Actor and producer Nick Rubando, whose co-productions of Maddy's Musical and more have been a part of the L.A.'s ever-growing smaller theatre scene—including during the Hollywood Fringe Festival in Hollywood's Media District each June—made the choice to leave his career in entertainment in Los Angeles in order to flip a congressional seat in his home state of Ohio's 5th Congressional District currently held by Republican incumbent Bob Latta.
As Democrat, Rubando, is running against two other candidates in the March primaries. Since announcing his candidacy, he has spent the last 27 weeks of his campaign gaining supporters and volunteers along the way in a grassroots effort to affect change in Ohio's 5th district, an area that has been subject to gerrymandering and resulting legal battles. Rubando, who majored in Journalism with a minor in Marketing at Indiana University, brings a platform that includes national issues such as removing big money and corporate super PAC's from politics and continued national healthcare, to more local issues such as factory farm toxic run-off and algae bloom that is destroying Lake Erie and family farms and the trade wars and tariffs that are damaging Ohio's farming community and economy.
Rubando, who, along with David Ruben and their company R&R Incorporated, produced musical reviews and shows such as "Legends of the Hidden Three Clubs," "Musicals & Mimosas," and "Inspecting Carol" at the Three Clubs in Hollywood. He returns to Los Angeles during the November holidays to both visit family and friends and to hold a fundraiser at the Three Clubs to support his campaign back in Ohio. The fundraiser, "Nick's Hollywood Return Fundraiser," on Saturday, November 30, 2019, will bring together donated entertainment by his family of performers and supporters, whose productions have also been featured at the Three Clubs, to show their support for Rubando.
Via telephone, Rubando spoke clearly and passionately on what prompted his decision to run, his grassroots efforts in his campaign, the people he has met on the campaign trail, working with his team of volunteers, and his vision for Ohio's 5th District as their Congressional Representative.
So let's begin with what was your political background or inspiration that made you consider running for a congressional seat.
"I actually worked for the Katie Hill for Congress campaign in 2018. And there has been some stuff with Katie [in the news] recently, but when I joined up on her campaign she was a young, first-time candidate who moved back to her home town to really take on an unresponsive incumbent. I thought it was really important to be on her campaign. You know, after Donald Trump got elected, we would watch the news, and it was just bad news after bad news—and it felt demoralizing. It felt like there was nothing that I could do, or really any of us could do, to make it change. And then when I learned about Katie's campaign, I was really excited about her message and I wanted to help bring about that kind of change.
This was in the Semi Valley area, just north of Los Angeles. So, I started with the campaign before the Democratic primaries. I would drive up there—sometimes an hour's drive—and knock on doors. And that started to motivate other people to knock on doors with me, and I started teaching other people about best practices. And it felt amazing, because every time something bad in the news would happen, it'd be like, 'It's fine! Because on Saturday I'm going to go knock on doors for Katie Hill and I am going to make a difference!'
Katie ended up winning the Democratic primary and then she ended up flipping that district. It used to be a Republican-held seat, and then she flipped it and it became a Democrat-held seat and it was amazing! It was amazing to see the hard work that we had all put into that race come into fruition and really be something great and be a positive change for that area.
So [later] I started doing some research into my home town after that race. I was inspired by how Katie moved back into her home town and I started looking into my home town—I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. So, I did a little research online and the first thing that came up was toxic algae bloom that had ruined Lake Erie—Lake Erie, this beautiful, pristine, fresh body of water that I used to go swimming in and go tubing in and go fishing in. And now they have these toxic algae blooms that occur every Summer there, which, for a couple of years was so bad that residents couldn't even drink the water that was coming out of the faucet. When I was in L.A., as well as in the theatre programs that I was running and performing in, I was also working for a tech start-up. And they were really big in the American food industry.
And from researching and being a part of this tech startup I was learning a lot about CAFO [confined animal feeding operations] or factory farms—these large-scale warehouses where they keep animals shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder and pump full of antibiotics—and I learned that the wastewater from these facilities gets dumped into rivers. This wastewater then spreads onto fields and then it runs into rivers and it goes into Lake Erie, and that's what causing these toxic algae blooms.
I was so disgusted by it that I wanted to move back to my home town to make a difference there. Ohio is such an important battleground state, and with the 2020 elections coming up, I thought where better to go than to my home town to really create some positive change. When I got there I wanted to work on a Congressional campaign because that is what I had been doing in the past. So I was asking people, 'Who's running against Bob Latta?' He is the Republican incumbent. And people were saying [at the time,] 'You know, I don't think anyone's doing it. No one really has stepped up.'
