Class of 2020 Endorsed Candidate: Michele Lepore-Hagan
Michele Lepore-Hagan hopes to fulfill her third consecutive term as an Ohio House Representative for the 58th District. She entered the political sphere in 2014 after serving as an educator, administrator, and community activist. She has become a leading advocate for public education reforms and critical programs for seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities. She has also fought for increased funding for local governments and first responders. If re-elected, Michele plans to prioritize fair treatment for women, minorities, and working families.
In 2021, Representative Michele Lepore-Hagan will serve in the 134th Ohio General Assembly.
Meet The Candidate
1) In your interview with the Endorsement Committee, you shared a personal life experience that led you to the decision to run for office. Can you tell our members a little bit about your journey to filing as a candidate?
When I met my husband, Bobby, in 1984 I had just returned home from New York City where I was pursuing a career in Modern Dance after graduating from Ohio University. Bobby was contemplating running for State Representative, and I quickly jumped into action and turned his apartment into a campaign headquarters. I invited our closest family and friends to become the “kitchen cabinet advisors” who met weekly to keep us on track. I was so invested in my husband’s race it felt like I was on the ballot myself.
We got married in-between the primary and general election and I was hired at Youngstown State University as the Director of the Performing Arts Series where I saw first hand how the programs at the University relied on the Legislature for funding.
My husband was term-limited in 2014 and his trusted colleagues in the legislature wanted an ally to take his place in the House. They all came to me and at 60 years old with a career in the Arts, I chose to change my life and my path and run for State Representative. No excuses, I had to run..
I knew from the years by my husband’s side that I had mastered campaigning but I had some doubts about the job itself. However, women in my life pushed me, my daughter Natalia, my sister Nanette, my nieces, and all seven of my sisters-in-law’s along with four of my husband’s colleagues in the legislature, Nickie Antonio, Denise Driehaus, Connie Pillich, and Teresa Fedor. All of these trusted women in my life relentlessly pursued me to run for the seat.
I had the privilege of understanding the political process. Living with a passionate elected official, I understood the ebb and flow and the legislature. I grew into a unique understanding of the work and commitment it takes to represent your constituents in an honest and fearless way. I saw how the responsibilities took my husband away from home for days at a time. Simultaneously I saw my responsibilities growing; mastering motherhood as a working mom working full time, making family dinners, transporting the kids to ballet and baseball practice, all the while waiting for Bobby to rush home from Columbus to catch Natalia’s performance or see Jimmy’s home run.
I was fortunate to have the privilege of name recognition on the ballot. Although I used my hyphenated name, Lepore-Hagan, I was running representing a family that was known for honesty and integrity in a tradition of public service and I was proud to continue that message in my campaign.
Although I was uniquely qualified, it took some time to understand my value in the political realm. Up until that point in my life, I had only known an overwhelmingly male-driven workplace, one that was oftentimes not in the best interest of everyone’s well-being. Yet, when I took the leap and ran for state representative it was refreshing to finally have a platform to speak from, to shine a light on important issues in our community. I was able to represent all women and our distinctive journeys through life. That made me understand how important it was to have female voices in politics and gave me the confidence to keep using my voice to stand up for women’s rights.
I filed because my family and friends encouraged me. With 3 opponents in my first race, I got 50% of the vote and have won with overwhelming support in my last three elections.
I’m proud to say that I taught my daughter to stand up for herself and she does.
When I first got into office I had to stand up to misogynistic bullies in the legislature and in my own community. That was extremely difficult for me until I heard my own words repeated back to me by my daughter.
She assured me that I had every right to be there and to stand strong against injustice and misogyny.
My experiences in life undeniably affect how I legislate. My age and wisdom gained from a life well-traveled, from moving to New York City surrounding myself in the world of the artists to raising a family while campaigning, all of these experiences make me a whole person and that is why we matter and we are essential. It truly is the “citizens legislature” when we have a seat at the table where policy is legislated.
I approach political life like I tend to my family, with understanding, hope, nurturing, protection, and care and I know I’ve made everyone who encouraged me to run extremely proud.
2) Many of you cited a specific person whose strength was an inspiration to you. Can you tell me about a woman who has had a big influence on your life and inspired you to become a leader? What lessons did she teach you?
Obviously my mother had an incredible influence on my strength and a big inspiration on me. I wish she were around to see me fighting for the issues important to her, but she passed before I ran. Prior to my running for office while both my husband and I worked, and she being a kindergarten teacher spent many hours with our kids reading and showing them a world that learning will bring to them. Politically, I had a great friend in State Senator Nickie Antonio who was one of the original women who urged me to run. To this day we are the best of friends and talk daily about our goals with legislation.
3) Some of you are military veterans, some small business owners, some professionals, some mothers and grandmothers, some homemakers. How did one of these experiences shape who you are as a person and a leader?
I really became a leader after understanding my district. My campaigning allowed me to ‘walk and talk’ through my district and to learn about the struggles of my district. Single mothers not getting care for their newly born child, children not getting fed or living in food deserts, kids not being taught in underfunded schools that did not recognize the struggle of the effects of poverty on the learning process, made me a quick study on what my priorities would be as I took office. The single biggest issue, being a mother, was that kids need our help our attention, and our understanding, that they are born into poverty and they all are our kids.
4) The Matriots PAC has a bold goal to see 50% of all elected offices in Ohio held by women by 2028. What is your vision for Ohio in 2028?
We all need to understand that for a future that brings hope, we have to be part of it. We need to reach out to the mothers, grandmothers, and those women who must be part of this hope and change. I see a future that cannot understand the struggles of our state unless we see the compassion that women can bring to our leadership at the state level.
5) Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.” What are the top-two issues your community faces today?
Our school system in one of the districts I represent is in turmoil and I see poverty as the biggest culprit. Making sure kids in a district that has one of the highest poverty rates in the State, have food on their table, has a job for their parents, and a future that keeps them here is one of my first priorities. The second issue is proving jobs in a district that has always been one of the Metropolitan Statistical Area’s highest in the country since we have lost over 50,000 steel jobs in the last 25 years.
6) Now for fun: Tell us something personal about yourself. It can be a hobby, your favorite food, a funny pet story, something we might not know about you that you would like to share with our members.
I was raised as a bohemian hippie on route 66. My father was a first-generation American Italian. He was born in Youngstown Ohio as one of 4 boys who all but him moved to California. It was 1960 and I was 5 yrs. old. My mother and father packed us in the 1957 Chevy and strapped my father’s abstract expressionistic paintings onto the roof of the car. We drove just like that to California where we lived for a year in Long Beach with cows grazing at the end of our block. When we returned to Youngstown and I was 8 yrs. old I was defending abstract expressionism to all the neighborhood kids. My father got a job as a professor at Youngstown State University but every summer we would pack ourselves back into a Volkswagen Van and make the trek to California to see our family. Of course, we camped the whole way only staying at state parks because they were free. I recall my father telling us that he only spent $600.00 for a 6 wk. trip to California and back!
So in 2006 when my kids showed me the movie “Little Miss Sunshine” I laughed so hard I cried. So many of my memories flooded back to me. I remembered jumping out of my brother’s VW Beetle and running next to it so we could hop in once the engine started. I remembered packing five of us into our VW van only to spill out on any KOA that we had found on the road. I remembered finding snakes and creeks and beautiful trees that I loved. I remembered the incredible American dream that my father had and gave us as we traveled across our beautiful country. I am so happy to have had such incredibly supportive and artistic parents as I’ve traveled through my life and these experiences made me strong and resilient as a woman and a mother.