CINCINNATI -- As Alicia Reece rallied a crowd of 2,000 people at Union Terminal before Hillary Clinton took the stage on June 27, the ghost of another powerful woman entered her mind. Her mother.
“To look outside, as I stood on stage, reflect how my mother grew up down the street from Union Terminal, in the projects,” Reece said in an interview with WCPO. “My grandmother, who lived there, only had a seventh-grade education. My grandmother, my mom, as a little kid, would walk from the projects up to Union Terminal.”
Her mother, Barbara, passed away from cancer in 2008, but Reece wished she could see her now.
“I wonder what mom would say – that her daughter is speaking and introducing the first female nominee for president,” Reece, a state representative from Bond Hill, told her father that night.
Leveraging that important relationship with Hillary Clinton, Reece landed a historic role with the Democratic National Committee earlier this year that’s allowed her to shape the party’s platform and decide what issues will be most important to Democrats for the next four years.
It’s been a long political journey for Reece, who at 28 made a long-shot bid to become the youngest woman elected to Cincinnati City Council.
Now, 17 years later, she has the ear of everyone from Ohio Gov. John Kasich to former President Bill Clinton.
“Being a state representative is an important enough position,” said Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke. “But she has built from there and developed a whole lot of clout, not just locally and statewide but nationally now.”
Meeting the Clintons
Reece first talked to Hillary Clinton last October while speaking at an event in Alabama. The former first lady was impressed that Alabama Democrats would invite Reece all the way down from Ohio.
The meeting led to Bill Clinton ringing Reece and offering to sit down with her when he came to Cincinnati in February.
“I thought I would get 10 or 15 minutes with him so I was really working on my pitch,” Reece said during an interview at Pleasant Ridge Chili in Cincinnati.
She ended up spending over an hour with the former president. Their conversation revolved around the voting bill of rights she’s helped to author, which would establish a permanent guideline of voting rules in Ohio.
The proposal would allow voters to use their social security numbers or college id cards to vote, establish permanent voting hours in the state and allow people to register to vote electronically, among other things.
Reece has been working to get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot, so Ohio voters can decide if it should be an amendment to the state’s constitution. More than 100,000 have backed the measure, but the amendment still needs to get nearly 300,000 more. Some Ohio Republicans, including State Sen. Bill Seitz, have dismissed the amendment as unnecessary.
But Bill Clinton liked the idea.
“He told me there was nothing like this around the country and that we need something like this all over so people feel empowered to vote,” Reece said of her meeting with Bill Clinton.
Reece chalked the meeting up to a one-time stroke of luck and figured the former president was simply being friendly to a local state representative.
So she was surprised when he later called to say he wanted to stay in touch – and then when the Clinton campaign handpicked her to serve on the Democratic National Committee’s platform drafting committee.
The group of 15 essentially decides what goals and issues the party will stand for during the next four years. The committee completed its work last week, after a 15-hour-marathon meeting.
“The Clintons had to have been impressed, or she would not have gotten on that platform,” Burke said.
‘I’ve Got to Make This Happen’
Reece took a 5 a.m. flight from Cincinnati on June 24 to St. Louis, where she headed to the DNC platform drafting committee’s final meeting.
She was ready to fight for policy changes Hillary Clinton wants to push, if she wins the White House, but she also had the chance to champion a number of her own causes.
Reece thought it was important to keep a proposal to fund paid family leave through a corporate tax of some sort instead of a payroll tax. She wanted the party, too, to recognize criminal justice reform movements, such as Black Lives Matter.
And, she hoped Democrats would recognize voting rights in its platform this year. So, she introduced an amendment – that’s included in the final draft – at the meeting for the Democratic Party to support voting initiatives, including her pitch for a voting bill of rights in Ohio, around the country.
"Since she began her career in public services on Cincinnati City Council she has fought to break down barriers, protect voting rights and expand opportunities for families there and in the Ohio State House," Chris Wyant, the state director for Ohio Hillary for America said of Reece's work and her selection to the drafting committee. "Cincinnati is lucky to have her as their advocate and we were thrilled to have her join the platform committee."
The move could start a broader conversation about voting procedures across the country, said Denise Driehaus, an Ohio representative who’s worked with Reece in the statehouse for six years.
“That’s a big deal, not only for Alicia but for all of us,” Driehaus said. “It’s important work and I love that she took it to the national level.”
Reece believes that if Democrats push her efforts in other states, it could become a model across the country. She said legislators in Florida are looking at her efforts here, for example.
“If they can go state by state with marijuana, we can go state by state with voting initiatives,” Reece said. “This is something that can be duplicated across the country.”
If her proposal is considered in other states -- and if her voting bill of rights ever gets passed here in Ohio – the laws will have a few of Barbara Reece’s fingerprints on them.
“It wasn’t a choice in my household, if you’re going to register or you’re going to vote. It was mandatory,” Reece said. “My mom … she would even be registering people, from her wheelchair to vote ... I would say, ‘Mom, come on in.’ And she said, ‘No, I’ve got to make this happen.’”