The district's kind of hard. It's pretty gerrymandered. This guy raises a lot of money, he gets almost 75% of his donations from corporate PACs, and I couldn't let that stand. I have never been someone who asks why something happened. I always ask 'Why not?' So, I thought, 'I'm just going to run myself! I'm going to step up and run this race!' And so far the response has been fantastic. I do a lot of work with the Young Democrats of Wood and Lucas County, the two largest counties in the districts, and the work with the Advocates for Clean Lake Erie—all these groups have been super supportive during our campaign. I've also gotten really close with the Ohio Farmer's Union who doesn't like these factory farms either, because every time one of these farms opens up it usually closes down about ten family farms. It's a crisis that is going on in the American food industry here in Northwest Ohio and we're trying to change that.”
You mentioned about gerrymandering in Ohio, has any of that been undone?
“[Federal courts] have ruled that the districts are gerrymandered—that they are unconstitutionally drawn. But because they will be redrawn at the 2020 census, the courts have decided to wait until the 2020 census is completed to redraw the lines. So, the lines will not be redrawn for this race, but the next congressional race...there'll be all brand new lines!
Ohio, if you look at the voting breakdown, is a 50/50 State where there are just as many people who vote for Democrats as do Republicans. But we have to look at our Congressional Representatives. We have four Democrats, and I believe seven Republicans, so you can see where it really should be a split, but it is not the case there.”
Regarding the tech start-up you mentioned, where is it, and what is it that they are trying to do? How were they influential to you?
“I worked for a company called Thrive Market. They are based in Marina Del Rey. They are a fantastic organization. Their mission is to make healthy living easy and affordable for everyone. So what they do is they sell organic groceries online and provide organic foods to your door. It's similar to like a Whole Foods Market, but cheaper. It's a membership model, like a Costco, where you pay something like $55.95 for the whole year, but you get premium discounted groceries, but they deliver them all throughout the United States. You look at places in Northwest Ohio, or some of the rural suburbs that I'm representing, these places are like “food deserts”—you have to drive far to get to a grocery store, and then if you want organic food or really higher quality goods, you can't always find them at regular markets. But this company would deliver them right to your door.
So with regard to the algae bloom issue in Ohio, let's talk more about what you learned was happening there.
"When I lived in California, I was not aware that Lake Erie was having this algae bloom problem even though I was aware of factory farms. But once I started doing some research on my hometown, I noticed these algae blooms were occurring a lot. Literally just a couple years ago people in the whole northwest Ohio area couldn't drink the water, they couldn't take showers, because the water was so toxic and I learned that the reason for that was the waste run-offs caused by these huge, large-scale factory farms.
The problem is that you have the Trump administration rolling back screening protection laws in the EPA which makes it even easier for these companies to dump their waste. So the problem is just compounding upon itself.”
What was the catalyst that propelled you to run for Congress and what kind of background brought you to consider it?
“In college—I was at Indiana University—and on the 2008 Obama campaign, I registered student voters. That was the first time that I got politically active—engaging students and ensuring that we could get a big a turn out in the state of Indiana. When we were working on that campaign, we flipped the state of Indiana from red to blue for the first time in 50 years. That Barack Obama win in 2008 was historic!
At the time that I worked on the Obama campaign, my parents divorced and my mom was kicked off of my father's health insurance while she was struggling with some health concerns. It was a struggle to see her try to get an insurance card with a pre-existing condition.
I worked so hard for Obama, and then he passed the Affordable Care Act, and at that point in time—for the first time—my mom was able to afford an individualized insurance plan. And that changed her life. She was able to start her own small business because of that. So I saw how the work that we did, on just a small scale, was able to enable a presidential win...Government, in general, really can affect people's lives in a positive direction. And that's why it is so important to get politically engaged—and to vote—and to figure out what is important to you and to get behind it because it affects the lives of millions of Americans.”
What has the campaign trail been like and how many townships and counties have you visited?
"Our district has 14 counties, and we have visited them all. We have gone to Democratic meetings, meetings of concerned citizens, met with farmers, etc. We have gone into coffee shops and talked to people because we really want to know what is happening on the ground level. We've gotten to every single county, multiple times, and we're approaching as many people as possible. You know, our current representative never holds any Town Halls. He's absent, and people can never get in touch with him, so we are trying to paint a very stark contrast. I'm doing my best to meet with people so they can get to know me and learn to trust again. So they are like, 'Hey this guy's available when [Latta] is just sitting in Washington not doing anything for our community. We have been getting out into the community. We've put a lot of miles on the car!"
With your grassroots efforts, and not accepting corporate donations, I assume that the campaign is self-funded. What has your campaign crew been like?
"I didn't have any money to begin with, but we've gotten so much support and buy-in from the community. We have over 600 individual donors and we've raised close to $70,000. I have a campaign manager who is someone who ran in local elections here. Our campaign headquarters is directly across from Bowling Green University, so we have been getting a lot of [help] from the college students. We have about ten college student volunteers who come into the campaign office almost every day and who are intent about making a change.
We are picking up [supporters] everywhere we go, which is a great thing about visiting these counties. We meet with people and talk to them, and they want to join the team. We have now different captains everywhere we go."
