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On Being Fearless...

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My name is Jennifer Brunner, and this year I was the Democratic candidate for Ohio Secretary of State. On Election Day, by defeating my Republican opponent and two other candidates in 51 of Ohio's 88 counties, with an unofficial total vote of 1,994,276 or 54.78% of the votes cast for this office, I became Secretary of State-Elect. In addition to being the first member of an Ohio county board of elections to be elected Secretary of State, this marks the first time in Ohio history that a woman has been elected to this post.

As Democrats replaced Republicans in one race after another in Ohio and across the nation, the realization that women can be trusted to assume high office was made manifest as new leaders like Nancy Pelosi, the next Speaker of the House, will step into shoes that previously had only been worn by men.

As one of the seven candidates featured by the Secretary of State Project, which was created by concerned citizens to provide an easy-to-use, low-cost vehicle for online donations to key Secretary of State races across the country, I'm pleased to join five of my fellow candidates as winners. The Secretary of State's office generally doesn't command the attention given by the media to the race for governor, but as the last two presidential elections have shown us, it is important to citizens and voters who want assurances that elections will be free, fair, open and honest. And without that, our form of democracy isn't worth very much.

Unfortunately for Ohio, many in the Buckeye State and across the nation think this has not been the case in recent years. They point to the 2004 presidential election as an example where the outgoing Republican Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, who lost overwhelmingly to Democratic Congressman Ted Strickland for governor this year, is perceived to have made partisan decisions that conflicted with the impartial administration of his duties and aided George W. Bush in returning to the White House. President Bush won Ohio in 2004 with a slim margin of 2.10% over his Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry. Mr. Blackwell was the co-chair of the Bush/Cheney ticket in Ohio and a chief spokesperson for State Issue 1, the gay marriage ban constitutional amendment that brought out record numbers of Ohio Christian and evangelical voters, as Blackwell himself described after the election, contributing to President Bush's election victory in Ohio.

My long road to the winner's circle and the victory celebration made possible by my family, friends, volunteers and supporters started in my hometown of Springfield, Ohio, where I was born and later in Columbus, Ohio, where I was raised by loving and hard working parents who taught me that a good education, honesty and hard work would be the keys to my future. I followed their advice by earning my undergraduate degree from Miami University of Ohio, and my law degree from Capital University in Columbus, and later being selected to serve as Deputy Director and Legislative Counsel in the Secretary of State's office under Sherrod Brown, our new junior U.S. Senator, starting my own law practice and practicing election law for 13 years, and later, by being elected a state trial court judge in Franklin County (Columbus), Ohio, where I defeated an appointee of Governor Bob Taft and then won a second term two years later.

Married for 28 years to my husband Rick, we have three outstanding children who are doing good things and to whom we've passed along the strong Ohio values that have helped us through our lives. My oldest daughter, Kate, at age 25 fearlessly left her position at the state's highest court and served as my chief fundraiser, helping me keep pace with and surpass my Republican opponent, a recent Texas transplant to Ohio and friend of President Bush, with ties to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, and who could count on a cadre of wealthy donors that included his billionaire Indiana in-laws. My son, John, became my driver, taking a quarter off from college to work full-time on the campaign. My daughter, Laura, a recent Berklee College of Music graduate in Boston, wore my campaign button every place she went in Boston.

To become a candidate for Ohio Secretary of State, a nonjudicial office, I had to resign from my position as a judge with almost four years left on my term. To be a viable candidate, I resigned more than a year before the election, in the face of a 2005 statewide ballot issue that would have stripped elections from the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. I didn't believe Ohioans would take away their ability to choose who ran their elections, so I fearlessly pursued the goal, amidst jokes that I was running to be a file clerk.

I've faced and examined my fears and used them to better understand how I must live my life. I believe that as humans, we must love and care for one another and serve each other, and that this is our highest calling. When this is the focus, it becomes easier to examine fears and understand how they can deter us from our calling. It also becomes easier to examine our fears with objectivity and learn from them.

