treasurer.

That is why the Ohio GOP House caucus, through its political arm, the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee, has thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars into the 28th District, which Pillich won two years ago with 52 percent of the vote over Cincinnati Tea Party founder Mike Wilson in the Republican-leaning district.

In his campaign, Dever talks about his own background; and how, as a family man and a business owner, he can relate to the financial problems that many of his would-be constituents face.

“I see myself as a husband, a father, and a son,’’ Dever said. “And I believe in public service. That is a tradition in my family.”

He spent years studying outside of the Cincinnati area, including periods of time in Poland and Oxford, England. He got his law degree from Capital University in 2001 and the next year, married his wife, Martha. They lived in Columbus while she earned her degree in dentistry.

When Dever returned, he and his wife built a home in the Kenwood Hills section of Madeira. His two young sons, he said, are the fifth consecutive generation of Devers to have lived in Madeira.

He speaks frankly, too, about the fact that before moving back into the district, he had a foreclosure on a property he owned, which he wrote about on his campaign blog. The parties went to court, but agreed on a settlement.

“It taught me that sometimes life gives you a kick in the rear,’’ Dever said. “I learned a valuable lesson. It’s how you deal with it. It’s not a badge of shame. Quite a few folks have gone through this. I have an understanding of the financial problems that individuals and businesses are facing.”

That, he said, is why his law practice is focused on foreclosure defense and real estate law; and why he serves as a volunteer financial coach for members of the congregation at his family’s church, Hope Church in Mason.

“I know that putting food on the table is not easy,’’ Dever said. “Raising kids is not easy.”

Unlike his opponent, who has recently earned his masters and law degree, Dever said he has “real world experience.”

Dever believes that government too often gets in the way of people who want to create jobs. He said he talked to a woman who owns a business in Blue Ash who employs about 50 people; and wants to hire 50 more.

“But she says she can’t do it,’’ Dever said. “The red tape involved is too much. She wouldn’t make another red cent because of all the regulations.”

Dever wants people in the district to know that he is not all about politics and the practice of law. One of his favorite pastimes is going to Canada to fish for northern pike.

“I’m deep into a restoring a 1939 Ford pick-up right now; it’s a lot of work, but I love it,’’ “I have every power tool you could ever imagine.  I could build you a house from scratch.”

Dever said that once he got out of law school, his life could have turned out much differently.

“I could have been in one of the big law firms; or I could have hung out my own shingle and practiced law on my own,’’ he said. “So I decided I’d hang out my own shingle. I feel I can do more for people that way.”

Micah Kamrass (Democrat)

The Sycamore Township man is 25 years old and has never run for government office before, but he says that he has more experience representing large numbers of people than his opponent.

As an undergraduate student at Ohio State University, he was elected student body president. It’s a job that has been the stepping stone to a career in politics before – both Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican, and John Carney, the Democratic candidate for state auditor, have held the position. The current governor, Republican John Kasich, ran for the office and lost.

“There are about 110,000 people in this district,’’ Kamrass told WVXU. “I’ve had a job where I represented over 40,000 people and handled a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, as student body president, I was part of the governance of the university.”

Fresh out of law school and awaiting the results of his bar exam, Kamrass said his youth is no hindrance to his candidacy.

“It’s not a problem,’’ Kamrass said. “Sherrod Brown (the Democratic U.S. senator from Ohio) was 22 when he was elected to the Ohio House. John Kasich was 26 when he was elected to the Ohio Senate.

“I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel,’’ Kamrass said. “I have more experience than my opponent in representing a large number of people.”

And being student body president at the state’s largest university plugs you into a network of potential campaign donors; and Kamrass has raised a considerable amount of money from his Ohio State connections.   

And he has raised plenty of money in Cincinnati as well, although he is likely to be outspent by Dever and his allies in the GOP Ohio House caucus.

Nonetheless, he is convinced that he can do what the current 28th Ohio House District representative, Democrat Connie Pillich, has done – win as a Democrat in a district that leans decidedly Republican.

“This looks like it is going to be a Republican year and it is a Republican-leaning district,’’ Kamrass said. “I think people are sick of partisan politics, sick of the in-fighting and seeing nothing getting done.”

Kamrass has a large corps of campaign volunteers. He and his volunteers, he said, have knocked on about 50,000 doors in the sprawling 28th District.

When he knocks on doors personally, he starts the conversation with a question.

“I ask them first what they are interested in, what issues are important to them,’’ Kamrass said. “Some talk about frustration with the federal government; some talk about potholes. But most people are interested in education and jobs.”

“This country is coming back from the recession, but Ohio is lagging behind,’’ Kamrass said. “People are concerned about taxes being raised in local communities because of the massive cuts in state funding. Those are the issues I want to deal with in Columbus.”

He said that he hands out his e-mail address and cell phone number to nearly everyone he meets on the campaign trail.

“I want people to be able to reach me when they need me,’’ Kamrass said.

