Tanner Fischbach is a 19-year-old self-described “young Republican punk” from Berea, Ohio. When he announced his campaign for the highest public office in the most Democratic county in the state, many wondered what the hell he was thinking. I certainly did. So I met Fischbach and talked local politics, golf, the legitimacy of Punxsutawney Phil (that part was left on the cutting room floor) and the image issues of the Republican Party. The process of tracking him down and arranging interviews/photo shoots was an ordeal in itself, which worked into the story real well.
As liberal as I am, I found Fischbach to be a great interview (once we finally managed to meet). The story gets weird at times, and it’s one of my first features to boast a “twist” of any sort.
Fischbach’s voice is rough when we talk to him in mid-December. He details a nasty bout of illness that has plagued him for a couple weeks now and apologizes for missing an interview. This would become a hallmark going forward – his penchant for missing interviews, that is, not necessarily the illness.
Eventually, he agrees to meet up at a McDonald’s on the southern hemline of Parma. He’s wearing the same purple shirt and tie combo that he wears in his Facebook profile photo for his campaign. It’s as if he wriggled right out of the computer already in character.
“You know what? I’m feeling much better now.” Fischbach says in between slurps of Coke. “Everyone’s texting me: ‘I’m sorry you’re sick, but stay away from me,’ you know? The only thing I’ve got now is a cough, so I promise I won’t get you sick or anything.” His voice carries the quick lilt of his native Boston.
He leans back in his chair and, with a wistful smile, begins explaining his intentions, delving into his time at Berea High School – ground zero of his political awakening, as it were. The whole district mirrors the deep blue hues of the county, so the slightly younger Fischbach saw ample opportunity to engage in healthy debate around the halls. This was back when Gov. John Kasich was championing Senate Bill 5 (Issue 2) across the state, prior to Fischbach’s 2013 graduation.
“When you have a young Republican punk coming through your hallways…” Fischbach starts off with a laugh. “I remember they put a couple posters in the school. You know, ‘No on Senate Bill 5’ and all that. I went up to the administration and, well, ‘Am I allowed to put up posters for Senate Bill 5? Is this how it’s gonna go?’ I think it was like an hour later that they took them down, because I would do it. I would do it!”
He pursues this tangent: “I would love to see a push for another Senate Bill 5 if we could for the whole state. But if we could push something countywide, that’d be great. And a lot of people probably aren’t going to vote for me for saying that.”