Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Marietta Times. April 27, 2024.

Editorial: Lawmakers must continue progress

Slowly but surely, Ohio lawmakers are progressing in the effort to better protect victims, rather than offering protection to criminals. On Wednesday, the state Senate voted unanimously to eliminate exceptions to certain sex offenses that apply if the victim is the spouse.

This outdated remnant had been allowed to do damage for too long. But last November, the state House of Representatives passed a similar bill with a nearly unanimous vote.

Goodness knows what state Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, was thinking when he cast the lone “nay” vote.

But no matter. A bill that eliminates the exception for rape if the spouse lives with the offender is now on its way to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk.

Offenses outlined in House Bill 161 include rape, sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, gross sexual imposition, sexual imposition and importuning. It also allows an individual to testify against their spouse if they choose to prosecute for any of the listed sex offenses.

“I’m grateful to finally see it come to fruition so we can close this loophole in Ohio’s law, providing protection to all survivors of sexual violence,” state Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Dublin, said, according to a report by WBNS.

It’s proof the vast majority of lawmakers ARE capable of understanding some issues are not “social” or “cultural,” but simply a matter of right and wrong. Perhaps Ohioans can be encouraged this is a baby step toward more positive change in the way the folks in Columbus think about the human beings they have been elected to serve.


Sandusky Register. April 27, 2024.

Editorial: DOJ must look at jail deaths

It’s time.

After nearly five years without any credible explanation from public officials about why just one person was charged in the death of Alex Rios, a 28-year-old man from Wakeman, at the Richland County jail in September 2019, it’s time for a full accounting.

It’s time for Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon to stop pretending that Rios’ death was his own fault, or that the corrections officers involved in beating and suffocating Rios, did nothing wrong.

It’s time for Sheldon to announce what corrective steps are being taken to better train officers so they don’t repeat the mistakes that were made that led to Rios’ death. It’s time for him to quit pretending this was handled properly. It was not.

It’s time for Richland County coroner Daniel Burwell, Montgomery County coroner Kent Harshbarger and his chief deputy coroner Lee Lehman to provide a full explanation why they listed a false cause/manner of death in the autopsy report and on the death certificate, and why they testified in court as if the compressing and constricting of his chest and airway was unrelated to his death.

That is simply not credible, and cherry-picking evidence to avoid a criminal conviction is simply unacceptable.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s time for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to explain why so much evidence of what really happened to Alex Rios, what really caused his death, was ignored and never presented at trial. The lone jail guard charged in Rios’ death was acquitted on Wednesday of all charges, the family believes, because Yost refused to present the real evidence. That claim is credible, in our view.

Now they hope the U.S. Justice Department will take a close look and provide the closure they have been seeking for more than five years. We call on U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Rep. Bob Latta to help the family in that effort.

Five different coroners — including both the current and former Lorain County coroners — all concluded that Rios was the victim of a homicide. He died from asphyxiation, they said, because when the jail guards were beating him, punching him and using Tasers to electroshock him, they constricted his airway and compressed his chest, causing him to suffocate.

All five coroners concluded that. Five professional medical officers concluded it was a homicide, and instead of allowing them to testify at trial, Yost refused to let them speak their truths from their professional perspectives. There was an agenda here, we fear, but it was not justice for Alex Rios or his family.

Instead, Yost allowed Burwell and Lehman to testify again that a discredited and racist cause/manner of death ruling — excited delirium — caused Alex’s death. There is no scientific basis for that ruling, which isn’t even recognized by the state of Ohio or any professional medical association as legitimate.

It’s time for Yost to explain if he was seeking justice for Rios’ family, or if he wanted to make sure everyone who was accused of wrongdoing was cleared. It seems clearly obvious, given the known facts and circumstances, that it is the latter. It seems obvious since what happened to Alex Rios to cause his death was all captured on surveillance video, evidence that was kept hidden from the family for about 18 months, or more.

Yost and his prosecutors ignored the real evidence and we hope the public and the DOJ demands that he explain himself. They ignored the coroners and two other experts — a criminology professor who heads up a police integrity agency in Ohio and the former deputy director of the state prison system — who both also concluded that state and federal charges should be considered against all five guards involved in the beating and suffocation of Alex Rios.

Denying justice for Alex Rios and his family is denying justice for everyone. On April 14, 2024, a 32-year-old female inmate at the Richland County jail died in a cell. Sheriff Sheldon sent out a one-paragraph news release stating that “as is custom,” her death is being investigated. The Montgomery County coroner will perform the autopsy and the Richland County coroner will rule on the cause of her death.

