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'Things can be pretty tough,' says Dayton's only Democratic state legislator

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Willis Blackshear Jr. speaks to a crowd of about 10 at a town hall in Jefferson Township
Chris Welter

Freshman representative Willis Blackshear Jr. spoke about the bills he and his Democratic colleagues are trying to push through the Republican supermajority at the Ohio Statehouse at a town hall in Jefferson Township this week.

The only Democratic state legislator in the Dayton area held a town hall in Jefferson Township last night. It was part of a statewide tour by house democrats leading up to the midterm elections in November.

At the event, freshman representative Willis Blackshear Jr. spoke about the bills he and his Democratic colleagues are trying to push through the Republican supermajority at the Ohio Statehouse.

During his year and a half as a representative, two Blackshear Jr. primarily sponsored bills have passed: one designated March 29th as Ohio Tuskegee Airmen Day (HB 137) and another designated September as International Underground Railroad Month (HB 340).

Blackshear called that kind of legislation “Holiday and History” bills. He said they are important but other bills that he has sponsored addressing things like mental health in schools (HB 619) and law enforcement accountability (HB 331) haven’t even gotten a hearing.

Blackshear said bills related to gun control (HB 38, HB 259, HB 257, HB 240) and more access to reproductive healthcare (HB 42, HB 402) that are a part of the democrats broader agenda have also largely failed to get a hearing in Columbus.

Blackshear is 'still hopeful'

“So I'm still hopeful that maybe something can happen with those bills,” he said to the people in attendance. “But being in a legislature that isn't too friendly to Democrats, things can be pretty tough.”

Blackshear did highlight some of the state funding he has secured for the region working in partnership with his Republican colleagues in Montgomery County–including money for the free concert venue Levitt Pavilion in downtown Dayton.

He also explained to the people there that starting in January 2022, he will no longer be their state representative. That’s because he is shuffling legislative districts after the recent redistricting process.

After the event, Blackshear said it’s hard for him to tell his constituents that he’s been unable to pass the bills he wants to.

“You look in their eyes and a lot of them didn't even know these things were introduced. The perception is that politicians don't do anything but It's just that some of the things that we're trying to do, nothing is happening with it,” he said. “People are dealing with some real life issues and for me to tell them ‘hold on just a little bit longer,’ they keep on hearing that time and time again. How much longer can they hold on?”

Blackshear will hold two more town halls in other parts of his district before November. He is running unopposed.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.