Meet Rick Neal, challenger to Rep. Steve Stivers

Chris Gaitten
Rick Neal, left, his daughters and his husband, Tom Grote, in their home

In the wake of the 2016 election, Rick Neal became increasingly unhappy with his representation in Congress. It’s a common sentiment in this polarized political climate, but Neal’s reaction was less typical—he wants to join in. In mid-August, the Columbus resident announced he would challenge Rep. Steve Stivers for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Neal says that initially he only sought to help identify qualified candidates to challenge Stivers for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District. All through the spring, he sent ideas to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. But it’s a hard race to recruit for, Neal says, and eventually he realized the opportunity was his to take. A former humanitarian relief worker, he’s a stay-at-home dad of two adopted daughters, whom he’s raising with his husband, Tom Grote.

Neal on a humanitarian assessment mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Refugees International in 2006
- Photo by Andrea Lari/Refugees International

Neal is politically active; he served four years on the executive committee of the Ohio Democratic Party, and he and Grote were outspoken proponents of marriage equality (Grote co-founded Equality Ohio). But Neal is an outsider to electoral politics, and in November 2018, he will face off against Stivers, an Upper Arlington resident who has held public office since 2003. Stivers has represented Ohio's 15th district since 2011, winning by wide margins in the previous two elections.

Now, a little more about the man seeking to unseat him, in Neal’s own words:

On his trip to Liberia to fight Ebola in 2014: “This epidemic was getting out of control in West Africa, and it just so happens that I’m a public health specialist, a public health guy, with experience in infectious disease control, who has contacts in the region and can take a break from his job as a full-time dad to go and help. So I did it.”

On how his years of humanitarian work informed his outlook: “It gave me a very expansive view of the world. So it’s very easy to see things from a global perspective because that’s just the way that I thought for so long. So that old dictum of ‘think globally and act locally’ was very real for me for a long time.”

“That’s one way, but the other way is that I think working in the humanitarian field drove home the point that talk is cheap. And it is very easy for people to get together and talk about what they want to do, and talk about what the issues are, or talk about what the priorities are … in the humanitarian field, at any rate, all that matters is that you save lives and that you get people back on the path to recovery. The action is what matters.”

On why he decided to run for Congress: “What’s going on in Washington, what’s going on in our country, is not normal. It should not be business as usual. I think everybody’s got to do what they can to get the country back on track, and this is what I can do.”

On the most urgent issue now: “Better-paying jobs. It’s a top issue. People are looking at their household budget and there’s just not enough there. There’s not enough coming in, there’s not enough staying in, and their expenses for their insurance premiums, their out-of-pocket costs are too high. People are worried about college debt. Better-paying jobs—it’s just got to be the top priority.”

“Wages have stagnated for years, and it’s unacceptable. I mean, work is really undervalued in the country. And so yeah, I think that’s a national issue across the board.”

Quick Facts

Age: 51

Hometown: Milwaukee and the suburbs of Chicago

Moved to Columbus: July 2007

Neighborhood: German Village