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Returning to Sandusky, Running for Ohio: Jim Obergefell on Caregiving, Health, and Public Service

Jim Obergefell

On episode 105 of Prognosis Ohio, Dan talks with Jim Obergefell, accidental civil rights activist and aspiring Ohio state representative in the Sandusky area. They discuss Jim’s experience with caregiving during his husband’s terminal illness; his book with Debbie Cenziper: Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality; Jim’s motivation for running for the Ohio statehouse; and much more.

Jim talks about caregiving for his husband, John Arthur, as ALS gradually took his life. Jim describes caregiving as a transformative experience. Dan wondered how Jim took care of himself during that time and Jim admitted his own mental and physical health took a back seat; he was so concerned with keeping John safe and comfortable, he didn’t think of himself. Respites from family and friends helped, as he and John had a good, supportive network. If he had it to do over, though, he would be more mindful of his own health. Caregivers matter too!

Early in their relationship, John, who had allergic asthma, experienced two respiratory arrests. Jim worried he wouldn’t be able to visit since John was in a Catholic hospital and they weren’t married. Would he be recognized as family?

This fear came back during John’s ALS battle. They wanted to use hospice care, but it was important to find a service that would recognize them as a family. Those are worries no one should have to face at the end of a loved one’s life. All patients and family members should be treated with dignity and respect as a matter of course.

Their networks of family and friends filled many gaps, including covering the financial cost for Jim and John to fly to Maryland to get married.

The conversation moves to Jim’s decision to run for State Representative. He believes good government and policy can and should make people’s lives easier and better; conversely, poor policies can make life harder.

Dan pointed to data from the Erie Public Health Department indicating that heart disease and cancer are the top killers in the area. Jim describes his hope of advocating for policies that ensure that Ohio industry uses the lake in a responsible way. Clean drinking water is also crucial, as Dan has discussed on past episodes, including one with the Ohio Environmental Council about water specifically. Public officials must keep the lake clean and healthy since it provides drinking water for the district.

Dan asked Jim what issues he is hearing most about as he talks with voters, and Jim reports that the cost and availability of health insurance remain high on Ohioan’s list of concerns. The cost of prescription drugs is another concern.

Dan and Jim also talk about Jim’s move back to Sandusky, Ohio, where he grew up. The pandemic helped him realize that Sandusky was still “home” after living in Cincinnati for 30+ years. He has lots of family nearby, but he notes Cincinnati and Sandusky are very different places, testimony to the diversity of the state of Ohio itself.

Unfortunately, Ohio election boundaries are still unclear and Jim says this is unfair to candidates and constituents. Voters, after all, need and deserve time to understand candidates and where they stand on issues.

Dan and Jim also talk about the friendship Jim has developed with Rick Hodges, despite the fact that they are forever known as opponents in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges. They share the belief that every person is valuable and deserves the same rights, respect and dignity. Rick was actually excited for his side to lose the lawsuit. The Ohio Department of Health, following the suit, was immediately ready to implement changes to support marriage equality. Dan and Jim use this story as a basis for discussing areas in which Democrats (like Jim) and Republicans (like Rick) can find common ground to move Ohio forward.

Hosted and produced by Dan Skinner.

Editorial and production support from Trish Mayhorn.

Music produced by Kyle Rosenberger.

Prognosis Ohio is a production of Prognosis Ohio, LLC.

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