Like many others, I've overcome obstacles great and small, and have tried to use my experiences to encourage and help others to reach their full potential. I became a candidate for Secretary of State of Ohio, because I saw as a judge how public service allows a person to do much to help others, serving the best interests of family, faith and community. I learned early on that by speaking the truth and not being afraid to do the right thing or make the tough call--and working hard for what you believe in--you can achieve what you seek, in this particular case, preserving democracy in Ohio and for this country.

Ohioans, like American voters across the nation, woke up this year to the sad state of affairs after years of Republican governance that bred corruption and scandals that in Ohio were unrivalled in recent history. In Ohio, a sitting governor for the first time had been convicted of crimes with no ensuing resignation, while a cozy contributor to Republican statewide office holders was given unfettered access to $50 million dollars of workers' compensation funds to invest in rare coins, collectibles and other unconventional items, benefiting from state funds deposited directly into his personal checking account.

Leaving the state in economic and social shambles, Republicans fell from power, despite their shameful and desperate, but futile, attempts to smear Democrats with concocted personal foibles, digging sometimes as far back as 20 years or more. To their credit, voters in Ohio rejected the false conclusions and scurrilous accusations that were hurled at them in rapid-fire fashion as Election Day drew closer.

My opponent, in classic Karl Rove-ian fashion, began his campaign with a "push poll" that exaggerated and outright misrepresented his and my records to test what was likely to move voters from trust in a proven record of election experience to taking a chance on a "new generation" of Republican leadership. Eventually, he hid from the Republican label and tried to confuse voters as to who was the Republican and who was the Democrat.

His first television advertisements of 15-second attack ads used the typical Republican dividers of fear and "Democrats can't keep you safe." Because as a judge I handled adult felonies, this particular approach entailed culling through a docket of 6000 cases, including my work as our county's first drug court judge, to find snippets from complicated cases to try to convince voters that I was soft on crime and therefore wouldn't protect Ohioans' votes--similar to the 1988 "Willie Horton" genre used in the elder Bush/Dukakis presidential contest.

Because of my judicial experience with jurors who in Ohio are registered voters, I believed Ohio voters would view these ads as incomplete and understand that many factors go into judicial decisions. I also responded with a strong ad that included a courageous mother of a senselessly murdered young man. Less than a year and half after her son's tragic murder and just over a year after the trial and plea had taken place before me as a judge, this mother stood up for me in my response ad, attesting to the strength of what I had done in these cases involving the loss of her son. Voters did not believe my opponent, and as he continued with his attacks, the poll numbers didn't budge for him--I remained ahead and moved further ahead, with a decisive victory November 7 and a concession call from him just after 10:00 p.m. on election night.

I am inspired by Arianna Huffington's call to become fearless in the face of spreading disillusionment about how our nation and state have been run under Republican Party control. I am anxious to show Ohio citizens that they, and the nation, need never again question whether Ohio's elections are safe, fair and reliable. We must become fearless to move ahead in our world. Fears can be conquered, and fears can be neutralized. Fears can be our teachers so that we never repeat tragic mistakes like wars fought because of fear of something that did not exist.

My story reflects those you give voice to in your book and those that others who are posting to your site are confirming. Now that Ohioans have trusted me enough to let me tackle Ohio elections, I've pledged to be fair and impartial, to listen to the people and act in their interest and on their behalf. Ohio's heritage as a state is so strong, and I want Ohioans to once again be proud of who we are and of the quality of life in our state. I will do my part by protecting and restoring trust to our democratic process so that Ohioans and the nation know that Ohio elections are free, fair, open and honest.

You can learn more about me and my campaign and what I will focus on going forward by visiting my website. I'm hopeful my short story about confronting and overcoming challenges gives encouragement and a moral boost to anyone, male or female, who strives to leave the world a better place than they found it and make a difference in the lives of others.

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