First-Year Looks to Transform Local Politics, Runs for District 56


Photo Courtesy of Claudia Olaes

Claudia Olaes delivers her valedictorian speech during the graduation of the Class of 2018 from nearby Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio. Olaes, a College first-year, has taken a leave of absence to run for state representative in Ohio’s 56th District.

While most Oberlin students are once again settling into campus life after spring break, College first-year Claudia Olaes is running for local office. A pre-med student minoring in Art and Politics, Olaes has taken academic leave this semester to run for the Ohio House of Representatives in District 56. The Democratic incumbent, Dan Ramos, is unable to run for re-election due to term limits, so the Lorain native is campaigning for a vacant seat against three Democrats and one Republican.

Olaes may be young, but she highlighted her youth as one of her strengths, further emphasizing the need for local change.

“As a young candidate, I bring my energy, empathy, commitment, creativity, and idealism,” Olaes said. “I’m focused, hardworking, full of grit, and I’m not afraid to take action and risks. I offer fresh ideas and out-of-the-box solutions to the growing problems here in my community.”

Tired of years of inaction and silence from her political representatives, Olaes said she believes in her position as an underdog to break the stagnant status quo.

“I am running because I know what it’s like not to be heard,” she said. “I come from a family of advocates whose letters to the Governor, Attorney General, State Representative, Ohio [and] U.S. Departments of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Office of Civil Rights, and the Ohio Inspector General have fallen on deaf ears.”

District 56 has one of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in Ohio. Lorain was once a thriving rust belt town, propelled by U.S. Steel, which generated thousands of jobs. In recent years, however, jobs have left the county and its residents have struggled to recover. As a result, Olaes’ top priority as a candidate for Ohio representative is to listen to people — particularly those who have been marginalized because of their identity in the past.

“Your voice will be heard,” Olaes said. “The voice of individuals with disabilities, students and their families, … the 28 percent in poverty and the unemployed; those affected by the devastating opioid epidemic; youth across the America, standing up because enough is enough of these senseless school shootings; the victims of human trafficking; the courageous women of the #MeToo movement; and any voice experiencing social injustice and inequity will be heard.”

Beyond her strong conviction and vision of equality, many wonder what qualifies Olaes to represent 113,103 residents in places including Oberlin and Lorain. Olaes was valedictorian at Oberlin High School and was awarded the Robinson Scholarship, a merit scholarship for students who excel academically and socially. She is also a student-athlete at Oberlin, previously making history as a female player in a boy’s league before playing for the College.

“I played first singles and served as captain of the varsity boys tennis high school team,” she said. “I won the 2017 Ohio Boys Tennis Sectional Tournament and the Lorain County Athletic Administrators Association Boys Tennis Tournament.”

College senior Sarah Hughes, the Yeowomen’s tennis captain, said that she and the team were proud of Olaes for taking bold steps to run for office while she is still a student.

“I think it’s really amazing that she’s going for it,” Hughes said. “She’s a strong leader, and we’re all very proud of what she’s doing.”

In addition to her academic and athletic achievements, Olaes also started a foundation to advocate for autism when she was in high school.

“My brother has autism, and I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people advocating for individuals with disabilities and their families,” she said.

Together with her sister, Olaes created an art exhibition titled, “His Ability: Autism Seen Through His Sisters’ Eyes.” The sisters co-founded and continue to run the Ethan88 Foundation: Let Music Move Us, a nonprofit organization inspired by their brother Ethan, “which raises awareness and support to important causes.”

Olaes’ father, Carm Olaes, OC ’92, said that the leadership his daughter has fostered makes him confident in her attempt to run for office.

“Ever since she was a little girl, Claudia has always had the heart of a leader,” he said. “She knows what it takes to defy the odds and stand up for what is right. What truly sets her apart is her compassion for humanity and her belief that she can change things. She has always had my vote.”

Olaes said her time at Oberlin has also been a large motivator for her to run, drawing from Oberlin’s long history of social justice and slogan that one person can change the world.

“I love what Oberlin College represents, its history and its reputation,” she said. “My professors motivate and challenge me to always be at my best. I’ll always remember First Lady Michelle Obama giving Oberlin’s commencement address. Her words that stick with me are, ‘If you truly wish to carry on the Oberlin legacy of service and social justice, then you need to run to, and not away from, the noise.’”