Candidate for US Congressional Ohio's 16th District
Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran
JAG Attorney and Tax Specialist
Small Business Owner
Picture this, a lanky kid with glasses that take up his whole face. That was me at seven years old when I started my first business. I would run the quarter of a mile from Rob B. Kelly Elementary school to my house. One minute and 14 seconds, that’s the time I always tried to beat. Once home I would run up the stairs and grab a cork board filled with Little Debbie snacks and take them down to my front porch. Every kid at school knew who I was. They’d stop by my house with their spare change and buy a peanut butter wafer bar or a cream filled oatmeal cookie for their trip home.
Why did this 7-year-old do this for three years barely missing a day? I had seen a television program with children starving in Africa. I told my mom, I’m going to make a pledge and help these kids out. My mom said, “You don’t make any money, how can you make a pledge?” “You’ll see” was my response. The next day I made some Kool-Aid and poured it into Tupperware containers to make popsicles. I loaded up my wagon with a cooler and took this down to the local park selling them for 10 cents apiece. I did this for the rest of the summer buying Kool-Aid and sugar to make my popsicles. When school started, I knew no one was going to want popsicles as the weather turned cold. I went with my mom to the grocery store and took $1.00 and bought a box of Little Debbie snacks called ‘Star Crunch.’ There were 12 snacks; I sold each one of them for 20 cents apiece, earning $2.40. With my earning I bought more and more. ‘Mark’s Stand’ was born.
I was not your typical kid. I can make you one promise; I will not be your typical politician.
After graduating high school, I went to a community college, and then on to the University of Buffalo and finally ended up at Ohio Northern Law School. I waited tables to pay my way through college and eventually joined the Army. I served five years in the Army, first as an enlisted soldier to pay off some of the debt from Law School and then as a JAG Attorney.
While in the Army I fell in love with a dedicated hard-charging Irish Major named Joanie. We married a year later. I finished my term in the Army and would move with my wife to any place the Army sent us. During my time moving about the country, I did taxes and estate planning for about 200 clients, both individuals and businesses. I did taxes for those who made a little and those who made a lot. I quickly learned that there were two tax systems. These dual tax systems tear at the very fabric of our country, shifting our country’s wealth away from the lower and middle class. There is the system for the working class including small businesses, and the system for established wealth and the well connected. The system for the working class and small business did its best to hide what taxes they pay and is rigid and unforgiving. The system for established wealth and the well connected is flexible and porous. I’ve seen the poor making slightly more than poverty level wages pay half of their income in taxes. At the same time, I prepared a return for a real estate broker who sheltered almost a million dollars from all federal state and local taxes.
Joanie pinned on the rank of lieutenant colonel and took her last assignment in Germany. We lived there for three years, and I continued to do taxes but this time for service members. Joanie has now retired after 22 years of service to her country, and we now live in Berea, Ohio.
When I moved back to the United States, I began to see the results of misguided laws written into our tax code. As the wealth of our country is funneled to the well-connected, it has come at the expense of the middle class and working poor. Our wages have stagnated. Economic growth and opportunity continue to diminish for the working class. During the past few years, the very people who benefited from this dysfunctional tax system or gained power and influence by putting our tax system in place needed a scapegoat. They needed a sales pitch of why our system was no longer working for the average American. They chose to divide us and turn us against each other. Stagnant wages are blamed on the poor and needy. They call them lazy and worthless as programs meant to help them had vanished to fund tax cuts to the top 1%. Their ranks continue to swell as opportunity fades and it becomes harder and harder to find a hand-up.
They claim it’s the immigrant's fault, those who sought a better future by coming to America and it’s their children who are stealing our jobs. We are now afraid to accept women and children from war-torn Aleppo. We are known as the land of the free and the home of the brave but are fed a constant diet of stories to make us the land of the fearful and the home of the insecure. Fear and insecurity are the tools that the con artists and the shysters use to enforce their will, reinventing our nation for their benefit. Fearful and insecure nations do not do great things and are easy to manipulate. They don’t find solutions to their problems; they become immobile and weak. That is the course set for us by the powerful and well-connected who don’t want the status quo challenged.
It is now time for us speak up. It is time for us to have a voice. It is time for us to heal our divisions. There are Americans on the right and the left that says our problems are too big. I’ve been told the corrupt relationship between our government and the well-connected cannot be changed.
I say we can change this and we must. It is time to expose the myths propagated that we can’t change our country; the myth that we must accept trickledown economics and beg for the scraps from the corporate table. It is time to provide the needy with a hand up. A child poverty rate of 31% in Wooster is not acceptable. Child poverty of 48% in Cleveland and 19% in Medina is obscene. Shifting resources from our communities for handouts to the top 1% is not acceptable. It is time to make the economy work for us all. It is time to be the land of the free and the home of the brave again.
If we don’t tackle our divisions, if we don’t expose lies that have permeated our political discourse, then our best days are behind us. I cannot accept this conclusion, no more than I could accept the conclusion that I could not help children starving in Africa. It is time to face our challenges, change our country and heal our divisions. If we stand united, we cannot fail. If we remain divided, we cannot win. I believe we can come together. I believe our best days are ahead, and they are bright.