Man holding protest sign

Matthew Meade at a Sunrise protest

There’s unexpected Democratic opposition to entrenched incumbent Congresswoman Joyce Beatty this year for Ohio’s 3rd district House seat. The Sunrise Movement’s local hub announced Friday that they’re endorsing lesser-known progressive Matthew Meade as the candidate who has better positions on climate issues and working class values.

Sunrise Movement is a U.S. based youth movement to “stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.” Launched officially in 2017, Sunrise was started by climate activists and members of other climate organizations like the Sierra Club. They have local chapters called “hubs” in all 50 states, including 9 in Ohio.

Sunrise Columbus, the local hub, is focused on making climate change “an urgent priority for Central Ohio.” They’re running multiple local campaigns: Good Jobs for All, a campaign emphasizing a part of the Green New Deal that guarantees a job for anyone who wants one; clean public transit; and opposition to the construction and operation of OSU’s new gas plant. They’re fighting to end political corruption involving fossil fuel companies and they endorse candidates that reflect their values.       

“We are certain that Matthew Meade will be that representative by backing strong climate policies and prioritizing people over profit,” Sunrise Columbus said in a statement.

One of the aspects of Sunrise Columbus’ endorsement is that Matthew Meade is a working-class Columbus resident without any big corporate backers or a shady political history. Meade is currently a restaurant worker and has worked service jobs throughout his life, working as a barista, a bowling alley attendant, and other odd jobs.

“Most of these jobs, I have worked fifty hours a week and still struggled to make ends meet,” Meade says on his website. “Because of these experiences, I have personally experienced how our government has failed the working class.”

Meade’s positions are more progressive than Joyce Beatty’s – he backs the Green New Deal, Medicare-For-All, and supports reallocating police funds towards specific community needs while Joyce Beatty only supports certain aspects of a Green New Deal, Medicare-For-All, and police reform.

Abigail Zhong, a member of Sunrise Columbus’ Political Team, said that Meade’s working-class background shows that he’s “intimately familiar with and dedicated to addressing the issues that others in this district face, like gentrification and a lack of livable wages.” 

The Incumbent

While Meade is currently working at a restaurant while trying to run his first political campaign, his opponent Joyce Beatty has a net worth of $7.2 million. With $3.4 million invested in commercial banks and $3 million in real estate, Beatty is in a very different economic class compared to Meade.

Joyce Beatty and her late husband Otto Beatty have had a long political history, both maxed out their terms in the state legislature and continued in politics to some degree. As a former power couple heavily invested in real estate, they made headlines for profiting off of gentrification. 

Otto was the vice chair of Columbus’ Downtown Commission, a zoning board that’s in charge of much of the city’s development, including expensive luxury apartments and condos. Members of the commission, their family members (including the Wexners), and PACs with ties to the companies of commission members have contributed over $280,000 to Joyce Beatty during her career.

Otto Beatty supported a development project that Downtown Commission was voting on, but it just so happened to involve the Beattys’ real estate. He voiced his support before the vote and although he refrained from voting initially, he approved additions and didn’t excuse himself from the process. The Beattys secured a greatly inflated purchase of the property, which was assessed at $510,000, but sold at $800,000.

When Joyce Beatty was the minority leader in the state legislature, she controversially opposed reforms to payday lending. At first it didn’t make much sense that a Democrat was going against something as popular as payday lending reform, but then the Dispatch reported that her husband Otto was a registered lobbyist for an Ohio-based payday lender, CheckSmart. After the article came out she flipped to supporting the reforms.       

Progressive Pushback

When progressive Morgan Harper ran against Joyce Beatty in 2020, her platform included fighting against gentrification and big money in politics. Harper worked as a consumer protection attorney and community organizer, in many ways the antithesis to Beatty. When Harper pointed out Beatty’s conflicting interests as someone who accepts corporate money (even from oil and gas), the Dispatch published a piece almost solely of Beatty quotes saying that Harper was “naïve.”

Harper lost the primary for that race and is now running for a Senate seat being vacated by Republican Rob Portman. But Matthew Meade is hoping to pick up Morgan Harper’s progressive fight against Joyce Beatty, going against gentrification and big money. “[A]s someone who lives in a very financially segregated neighborhood, which primarily houses BIPOC community members, it is quite clear that the current system and its representatives are not fighting for them,” Meade says. His website lists rent stabilization and addressing homelessness as issues that he would address.

Meade is also running to increase queer representation in Congress. In 2017 Meade won the title of Mr. Gay Ohio, the pageant representing “a community platform for social change.”

As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Meade’s political platform includes an emphasis on the LGBTQIA+ issues, from banning conversion therapy and transgender discrimination in schools to ending disrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity for prospective parents in the adoption process.

Meade’s concerns include “Innocent members of the BIPOC community being mistreated and murdered by the police officers who have sworn to protect them… Queer individuals being mugged in the streets, for simply living as themselves.”

Meade also sees housing, mass incarceration, and healthcare as major issues in his campaign as well as “working families facing eviction, despite their hours spent at jobs that have been deemed ‘essential.’ Hundreds of thousands of good people living through incarceration for the possession of cannabis. Uninsured folks, with medical needs, being forced to choose between going broke to pay hospital bills, and living in pain or illness every day.”

Meade says that these aren’t just talking points, but they’re “daily realities for many members of our beloved Columbus community. These things are happening – and they’re happening in our city and nation – everyday.”
Members of Sunrise Columbus had all of this in mind when members voted to endorse Matthew Meade. According to a statement, Sunrise Columbus will be helping with Meade’s campaign, “launching regular canvassing and phone banks for Mr. Meade.” Sunrise Columbus says, “[t]o flip this seat, we need a candidate who can inspire a diverse coalition of progressive voters from every corner of our district. We believe Matthew Meade has the vision it takes to be that candidate.”