Until 2016, Susan Vaughn, Miami’s director of the Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCR), had no aspirations to run for public office. Now, she’s seeking election to the Ohio House of Representatives in November 2018, as representative of Ohio’s 51st district.
Vaughn, who has worked at Miami University for 33 years, is running as a Democrat. At 67 years old, this is her first time running for public office.
One main objective of Vaughn’s campaign is reducing the role of large companies throughout the district and pushing resources toward small business development.
“I think there’s been real attention to big corporations, and the people who support those corporations are the ones who benefit from it,” Vaughn said. “And we gotta get back to bringing life to our smaller towns.”
Vaughn believes that shifting focus towards sustainable jobs for the lower and middle classes will bring prosperity throughout the county.
“I think it’s, to some extent, rigged, so that the people who are the supporters of the big business are the ones who are going to benefit from it,” she said. “And towns like this don’t prosper in circumstances like that.”
Although Vaughn is a registered Democrat and is receiving money and campaign support from Ohio democratic organizations, she is trying to take a nonpartisan approach to her campaign, she said.
“I have no platform,” Vaughn said. “I have nothing [where] I say, ‘I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna do it and change it for you.'”
Instead, she says she wants to focus on being a conduit for her local and regional community. Her campaign slogan is “Your Voice in Columbus.”
In order to sway voters in the heavily Republican Ohio 51st, Vaughn is hoping the district will look past party affiliation. She believes the local population has the ability to produce effective change regardless of their voting records.
“I believe that there are enough people in this town who, red or blue, care enough about their community,” Vaughn said. “These are people that lived here all their life.”
Vaughn traces her personal connection to southwest Ohio and the Rust Belt back to her childhood. Her father, Bill Reams, worked at Fisher Body, a General Motors assembly plant in Fairfield, for 32 years.
Today, Vaughn lives in Hamilton with her husband, John. Her daughter, Lizz, also lives in Hamilton and her son, Patrick, lives in Los Angeles.
In 2005, Vaughn appeared on the seventh season of reality TV show “The Amazing Race” with Patrick. Vaughn recalled a particular quote in which she described her motives for the contest, which she believed was taken out of context.
“They want something for television,” Vaughn said. “And so, you know [they asked], ‘What’re you going to do to win?’ And of course, I said, ‘I’ll lie, cheat, steal. I’ll do whatever it takes to win.'”
Vaughn sees a parallel between her time spent on the show and her potential career as a politician.
“I did things I never in the world thought I would do. And I said, ‘Maybe there is a comparison with that and politics,” Vaughn said. “I don’t know what’s coming my way as a politician.'”
Vaughn also commented on the various lawsuits she has been involved in as a result of her position at the university.
“In this job, I’m subject to litigation everyday,” she said. “You can’t please everyone. Everyone has a right to take legal action and challenge what the university does.”
She plans to host a campaign kickoff on Feb. 25 in Hamilton.
While Vaughn is currently running unopposed in the Democratic primary, at least five Republicans have come up in consideration for the seat, including incumbent Wes Retherford, former Butler County Commissioner Greg Jolivette, Matthew Taggart, Sara Carruthers and David Davidson.
Until the Butler County Board of Elections finishes certifying the election petitions on Feb. 20, the Republican field is unclear.
Vaughn said she turned her petition in early, and already made the 50-signature cutoff after some signatures were invalidated.
Vaughn announced that regardless of the result of the election, she will be retiring from her position at Miami University in July.
When asked about about her retirement plans in the event she doesn’t win the election, Vaughn seemed unfazed.
“Oh, I’ll find something,” she said.
Additional reporting by Jack Evans.