Biologist, author and Kenyon professor Joan Slonczewski almost added “congressional candidate” to her résumé this year.
Slonczewski, Robert A. Oden Jr. professor of biology, put together an exploratory committee this summer to look into launching a campaign against Bob Gibbs (R), a representative for Ohio’s seventh district, which includes Knox County.
But Slonczewski ultimately decided to abandon her bid as a Democratic candidate due to restrictions by the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from running for office or donating to federal campaigns. The website of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel explains that the Hatch Act, passed in 1939, is designed to keep distribution of federal funds non-partisan.
Slonczewski currently receives grant money from the National Science Foundation for her research at Kenyon. She said she is unsure whether the Hatch Act prohibits people in her position from running for office.
“It’s clear that a government grant is not the same as a government contract; however, the legal distinction is not clear to me,” Slonczewski said, adding that she did not wish to pay lawyers to look into the issue at this time. Furthermore, the filing deadline is in December and Slonczewski did not think she had enough time to fully investigate a possible candidacy.
Her research into the issue turned up a July 2015 federal appeals court ruling, Wagner v. FEC, which prohibited a law professor who received a $12,000 grant from the federal government from contributing to a political campaign.
Slonczewski believes voters might oppose her running for federal office while receiving federal money.
While Slonczewski will not be mounting a 2016 challenge to Bob Gibbs, who ran unopposed in 2014, she remains interested in a future bid.
Spurred to consider a run in part due to Gibbs’s anti-abortion position and comments he made this summer about defunding Planned Parenthood, Slonczewski is interested in reforming the U.S. healthcare system, as well as promoting women’s rights. She believes Gibbs was wrong to vote to defund Planned Parenthood, in part because of the healthcare services, including cancer screenings, it offers low-income women in Knox County.
“I realized that in our particular district it’s hard to find anyone willing to speak up for what the average citizen needs, and in particular low-income citizens,” she said.
Slonczewski is also in favor of the federal government taking a more active role in regulating drug prices.
As a poll worker in Knox County since 2005, Slonczewski said she has gotten a good look at the democratic process in action. Additionally, she believes her science background gives her an advantage in working on healthcare legislation. She hopes to see a greater diversity of candidates in the future and said she would like to see more people running for Congress and spreading their political ideas, even if they do not win.
Slonczewski would have run on the Democratic Party ticket, and said she had been in touch with the Knox County Democratic Party (KCDP) regarding her interest. Chairman of the KCDP Adam Gilson declined to comment for this story due to his affiliation with Kenyon. Gilson is the publications director in the Office of Communications. Slonczewski declined to comment on the specific actions her exploratory committee took.