There’s no reason to believe that they will do any better providing a credible explanation for her death than they did with Rios’ death. When public officials lose the confidence of the public the way Sheldon, Harshbarger, Burwell and Yost have lost it, they should step aside.

They cannot be trusted, in our view, and they should not be allowed to do this to another family ever again.


Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. April 27, 2024.

Editorial: Shining light on dark money

Several of Ohio’s top leaders are apparently in the dark when it comes to the schemes of dark-money groups.

Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Senate President Matt Huffman, all Republicans, pleaded ignorance when recent reporting revealed that money flowed from FirstEnergy into dark-money groups that supported their campaigns.

DeWine, for instance, told reporters this week that he didn’t know about $2.5 million that the electric utility funneled into State Solutions, a dark-money group that backed his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. One $500,000 donation was labeled “DeWine.”

At the time, FirstEnergy was spending big to support candidates it thought would back a bailout of two northern Ohio nuclear-power plants owned by one of its then-subsidiaries.

State Solutions is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means that, unlike a candidate’s campaign committee, it isn’t required to disclose its donors and can take in as much money as donors will give.

Dark-money groups aren’t supposed to coordinate with political campaigns, although it is at least usually possible to figure out which candidates they support.

State Solutions was affiliated with the Republican Governors Association, which also supported DeWine and benefited from FirstEnergy’s largesse.

The company also plowed $60 million into bribing then-House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. The money was funneled through Generation Now, a dark-money group controlled by Householder, who is now serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted of federal corruption charges.

Before his fall, though, Householder shepherded House Bill 6 through the Ohio legislature. The bill forced Ohio ratepayers to bail out the two nuclear-power plants and two coal-fired plants, one of which is in Indiana.

DeWine signed HB 6 into law in 2019. After Householder was charged, DeWine initially resisted rolling back the nuclear bailout, but quickly relented to public pressure and supported the successful effort to do so. (The subsidies for the coal-fired plants remain on the books.)

DeWine, Husted and Huffman have never been accused of criminal wrongdoing in the scandal.

It is important to note that receiving political donations or having support from a dark-money group isn’t evidence in and of itself of corruption. Donors typically back candidates they believe will advance their agendas.

DeWine insisted that his support for nuclear power wasn’t conditioned on contributions to his campaign or outside groups supporting him. He also pointed out that he and Richard Cordray, his Democratic opponent in 2018, both wanted to keep the two nuclear plants operational.

“Both candidates for governor came out with basically the same position, that nuclear energy was important,” DeWine said before referencing FirstEnergy. “You’d have to ask those individuals. They were the ones who made the decision. Obviously, we want as much help as we can in a campaign. But contributing to an independent expenditure, we don’t have that information.”

Therein lies the problem: Almost no one outside the dark-money groups has that information.

Only recently has the public been getting a better sense of how dark money works, at least as it relates to FirstEnergy and its bailout push, because of records made public in criminal cases, lawsuits and regulatory probes stemming from the HB 6 scandal.

It was also reported this month that FirstEnergy gave $1 million to Freedom Frontier, a 501(c)(4) group that backed Husted when he was running for governor in 2017. He later joined DeWine’s ticket.

The money, The Columbus Dispatch reported, was earmarked for the “Husted campaign.”

Here’s what a Husted spokeswoman told The Dispatch: “The Husted campaign never received this donation and is not affiliated with any of these groups.”

Again, campaigns aren’t allowed to coordinate with dark-money groups.

Then there’s Huffman.

In 2019 and 2020, FirstEnergy gave $300,000 to Liberty Ohio, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that company officials and lobbyists viewed as “Huffman’s C4,” The Plain Dealer reported this week.

Huffman told reporters Wednesday that he wasn’t raising money for any dark-money group.

“Random conversations from five or six years ago, I don’t know why people are saying that,” he said. “Most C4s, I don’t really think, are very effective. Folks are making money off it, trying to get donors to give them money, telling donors they’re doing things they want them to do.”

Except dark-money groups are effective, which is why donors keep giving them money.

And three of the most powerful elected officials in Ohio should have some idea what’s going on with dark-money groups that apparently supported them.

So should voters, but that would require putting in place laws requiring dark-money groups, which have few checks on how they spend money, to, at a minimum, disclose their donors.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates to unlimited political spending, which the court equated to free speech.

Again, though, voters deserve to know who’s letting their money talk in political campaigns.