“At the end of the day I really have to understand what all of my constituents are going through so I can best advocate for them.” – Nick Rubando
With your background as a working actor and producer in the entertainment industry, and working in L.A. Theatre, how has that experience translated? What have you learned from it and how do you feel it will make you a better representative of the people?
"I think one of the biggest things I have learned in the entertainment industry, especially in theatre, is empathy. When you are taking on a role, you really have to put yourself into someone else's shoes. And think about what life is like in their situation, how they view things, [and] what kind of problems they have. That empathy that I have been able to learn has served me so well [toward] being a representative. I go out into these communities and I'm speaking to these farmers. And I might not have the best understanding of what a farmer goes through every day, but through my work in the entertainment industry, I can put myself in that individual's shoes. At the end of the day, I really have to understand what all of my constituents are going through so I can best advocate for them. And I feel so lucky that I have been able to gain that kind of empathy through the work that I have done in the entertainment industry."
What would you say or feel is your responsibility personally for making change in Ohio, for the U.S., and to the world?
“I think everyone has a responsibility as American citizens. People have fought and died for their right to vote, and their right to make a change in this country and for their voices to be heard. So I think the most American thing that you can do is become an engaged citizen and attempt to make change. This was an opportunity that was presented to me. People wanted me to get involved in this and I didn't have anything else going on.
When you are running for [a political] office it's tough if you have a family, or you have small children that you have to take care of. I'm lucky I don't have that, so I have this big opportunity to step up and fulfill my duty as an American citizen. And I think that everyone who lives in this beautiful country shouldn't take it for granted. If we've learned one thing from the Donald Trump era is that we cannot take our democracy for granted. Too many times we think that everything is going to be fine and that other people will take care of us, but in reality we are all responsible. We are all responsible for this beautiful thing called America. So we all need to step up and get involved wherever we can."
Let's talk about the local fundraising event at Three Clubs coming up. How did that come about and what can people expect from that?
“I have friends and family in the Los Angeles area, and they have been extremely supportive of this race. And they asked, 'What is one thing that we can do to help you out?' As I mentioned, we have a grassroots campaign and we're going up against an incumbent Republican who is taking 75% of his donations from corporate PACs. The worst of it all is that it's the exact same corporate PACs that he is making the laws about in Washington. He sits on the Energy and Commerce committees...oil and gas companies and the pharmaceutical companies, and those are the same corporations that he gets money from. And the pharmaceutical companies are the worst because our state is number two in opioid-related deaths and our [current] Representative gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from opioid manufacturers each year to get elected. And that is terrible!
It's so important that we're able to get support from individuals so we can have snacks and water and materials for our volunteers when they come into the [campaign] office. We need donations so we can print educational materials about our campaign that we hand out to our constituents when we knock on doors, so we can purchase online ads, send out mailers, etc. I'm a first-time candidate, so it's essential that I get name recognition and that my campaign message gets heard.
The fundraising event on November 30th at Three Clubs in Hollywood will raise money towards democracy and at the same time will have great entertainment. The crew from Cherry Poppins will be dancing, singing, and performing and 'MAD😜LIB! The Musical' show will also be there. It's amazing that these individuals that I have worked with for so long really believe in what we are doing and are helping out. They want to see a change and they're using their art to help inspire and create that change. That is phenomenal to see."
Is the Three Clubs donating the evening, in terms of the space, and anything else?
“The space is completely free. We are not paying for it. There will be food included in the ticket price, which is coming from my family, and my friends are helping serve. People have to pay for alcohol, but the Three Clubs is giving us the entire space and the entire night for free. They are such an amazing venue. I have done so many great shows there and they have been a huge supporter of my work! And I believe that a ticket to this kind of show is worth $35, while at the same time supporting democracy and getting some good food. It's going to be a really awesome event and evening!
This fundraiser is extremely important and we want everyone to come out to this event and meet with like-minded people so we can also make some changes in Los Angeles.”
Regardless of the outcome, do you have any plans, either way, win or lose? What is the first thing you would or will do once you'd win and any other plans down the road?
“Well, if we win, we'd be in Congress. And the first thing I would like to do is pass a law to get big money out of politics. And another thing I'd want to do is to ensure that Members of Congress won't be allowed to accept donations from companies that they actively legislating on. So if you are making laws that are about the energy and gas sectors, you are not allowed to accept money from big oil companies. You would think that would be a no-brainer, but that is not the case right now. These would be my first pieces of legislation that I would want to push through."
But the advantages of Super PACs go both ways, or all ways, politically, so anyone can benefit from them, right? Is that something you choose not to accept then?
“We're not accepting any corporate PAC money. But I should mention that our campaign was recently endorsed by an organization called Brand New Congress. They have a documentary on Netflix called “Knock Down The House.” They were very influential in the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so we are extremely excited about that."
Nick's Hollywood Return Fundraiser is Saturday, November 30, 2019, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Three Clubs located at 1123 Vine St, 90038, in Hollywood. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased here. Donations can also be made here.