Alumni Spotlight: Lis Kenneth Regula

Since 2017, Run For Something has endorsed over spectacular 800 candidates for state and local office. Every month, we are offering a closer look at some of our most prolific alumni. In 2018, Lis Kenneth Regula ran for County Auditor in Portage County, Ohio. After fighting (and subsequently winning), the fight to pass a local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance, Lis decided to run for a seat that had been held by the same Republican Auditor for 24 years, without a serious challenger.

Although he was not successful in his campaign, Lis still continues to work as an educator and advocate in his community. Learn more about Lis below:

What have you been up to since running for office?
In short: Teaching biology at University of Akron, leading a land use position study for League of Women Voters Kent, being named environmental activist of the year by Portage County Parks Foundation, and enjoying life.

This may sound weird, but my “fun” is working and getting things done, whether it’s at my job, at home, or in the community. The campaign took a lot of time out of every day, and now I can get back to stuff I enjoy- I’m overseeing an honors thesis with one of my students, I’m finishing tasks around the house that I didn’t have time to do during the election like building my father-in-law a table, and I’m back to advocating for local ordinances and policies that help our community. That’s me having a lot of fun, frankly.

How has running for office allowed you to positively affect your local government, community, etc.?
One of the non-profits I chair (Edible Kent) is partnering with a different local group to expand our model of community gardens to another Portage County community as Green Eats Ravenna. The organizers of that project sought me out because they heard about what Edible Kent was doing during the campaign. My interactions with Kent State students during the campaign has led to Kent Environmental Council finding new interns to help with a pollinator garden and improving our archived records in preparation for our 50th anniversary. Another local community is looking into non-discrimination ordinances that would protect LGBTQ folks who are not covered by federal or state legislation at present, and that started with a city council member who I met during the campaign.

When did you know you wanted to run for office?
The week before the filing deadline I made my decision. I was recruited by a friend and fellow local Democrat. Running was not on my radar (I hate the spotlight, truth be told), but this friend made the case that I could actually make a difference in our community, more so than I already was, by running for office and even more if I did get elected. I hate to say it, but my friend was right in approaching me to run even if the campaign itself was beyond difficult and I didn’t win.

What did running for office teach you about yourself?
That I can in fact handle the pressures of running for office, a renewed appreciation for elected officials and candidates, and that I have more to learn about my community. I appreciate more fully exactly how hard this process of running is for most people, and how much work it takes. It’s also highlighted how our elections favor traits that are not beneficial (and sometimes even detrimental) to the political process of actually governing. Traits like showmanship, partisanship, fundraising, and targeting our message to select groups instead of sending a uniform, consistent message are favored in the campaign process, but we need to work together and be transparent to get legislation passed and run a government whether it’s local, state, or federal. Campaigns are very much about personality, while governing should be about principles instead.

What did running for office teach you about your community?
That we are diverse in ways I had not considered previously, that it really is hard to get people interested in local politics, and that local politics is where we can have the biggest impact as voters or candidates. I realized exactly how rural our county on the whole is, and what an impact it makes that so many of the residents of our larger cities are college students. College students are a large block in Kent, but vote at very low rates compared to local residents (“townies”), so while the town feels very progressive, passing progressive policies is a challenge. On the other hand, the townships are predominantly rural, and older, and vote at very high rates, so for the county to elect and pass moderate to conservative policies is really easy. This means that there’s a high likelihood that in the future, as more and more young people move to cities or out of Ohio all together, the rural/urban divide is probably going to become worse and passing progressive policies even more difficult, which makes us less attractive for younger individuals, exacerbating the problem. It’s vaguely disheartening, if I’m being entirely honest.

Do you have a memorable moment or funny story from the campaign trail?
Thanks Mom before a fourth of July parade when my opponent came up behind my son who he was sitting on the ground playing a video game, and chastised me with “How dare you treat him like that?” Yes, how dare I let my kid play on a tablet on the ground.

It was upsetting, first and foremost. I was used to having my parenting questioned prior to my transition, but having my parenting questioned even when I presented as a man was new. On one hand, I think men and women should both be held accountable for rearing of children (duh, equality…), on the other hand why should we be butting into people’s personal lives in such a hurtful and purposeless manner? My son was in no harm, and was causing no one any harm, so what was wrong with either his or my behavior? Of course, the real answer is “because campaign” but it still stung. I’ve been more mindful of how I deal with parents since then.

Would you consider running for office again?
Yes, at some point.

What advice would you give someone who is sitting on the fence about running for office?
My dad always used to say that “if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.” I wouldn’t say that “if you don’t run, you don’t get to complain” but I do think more people would better understand the political process if they were more involved. Volunteer for a campaign, advocate for legislation (go to proponent or opponent hearings, help gather petition signatures- not just send an email or phone call or sign an online petition). Get in the mud and go to work, and you’ll start to fully comprehend why politics is so hard and more importantly what (and who) is effective and what’s not.

Recruiting & supporting young people running for office. Building a Democratic bench. Want to help?