Class of 2020 Endorsed Candidate: Stephanie Kunze
As a mother of two daughters, Stephanie Kunze is running for re-election to demonstrate to her children that women can and must have a voice in shaping public policy and providing leadership. In her current role as the State Senator for Ohio’s 16th district, Stephanie co-sponsored the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission which is highlighting the importance of women’s right to vote and promoting women’s participation in the political process. If re-elected, Stephanie will continue to be a voice for the fight against infant mortality, maternal morbidity and mortality, human trafficking as well as continuing to advocate for women in the workplace, women entrepreneurs, women-owned businesses and empower women to seek and hold elected office.
Meet the Candidate: Stephanie Kunze
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?
I am blessed to be the mother of two daughters. Throughout my adult life I have been dedicated to purpose and service. I believe we all crave connection – to be seen, heard and loved. While raising my girls, I was very aware of the responsibility that everything I do under their watchful eye is “caught not taught.” I wanted my life to be an example that empowered them. I wanted them to know they have a voice. I was intentional in how and where I invested my time while raising them. A purpose found me and I made myself available to it when the opportunity to run for public office presented itself to me. It was what I was called to do and had been unknowingly being prepared for my entire life. I wanted my daughters to see me take a risk on a big dream and work hard to achieve it. My journey to become a candidate for public office began when my friend ran for City Council. I volunteered with her grassroots campaign and she won the seat. When she chose not to seek re-election she said, “You should run for my seat.” My heart said yes, but I intentionally gave myself time to ponder and seek input from my family as well as current city leaders. When I was told by a male councilmember “perhaps you should seek being appointed to a board or commission instead of running for council,” my decision was made to seek the seat and I was the top vote getter in the election. I believe I was called to serve my neighbors and to advocate for policies that make Ohio the best place to live, work and enjoy a high quality of life. I had seen how having a woman’s voice on council had made an impact. I desired to be that voice for my community and was inspired to lead for my own daughters and future generations of all of our daughters.
2) Many of you cited a family member whose strength was an inspiration to you. Tell our members about a friend or family member who inspired you to become a leader.
I have been blessed to have several wonderful women mentors in my professional life, but the lessons I learned from my mother have had the biggest influence on me as a leader. My mom grew up in poverty, was married and widowed by the time she was 20. Nonetheless, she did not allow her grief to steal her future joy. She married my dad and had me in her early twenties and although she did not attend college, she had a vision for a better life for her children. My mother exemplifies service to others, a firm foundation in faith and an extraordinary love for her children. Her gift of affirmation and encouragement instilled confidence in me – I believed I could grow up to be anything I could dream. When watching the movie Akeelah and the Bee with my own daughters, I first heard a quote by Marianne Williamson featured in the movie. It embodies the gift my mom gave me. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” I loved it so much I hung it in both of my daughter’s rooms as a reminder of the freedom that comes from being who you were meant to be. I also learned from my mother the spirit of generosity and helping others along our journey. It is in this spirit that I am grateful to have amended the state budget to include funding for ROX, whose mission is “to create generations of confident girls who control their own relationships, experiences, decisions and futures.” This is how we align our values with our service to others for impactful investments and use our voice to bring about change in future generations.
3) Some of you are teachers, some businesspeople, some professionals, some homemakers. How has your career and life experiences shaped who you are as a person and a leader?
My background is diverse. I graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English. I worked as an account coordinator in sales then moved to a work from home position writing title policies while raising my two daughters. I also dedicated my time to service in my public schools and with groups in my community to address the needs and challenges of suburban poverty. Along the way, I worked to support microbusiness, small businesses and entrepreneurs which led me to be a founding member of www.LocalLevelEvents.com created to encourage those who live and work in an area to support their local businesses, schools and nonprofits. All of these experiences combined shaped me to believe that it is what we do every day that matters more than what we do once in a while. Being faithful in the small things provided the training ground for me to learn how to collaborate with others and grow in my servant leadership to others.
4) The Matriots PAC has a goal to see 50% of all elected offices in Ohio held by women by 2028. What is your vision for Ohio in 2028?
Right now only 24% of Ohio’s State Senators are women despite women making up 51% of the population. I am grateful be a member of the 24% because Ohio succeeds when women lead. My vision for 2028 is I believe that Ohio’s best days are yet to come. This includes representation reflective of our population. We will not be complacent. My mission is to continue to be the voice advocating for every child in Ohio to have the opportunity to dream and have access to the tools needed to create the life they envision. Removing barriers and providing access to families to the resources they need sets Ohio on firm foundation for the future. I believe the goal of women holding 50% of elected offices in the state of Ohio will lead the way to bring about our best version of Ohio.
5) Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.” What are the top-two issues your community or our state face today?
COVID-19 has shined a light on all aspects of our society that have not been structurally built on a solid foundation. From early childhood, K-12 public education, higher education to health care, COVID-19 has exposed weakness in systems where we need to fully invest and rebuild. It has also brought to light disparities and inequities in policies which must be addressed. The pandemic has truly shown how interconnected we all are. Many of the constituent calls I receive are not just about access to unemployment. The individuals and families I serve need additional help with the other supports that surround losing a job. From ensuring stability to remain in their home, access to food, access to healthcare, COVID-19 has illuminated that health and the economy are inextricably linked. There will be a tremendous impact of the pandemic on all of our lives and livelihood. This will also impact women and families in unique ways as they try to maintain economic security. I am looking forward to working together to find new ways of meeting the emerging needs of our community as we navigate and come through the pandemic.
5a) What policy change or improvement are you most proud of from your time in office?.
Although The Matriots had not yet been formed when I ran for office in 2016, I am proud of my body of work to improve the lives of women in Ohio during my tenure serving in the legislature. I am especially grateful for two bills signed into law during my time in the State Senate addressing the needs of survivors of human trafficking and increasing penalties on traffickers. Upon learning that I was the sponsor of the bill to expunge the records of crimes committed by victims of human trafficking while being trafficked, a survivor hugged me and said she was able to gain access to housing and employment and “had her life back thanks to that law.” This brought me to tears and I am humbled that my advocacy in the statehouse was able to free her from being victimized over and over by being denied access to housing and employment.
6) Now for fun: Tell us something personal about yourself. It can be a hobby, your favorite food or something we might not know about you that you would like to share with our members.
I am a lifelong student. I am a voracious reader and I enjoy all types of literature including fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction and memoirs. I am currently reading Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, who I thoroughly enjoyed meeting last year when she came to Ohio to speak at the Capitol Conversations luncheon. I love to surround myself with other learners, readers with diverse voices and immerse myself in side by side learning. An opportunity presented itself to me during quarantine to participate in Yale’s The Science of Well-Being course. I was invited to join a small group intentionally created to bring together people of diverse backgrounds, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religions, political affiliations and ages from all regions of the country. My greatest takeaway from this course was what we all know in our core and reaffirmed my purpose for service. We have much in common and we all crave connection to be seen, heard and loved.