Ohio State Rep. Jena Powell on What’s Worth Fighting For
At 25, Representative Jena Powell is currently the youngest legislator serving in Ohio’s General Assembly. Before her election to the Ohio House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, she worked to build an outdoor marketing business alongside her brother, where she experienced first-hand how heavy-handed regulations can hurt businesses and communities.
America’s Future Foundation’s Columbus chapter president, Esther Bardo, sat down with newly elected Representative Jena Powell, Ohio legislative District 80. They discussed Jena’s journey into politics and the policies and reform issues she is most excited to take on in her first term. Here is some of the conversation:
EB: AFF exists to provide young professionals with opportunities to learn about the foundations of liberty: free markets, limited government, and personal responsibility — what do these principles of liberty mean to you, and what helped to shape your opinion of them?
JP: I grew up on a farm, so ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a business owner. Around the dinner table I would hear about business and growing companies, so through that I developed this passion, knowing I wanted to own my own business. My ideas of government were formed around that passion.
EB: You have been in the business world for some time already considering your young age — do you have some the real-life stories where overregulation or government involvement inhibited business?
JP: Well, my brother tricked me into entering politics, no really, he tricked me because he knows how mad I get about things! We have a billboard company; we have over 550 billboards throughout the state of Ohio. [During a meeting with] the zoning committee, we were told our local zoning permits were being rescinded. I sat there thinking,‘How can you do this, we’ve
already paid thousands of dollars to get these local and state zoning permits (and) we’ve worked really hard for the money we’ve put into this (company).’ It was this lightbulb moment where I realized, ‘Wow, government is really corrupt!’ It made me realize something needed to change. It was frustrating, knowing we’ve worked hard to grow this company, and then someone can come and say, ‘Oh by the way it’s going to cost you thousands of additional dollars [to run your business] because we say so’. So that started me on a journey of looking in the mirror and thinking maybe I can do something about it.
EB: Expound on that journey, how did you go from ‘This is annoying and I’m frustrated,’ to ‘I’m ready to run for office and help make those big changes in government’?
JP: About a year ago now, my siblings and I went on a trip to Europe. We were walking through the streets of Rome on a Sunday morning and come to this gorgeous cathedral. There was music coming out so we decide to go in. At the front a priest walks out and began to talk — [he was] not speaking English and I’m not Catholic, so I don’t know what’s happening — and all of a sudden a group of people stand up and walk down the center aisle and go out a side door. This continues happening until we are the last ones in the entire church. The priest starts talking and kinda locks eyes with us and ushers us forward, so we walk down the center aisle and outside. The next thing I know I’m standing in this alleyway with a bag of food in my hand! I looked around and see everyone who was in this church service is now sitting on the cobblestone alleyway eating — it hit me, what I thought was a church service was actually a meal for the homeless. A gentleman motioned for us to sit [with him and through] the Google translate app [we started] talking. We came to find out he has a great job, volunteers at the soup kitchen on Sundays, has a family, and loves the area, but at the end of the conversation he looked at us and he said something that changed my perspective on a lot of things. He said to us, ‘Can you find me a job in America?’ I sat there thinking, ‘Why do you want a job in America? You have a family, you volunteer, and frankly, I flew all the way to be here!’ But he asked again, ‘Can you find me a job in America, because it is the land of opportunity.’ And that’s when it came full circle, maybe not at just that moment — I wish life worked that fast, but I came to see (that) I have a business and I know how intrusive government can (be), and when bad people rise to power they threaten small business and families, and communities. So, you toss your hat in the ring and go for! It sounds simple; it’s not that simple! There were lots of nights, after my first debate for example, you call up family saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but you remember it is worth fighting for — because families are worth fighting for, and businesses are worth fighting for, and communities are worth fighting for.
EB: Going with those things worth fighting for, what are some of the policy issues you’re eager to fight for in your first term? What are you ready to reform?
JP: What really excites [me] is regulatory reform and tax reform. Those are issues that affect every individual, every business. When you cut taxes or reduce regulation on small businesses, it’s not only so people will have more money in their pockets, but it strengthens communities. That’s what I want to see. That’s the real role of government. Those are issues I’m excited to start working on.
EB: What advice do you have for fellow millennials, and the generation coming after us, who are thinking of getting into policy or politics?
JP: Yeah, so basically, what do I tell myself! It’s not all about me! It’s about serving others! I think [millennials] need to take the extra step forward — get involved. More [of us] need to come to the House and Senate and learn about what is happening. Go out and meet your representatives, have lunch with them, see what they are doing. [millennials] could learn so much from them; I have learned so much from talking with them! Also, know what you believe and be willing to stand up for it, because whether you’re an aid, or page, or elected official you are there to represent and serve your district.