Kamrass has deep ties to the community, especially in Sycamore Township, having gone through the Sycamore School District before going on to Ohio State, where he earned his undergraduate, masters and law degrees. His father, Lewis Kamrass, is well known in the community as rabbi of Isaac M. Wise Temple in Amberley Village.

“My parents taught me the importance of service to the community,’’ Kamrass said.

While the overwhelming majority of elected Republicans in the area support Dever, Kamrass has picked up the endorsement of a few Republican officeholders including Doyle Webster, the mayor of Springdale, and former Blue Ash mayor Walter Rueszer. Kamrass also has the endorsement of the Cincinnati Board of Realtors PAC and the Ohio Realtors PAC – two organizations that tend to endorse more Republicans than Democrats.

If he is elected, he will doubtless be going to Columbus as a freshman Democrat in a House controlled by an overwhelming Republican majority.

Kamrass said he has no problem reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans “on issues where we can find some agreement.”

“I want to deliver victory for the community, not for any political party,’’ Kamrass said.

His role model as a state representative, he said, will be Pillich.

“That’s exactly the kind of representative I want to be,’’ Kamrass said. “Connie is very popular. A Democrat in a Republican district. But she listens to her constituents, no matter what their political affiliation.”

Kamrass is engaged to a woman he has known since their days coming up through the Sycamore school system. He’s a big sports fan – he named his dog Larkin, after Barry Larkin, his all-time favorite Cincinnati Reds player.

He has been the target of attack ads by the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee. One of them calls him “Barack Obama’s biggest fan” and criticizes him for inviting President Obama to Ohio State in 2010. He and other student leaders arranged the Obama rally on campus; and the GOP committee claimed it cost taxpayers $100,000.

“I was attacked at Ohio State when I greeted the president of the United States to our campus,’’ Kamrass said. “I would welcome any president to the campus, Republican or Democrat, out of respect for the office.”

When he sees the attack ads on TV or the internet, he sees them as “a sad reality. I feel bad for my family, my fiancée.”

What politics in this country needs, he says, “is more civility. Things have become so negative. It’s gotten nasty. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

In the end, he said voters “will reward someone who is willing to work across the aisle to get things done.”

On the issues:

Restoring cuts to the state’s Local Government Fund: Kamrass believes the new legislature should send more money back to local communities because the state’s fiscal picture has improved. “The state government needs to not grab power as they have in recent years and find ways to help local governments, not hinder them.” Dever said that while local governments took a hit from Local Government Fund cuts, local governments need to “take a look at what they must do in terms of services they must provide and what they can do without.” But, he says, because of the state’s current surplus, “yes, the next legislature ought to be able to restore some of the cuts.”

JobsOhio: Dever said that the numbers suggest that JobsOhio, Gov. John Kasich’s private development corporation, has been working. “But we need some kind of oversight, an independent look at how state money is being spent….if tax money is being used, the people have a right to know how it is being used.” Kamrass said his biggest problem with JobsOhio is “that you don’t see any information about what they are doing and how tax dollars are being spent.” He also believes that southwest Ohio “has gotten a disproportionately low amount of the jobs that have been created.”

Same-sex marriage: Kamrass supports it, saying “I believe it will be the law of the land very soon.” In a candidate questionnaire from Cincinnati Right to Life, Dever answered “yes” to the question of whether he believes in “the union between one man and one woman as the only definition of marriage that should be legally recognized at all levels of government.” He added that “I am not interested in disrupting traditional marriage. As a conservative, I believe in the First Amendment and the freedom of contract.”

Abortion: Dever has the endorsement of the Cincinnati Right to Life PAC and the Ohio Right to Life PAC. But he told WVXU that “I believe the way of moving the dial on this issue is by education. We have to educate – not only one on one but collectively. I don’t think you can legislate it away because that is government by fiat.” Kamrass describes himself as “pro-choice.” He said “health care decisions should be made by a woman and her doctor.” It would be a “waste of time to pass anti-abortion laws that are going to be struck down by the courts.”

Common Core: Kamrass: “If we are going to require every child to be able to read by the third grade, then the state must invest more in pre-school education.” Dever opposes Common Core, saying “you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. What works in Winton Woods may not work in Madeira, and vice versa.”

About the candidates:

Jonathan Dever (Republican)

Age: 41

Residence: Madeira

Family: Wife, Martha and two sons, Zachary and Benjamin

Occupation: Lawyer at Dever Law Firm, West Chester

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political history, University of Cincinnati; master’s degree in industrial labor relations, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; law degree, Capital University.

Campaign website: www.jonathandever.com

Micah Kamrass (Democrat)

Age: 25

Residence: Sycamore Township

Family: Engaged to Blair Wolkoff

Occupation: Law clerk at Manley Burke LPA, Downtown

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, master’s degree in public policy and management, and law degree, all from Ohio State University.

Campaign website: www.micahkamrass.com