COLUMBUS, Ohio – Before any elections, Jim Thomas’ first brushes with politics came from tennis.
There was the time he played against John Breaux, who would later become a U.S. Senator from Louisiana. Or when Eliot Spitzer, who would later become the governor of New York, watched him compete at a tennis tournament in the Bronx. Or the time former President George H. W. Bush had Thomas and Andre Agassi over for lunch after a 2003 tournament in Houston.
“It was pretty cool that Andre was there,” Thomas said in an interview. “Pretty cool the president was there too.”
Back then, Thomas was the third ranked doubles player in the U.S. and 29th in the world, competing in classics like Wimbledon and the U.S., French, and Australian opens. Now, he’s a lawyer and soon to begin serving as a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives. Some comparatively light fundraising and about $137,000 of personal funds carried him to a 7-point win over the incumbent Rep. Thomas West for the Canton-area seat for the redrawn district.
After completing an undergraduate program at Stanford University on a full scholarship and subsequent tennis career, the Plain Township native returned to Ohio to enroll in law school at Case Western Reserve University.
Thomas said he went to law school with public service in mind. He won election as a trustee of Jackson Township in 2019 but wanted bigger problems to solve – he disputed characterizing the job as a “steppingstone.” As a state lawmaker, he said he has lots to learn but didn’t have any set policies in mind he wants to champion.
“I don’t have anything specific that I want to try to get passed,” he said. “But generally, I think economic development is very important.”
In a 45-minute interview, Thomas generally positioned himself in line with the Ohio Republican Party, albeit light on the details of some pieces of high-profile legislation. For instance, he said he would have supported Ohio’s new permitless carry law – which allows those who can lawfully possess a weapon to carry it concealed on their persons without training or a background check – though he said he didn’t know the details of the legislation.
“To be honest I don’t have a lot of knowledge about it, but for the moment, I’d just answer yes,” he said.
(After the interview, he offered a follow-up statement by email: “I would have supported that legislation because I always have and always will defend the second amendment and the rights of law abiding Ohioans to protect themselves.”)
He said he supports Ohio’s 2019 abortion law (which is on hold pending a legal challenge) which bans the procedure after about six weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest and narrow exceptions for medical emergencies. Recently, the law blocked a 10-year-old rape victim from receiving an abortion in Ohio. Thomas said he’d have to research whether the law was properly interpreted by the hospital that cited it in denying the girl an abortion.
“I’m happy to look into that, it’s not something I know about,” he said. “The only other comment I’d make is a wrong happened there. If there’s an abortion that happens, in general, in my opinion that would be a second wrong. So you wouldn’t want to compound that with a second wrong.”
He said he supports income tax cuts, as well as pending legislation that would prevent transgender athletes from competing against those of their newly assumed gender.
When asked for a political figure he admires, Thomas at first only named John McEnroe – a tennis legend known for his deft skill as much as his short temper.
“I think I like George W. Bush, maybe because I met his parents, maybe because 9/11 occurred and he was thrust into that situation,” Thomas said.
“My understanding is he and Mrs. [former First Lady Michelle] Obama have developed a relationship, so I think that’s cool. The last thing I’ll throw out there is [former U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, who was a provost at Stanford when I was there. So I obviously don’t know her personally. I think I know her, but I don’t. So I’ll go with him and her.”
Jake Zuckerman covers state politics and policy. Read more of his work here.