Columbus's Morgan Harper of course. But are you familiar with DSA member Tristan Radar? He's in his third year as a Lakewood (Ohio) City Council member. 

The recent wave of corruption among both Republicans and Democrats in Ohio – House Speaker Larry Householder and Cincinnati City Councilmembers being charged with bribery – along with the pandemic’s mishandling, could be the final straw for voters.


While the GOP might split and form a new right-wing populist party, the Democrats are already divided among the centrists and progressives with most progressives being endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).


And with so many Trump voters from 2016 saying they would’ve voted for Bernie Sanders, can Democratic Socialists fill the populist void left by Trump with a party that represents working class interests?


Many on the left, especially those disenchanted with President Biden and the bulk of the Democratic Party, are taking a good look at the Democratic Socialists of America, which has grown to over 90,000 members with 71 members holding office (33 of those elected in 2020).


The DSA supports social and economic policies most Americans want to see implemented, although many tend to be disaffected by their preconceptions of the word “socialism.”


Even at a time when accusations of socialism are still seen as a red-scare trigger word, there may be an opening for Democratic Socialists to gain a foothold in the national, state, and local conversation. And with so much speculation about Ohio turning (Republican) red, the question for those on the left perhaps shouldn’t be whether it will turn blue, but if it will turn into a different kind of red?


The Columbus DSA and Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) at OSU have both been engaged locally with the 2019 city council bid of Lili Baiman and, during the pandemic, have organized outreach on tenants’ rights to communities where residents are more likely to be evicted, even with the national moratorium. 


Outside Cleveland in Lakewood, a former campaign field director for Bernie Sanders, Tristan Rader is serving on City Council and running for re-election. In his three years, this DSA member committed the city to 100% clean energy, implemented an affordable housing strategy to deal with rent increases, and reformed the public records policy garnering the highest rating in open government and transparency from the state auditor.


DSA largely advocates for policies that would be considered center in the rest of the developed world – a publicly-funded healthcare and education system, fair taxes on top earners, and an emphasis on workers having more power in decision-making processes.


The marginalization of these ideas in mainstream US politics has put the US behind in meeting the basic needs of its people and has contributed to the rise in interest in the DSA.


While Ohio might not be close to electing a full DSA ticket, there is precedent for socialists being elected in local governments throughout the state. 


In the progressive era, specifically 1911, Ohio expanded on its growing popularization of “Christian Socialism” by electing dozens of socialists to local positions from mayors to school boards and city councils (and at least three delegates elected to the 1912 state constitutional convention) many unseating corrupt politicians from the Democratic and Republican parties, running on a “results oriented” platform that spoke to Ohioans.


This led to the label of “Red Ohio” – very different from today’s Republican red. 


But the wave of socialists turned out to be a “false dawn.” Many followed the fate of former railroad worker Mayor Ralston in Fostoria, Ohio, who didn’t have a friendly city council or a supportive Socialist Party to back him when Republicans and Democrats supported a fusion candidate in the next election to make certain he only served one term.


The cities and towns of Canton, Conneaut, Salem, Dillonvale, Toronto, Sugar Grove, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, Brewster and St. Marys all experienced short term socialists elected to government positions in Ohio with varying success, but ultimately defeat. 


However, another part of this failure could also be considered a success. Much of the failures of socialists, specifically Eugene Debs’ presidential runs, were attributed to Democrats and Republicans implementing, or co-opting, policies from the socialist agenda. Making the socialists appear less necessary as the two main parties evolved their platforms to reflect a progressive shift. As the socialist congressman Victor Berger used to say before winning his hard-fought House seat, “we lose but we win.” 


Outside of Ohio, some municipal socialists had longer more successful tenures. Milwaukee, Wisconsin was run by socialists for 38 years between 1910-1960, delivering a cleaner government and a cleaner city, leading to Time describing the city after 20 years of socialist Mayor Daniel Hoan as “perhaps the best-governed city in the US.” With municipal programs promoting traffic safety, fire prevention and public health, the city won countless awards, so much so that Milwaukee had to be retired from the municipal health competition to give other municipalities a chance. 


While there is precedent for Ohio dipping its toes in red waters, socialists have not had a real shot at proving themselves in the state. Even as Bernie Sanders and AOC are vilified as socialists, the discontent among voters could open up the floor to a party that can prove itself to be effective. The four-term conservative Ohio governor Jim Rhodes once claimed that the “average Ohioan wants a job and wants to be left alone.” Bernie’s proposed plans for a federal jobs guarantee and large infrastructure projects that would stimulate the economy leaves one wondering if it’s the socialists who can provide the kind of blunt and effective government that Rhodes and other conservatives have claimed to pursue.