Former tennis pro Jim Thomas will join Ohio House GOP in 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before the election, Jim Thomas first got involved with politics while playing tennis.

There he played against John Breaux, who later became a US Senator from Louisiana. Or when Eliot Spitzer, who later became governor of New York, watched him at a tennis tournament in the Bronx. Or the time when former President George HW Bush invited Thomas and Andre Agassi to lunch after a tournament in Houston in 2003.

“It was pretty cool that Andre was there,” Thomas said in an interview. “Pretty cool that the President was there too.”

At the time, Thomas was the third-ranked doubles player in the US and 29th in the world, competing in classics like Wimbledon and the US, French and Australian Opens. He is now an attorney and will soon serve as a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives. Some comparatively little fundraising and about $137,000 in personal funds carried him to a 7-point victory over incumbent Assemblyman Thomas West for the seat of cantonal territory for the newly chartered district.

After completing an undergraduate program at Stanford University on a full scholarship and then pursuing a 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 Jackson Township’s trustee election in 2019 but wanted to solve bigger issues — he denied describing the job as a “stepping stone.” As a state legislator, he said he has a lot to learn but has no set policies in mind to advocate for.

“I don’t have anything specific I want to get through,” he said. “But in general I think economic development is very important.”

Jim Thomas and George Bush

Jim Thomas, left, seen with President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush in 2003. Courtesy Jim Thomas.

In a 45-minute interview, Thomas generally aligned himself with the Ohio Republican Party, although he would shed light on the details of some high-profile legislation. For example, he said he supported Ohio’s new permitless-carry law — which allows those who can lawfully own a gun to carry it covertly without training or a background check — although he said he knows the details of the law not legislation.

“I don’t have a lot of knowledge about it to be honest, but right now I would just answer yes,” he said.

(After the interview, he offered a follow-up statement via email: “I would have supported this legislation because I have always defended and will always defend the Second Amendment and the right of law-abiding Ohioans to protect themselves.”)

He said he supports Ohio’s 2019 abortion law (which is pending 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 barred a 10-year-old rape victim from receiving an abortion in Ohio. Thomas said he needs to investigate whether the law was correctly interpreted by the hospital it cited when it denied the girl an abortion.

“I like to watch it, I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “The only other comment I would make is that a mistake happened there. If abortion does occur, I think that would generally be wrong a second time. So you don’t want to compound that with a second mistake.”

He said he supports income tax cuts as well as pending legislation that would bar transgender athletes from competing against those of their newly adopted gender.

When asked about a political figure he admires, Thomas initially only named John McEnroe – a tennis legend known for his skillful skills as well as his short-tempered temper.

“I think I like George W. Bush, maybe because I met his parents, maybe because 9/11 happened and he got into that situation,” Thomas said.

“As far as I know, he and Mrs. [former First Lady Michelle] Obama built a relationship, so I think that’s cool. The last thing I’m going to throw out there is [former U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, who in my time was Provost at Stanford. So obviously I don’t know her personally. I think I know her, but I don’t. So I’m going with him and her.”

Jake Zuckerman reports on state politics and politics. Read more of his work here.