Democrats have been far more critical of unlimited spending and dark money than Republicans, but both parties have benefited from them.

Unfortunately, proposed bills that would require greater transparency from dark-money groups have failed to gain much traction in Congress or the Ohio Statehouse.

There are millions and millions of reasons why.


Youngstown Vindicator. April 26, 2024.

Editorial: Classroom social media rules should be left to schools

Social media can be damaging, especially to young people. That’s no secret, but what to do about it remains a mystery.

Ohio lawmakers are tossing around the idea of banning social media and the use of electronic devices during class, according to a report by News 5 Cleveland.

House Bill 485, sponsored by state Reps. Tom Young, R-Washington Township, and Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, would amend state code “regarding a school internet safety policy and instruction on the effects of social media in public schools.”

News 5 Cleveland reports Young would like the change to emulate what is being done in Parma.

Parma City Schools prohibits cellphone use in all academic settings, but allows it in common areas such as hallways and cafeterias. The news station reports Superintendent Charles Smialek said the district also has a health course about the negative impacts of social media.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But Smialek is right to be worried a one-size-fits-all, state-mandated approach might not be the way to go.

“You want to be able to make your own decisions and you want your professionals to be able to interact with their students and with their colleagues because, quite frankly, they’re the folks doing the work and they know best about the work,” Smialek told News 5 Cleveland.

Ohioans know Gov. Mike DeWine would support prohibiting student cellphone use during the school day.

“When you talk to teachers in schools that have removed phones during the lunch period, they will tell you the change is miraculous. The lunchroom is noisy again. Instead of having their heads down, buried in their phones, kids are talking and interacting and laughing and enjoying themselves,” DeWine said during his State of the State speech earlier this month.

But Young is correct to consider building a lot of local flexibility into the bill. It’s a good idea, and most schools will no doubt welcome being able to make work for them. But the key is to avoid making it do more harm than good with yet another effort from Columbus to eliminate local control.


Toledo Blade. April 22, 2024.

Editorial: Pension failure taxing

The two-term former Attorney General of Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine, was schooled on the law by the 10th District Court of Appeals, which ruled the governor acted without legal authority to fire his appointee to the State Teachers Retirement System. (“Ousted STRS board member reinstated by appeals court,” Friday).

The Blade Editorial Board has weighed in on each iteration of the legal challenge ousted board member Wade Steen made to regain his position as the governor’s appointed investment expert. The law specifies grounds for dismissal of a STRS board member and the necessary legal procedure. Mr. DeWine ignored the statutes.

With a court ruling in hand ordering restoration of Mr. Steen’s status as an STRS trustee, board Chairman Dale Price, a Toledo Public School teacher, abruptly adjourned the meeting. Prior to Mr. Steen’s return, which shifted the board majority to reform supporters, performance bonuses for the investment staff were set to be discussed.

Mr. Steen’s opposition to staff bonuses is what started the discord on the STRS board. Conflict intensified when Mr. Steen alleged the bonuses were earned through rigged benchmarks and falsified expenses.

Lost in the tumult over Mr. Steen’s dramatic return to his board seat and the legal scolding to Governor DeWine was discussion of STRS’ efforts to raise taxpayer contributions to the teacher pension fund by 28.5 percent.

STRS management told the board their expensive Statehouse lobbyists were in the process of rounding up Republicans to sponsor the massive pension increase. This comes as the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and the Ohio Police & Fire Fund are also seeking big hikes in taxpayer funding.

Ohio teachers have been hit with pension contribution increases and pension benefit cuts totaling $15.6 billion since 2012. The only new source of money is taxpayers, but that will be a big political risk without major reform.

The debacle in management of the $92 billion STRS fund should prompt responsible lawmakers to investigate and legislate operational reforms before hitting taxpayers with a big cost increase.

The Ohio Police & Fire Fund literally gambles with borrowed money in one of the highest risk pension portfolio plans in the United States. Allowing this to continue is legislative malpractice and reason to defeat any lawmaker who approves more taxes for pensions without first forcing pension reform.

Since the Ohio General Assembly gave state pension boards unlimited power to manage investments in 1998, instead of being restricted to stocks and bonds, the broad stock market as represented by the S&P 500 has grown fivefold. No Ohio pension has earned its assumed rate of return over that same 25-year period.

Oversight of the sole source of retirement money for more than 2 million Ohioans has been inept from the governors to lawmakers and board members. The Wade Steen case is evidence of the state government failure. The planned money grab from taxpayers is the consequence of that failure.