Dan LaBotz understands his campaign to become Ohio’s next member of the U.S. Senate is a bit of a curiosity.
As Republicans and Tea Party members continue to throw around the term “socialist” as a sort of epithet, LaBotz, a Clifton resident, is one of just three national candidates from the Socialist Party, and the only one running for a Senate seat.
The wry 65-year-old, running against Republican candidate Rob Portman and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a Democrat, isn’t bothered by the name-calling, though. In fact, he’s relishing it.
As opponents against President Obama’s health-care bill increased their “socialist” rhetoric, he says, it has only seemed to draw more interest in Socialist Party ideas, helping turn his candidacy from a mere curiosity to an alternative that’s gaining attention.
“While the Tea Party has been attacking socialism, I find many Ohioans, especially young people, interested in the socialist alternative,” LaBotz says.
Free, or at least affordable, health care, better education, being paid living wages, having a voice in the workplace and being able to retire with dignity — these are socialist staples, he says. And as unemployment climbs, home foreclosures share daily front pages with natural disasters and schools continue to struggle, LaBotz is finding more sympathetic voters.
In February, when LaBotz announced his candidacy, he submitted a petition to state officials with signatures from more than 1,200 Ohio residents supporting his decision to run — 700 more names than required. That, along with continued partisan infighting in Washington and lengthening lines at the unemployment office, has LaBotz believing maybe the time finally has come for a third-party candidate to represent Ohio.
Born in Chicago and having grown up in California, he’s been a jack of all trades as an adult — his resume ranges from truck driver to union organizer to author, college professor and, currently, an elementary school Spanish teacher — all the while writing about and working with socialist groups.
In a 2005 column, he raised eyebrows in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster when he referred to America as a “failed state.”
As controversial as that was at the time, he says it’s a tag that’s been proven time and again since.
LaBotz points to a growing list of “social catastrophes” — Food & Drug Administration subcontracting, which he says has led to numerous E. coli breakouts, lax governmental oversight that led to April’s Massey Energy mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 workers, the BP Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster in the Gulf, and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among others — as his reason to run for the Senate seat George Voinovich will vacate later this year.
“What do we call a government — that is the U.S. government — that in the area of infant mortality, among the world’s advanced industrial nations, ranks 30th out of 31?” he asks. “I would call it a failed state, failing to protect the health and well-being of the country’s working people.”
It hasn’t failed everyone, though, he quickly adds.
“The state is failing everyone but the banks, insurance companies and corporations,” he says. “For them, it’s doing a great job.”
There’s also plenty of blame to spread around to both Republicans and Democrats, he notes.
By LaBotz’s estimation, the bipartisan bank bailout of 2009 saved the banks but failed to protect the homeowners who are now losing their houses to foreclosure, and President Obama’s later bailout of General Motors didn’t help workers affected by its plant closings. Even the president’s health care plan, he says, was designed to garner insurance companies more customers, while organized labor’s chief demand, the Employee Free Choice Act, fell by the wayside.
Instead of funneling money to corporations, according to LaBotz, the government should be investing in workers.
“The Republicans and Democrats, including Portman and Fisher, are failing to come up with a program for jobs,” he says. “More important, they’ve given up on the idea that Americans need a full-employment economy.”
LaBotz advocates for another massive governmental stimulus effort, this time to turn failed factories and plants over to its former workers to run as competition to their former corporate masters. He wants similar investment in health care and green energy alternatives, which will mean more jobs and a better life for workers, he says.
Still, as more people are paying attention to LaBotz, he knows that he’s in an uphill battle.
In May, less than 400 Ohioans voted in the Socialist Party primary, and the latest Rasmussen Poll numbers released July 20 have him sharing only 5 percent of the electorate with Constitution Party candidate Eric Deaton and two independents.
But LaBotz is adamant that he’s not staying in the race just for show.
“I am running to become the senator from Ohio,” he says. “I see my campaign as a way to talk about an alternative view of society that put peoples’ needs before corporate profits. I also see the campaign as a way to build a network of socialist activists in Ohio, people who walk on picket lines to support workers and their unions, people who organize against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, people who fight for gay and lesbian — or better, LGBT rights — people who want to dramatically reduce the use of carbon fuels to improve our environment.”
He adds, “I believe the working people make this country run and working people, not the banks and corporations, should run the country.”
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