Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer. January 22, 2023.

Editorial: Racketeering trial will highlight why PUCO, Statehouse reforms are urgent

The federal corruption trial of two prominent Republicans that began Friday in Cincinnati is sure to offer Ohioans insights into how politics really works at the Statehouse -- especially when a mammoth business, such as Akron’s FirstEnergy Corp, wants a billion-dollar bailout from Ohio utility customers.

With those insights should come voters’ insistence on action -- to reform the law and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to make both less beholden to utility interests.

Facing federal racketeering charges at the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio are ex-House Speaker Larry Householder of Perry County’s Glenford, and former Republican State Chair Matt Borges, of Bexley. Both are presumed innocent unless a jury convicts them.

At the center of the case: House Bill 6, which aimed to force electricity customers to pay more than $1 billion to subsidize two nuclear power plants a FirstEnergy subsidiary then owned, including Lake County’s Perry plant.

The nuclear subsidy and a lucrative “decoupling” provision padding utility rates have since been repealed, but the bill was loaded with other electric-utility benefits that remain in effect, including a subsidy for two money-losing coal plants, one in Indiana. As of Friday afternoon, that coal subsidy had cost Ohio ratepayers more than $189 million, according to the Ohio Office of Consumers’ Counsel.

In 2020, a federal grand jury indicted Householder, Borges, three other people and Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) (dark money) social welfare organization. Householder allegedly controlled Generation Now, which supported passage of HB 6 -- and which helped block an attempt to repeal it.

In February 2021, federal prosecutors announced Generation Now had pleaded guilty “to one count of participating in a more than $60 million racketeering conspiracy.”

Also in 2021, FirstEnergy paid the federal government a $230 million penalty in a deferred prosecution agreement for the utility’s role in the HB 6 affair. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop a wire-fraud charge. More recently, FirstEnergy agreed to pay a $3.9 million federal fine for failing to disclose its $94 million lobbying effort tied to HB 6.

Two others indicted in the federal racketeering case -- lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, a former political strategist for Householder -- previously pleaded guilty and are expected to testify at the Cincinnati trial. Another defendant, prominent Statehouse lobbyist Neil S. Clark, died, a suicide, in 2021.

Revelations in the case highlight the troubling ease with which the PUCO and its then-incoming chairman, Sam Randazzo, were compromised.

FirstEnergy, in its deferred prosecution agreement with prosecutors, admitted paying $4.3 million to Randazzo through his consulting company in return for his performing “official action in his capacity as PUCO Chairman to further FirstEnergy Corp.’s interests relating to passage of nuclear legislation and other specific FirstEnergy Corp. legislative and regulatory priorities, as requested and as opportunities arose.”

That $4.3 million payment was made in January 2019. A month later, DeWine appointed Randazzo to the PUCO, despite concerns others expressed to DeWine about Randazzo’s closeness to the Akron utility. The state Senate then unanimously confirmed the appointment.

Randazzo resigned in November 2020 after the FBI raided his Columbus residence. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

In 2021, Randazzo issued a statement through his attorney that, “at no time prior to or after my appointment to the PUCO was I asked or did I agree to exercise authority as a public official or perform any official action in my capacity as (PUCO) chair to further FirstEnergy’s legislative, regulatory or other interests.”

HB 6′s prime legislative sponsors, both Republicans, were Rep. Jamie Callender, of Concord, representing an area around the Perry plant, and now-state Sen. Shane Wilkin, of Hillsboro, in southwest Ohio.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB 6 as soon as the legislature -- with the help of “yes” votes from three Senate Democrats and nine House Democrats -- passed it in July 2019.

Besides the coal subsidy, other parts of HB 6 still in effect roll back renewable-energy portfolio requirements for Ohio utilities and eliminate energy-efficiency standards. Result: Ohio “has had the least stringent clean-energy requirements of any U.S. state with a renewable standard,” cleveland.com’s Jake Zuckerman reported this month.

It’s the government’s burden to prove its charges against Householder and Borges, and the jury’s burden to judge the evidence and testimony. But at a minimum, the case shows a governor and General Assembly whose only question, when FirstEnergy asked it to jump, seemingly was, “How far?”

That needs to change, including through full HB 6 repeal and legislative and PUCO reforms.


Toledo Blade. January 20, 2023.

Editorial: Rainy day fund shame

Conservatives in Ohio government once believed small government closest to the people should have as much empowerment as possible.

They were behind the strong protection for home rule in the Ohio Constitution and the Local Government Fund in the Ohio budget.

But as Republicans unified their power over state government those conservative principles have been abandoned in favor of centralized power in Columbus. The assault on home rule is why Toledo has no power to compel city employees to live here as a condition of employment.

However, it’s the hoarding of financial resources in Ohio’s “rainy day” fund that attracts our attention today.

The DeWine administration brags about the addition of $727 million to bring the fund to $3.5 billion. What they don’t talk about is 13 years of GOP negligence on local government funding. Toledo expects to receive $10.3 million in Ohio Local Government Funds using the parsimonious formula state Republicans have imposed.

If Ohio used the historic average of 3.66% of the state’s General Revenue Fund, Toledo would take in $33 million, and if the now-forgotten principle of conservatism favoring decentralization of power prompted 5% of the general revenue fund to local government, Toledo would have $45 million from this source.

The top priority in Toledo’s 2023 budget is a 50-member police class and a 50-member fire and rescue class costing $6 million. Repairing 22 fire stations and replacing police cars is $3 million more planned for public safety. With a traditional level of partnership between city and state Toledo could do much more. And there is no local government in Ohio where this is not true.

It’s hard to criticize a “rainy day fund.” Prudence dictates cash reserves as a good budget practice, and it seems conservative. It would be more accurately labeled the “centralized state power fund.”

As the “rainy day fund” has grown, Ohio’s personal income has fallen 11% below the national average. Rather than boasting about a big rainy day fund that has been accumulated by shorting local governments, Governor DeWine should be strategizing to return that money to the local governments that need it.


Youngstown Vindicator. January 18, 2023.

Editorial: OVI arrests need harsher punishment

An Ohio woman once again is facing charges of operating a vehicle while under the influence, after allegedly striking a police cruiser in Brunswick Hills Township over the weekend. The officer was not injured when Cathy Pfeiler, 59, was reportedly driving a 2015 Mercedes-Benz and rear-ended a stopped Brunswick Hills Township police cruiser, according to a report by WDTN. The officer found her to be impaired and arrested her.

An unfortunate but perhaps unremarkable story, really, until one learns this is Pfeiler’s tenth OVI arrest. WDTN cites the Ohio State Highway Patrol as reporting Pfeiler was previously arrested and convicted of OVI in 1988, 1991, 1994, 1996, twice in 1998, 2006, 2012 and 2017.

It begs the question, how on earth does a driver with that many OVI arrests still have a driver’s license — or at the very least, a mandatory device that would prevent her from starting her car if she was under the influence of alcohol?

It’s true, the charge against her can be upgraded to a fourth-degree felony if the driver has five or more OVI convictions within 20 years or three or more within 10 years. In this case, the arrests have been spread out enough that neither applies. Should this charge become a conviction, it will be her fourth in 20 years and her second in 10 years.

Still, it would appear as though any driver who has been getting arrested and convicted of OVI at regular intervals for 35 years has a problem that is not being corrected in a way that keeps that driver from being a danger to his or herself and to others. In such a case, perhaps it should not matter that the driver is letting enough time pass between convictions to remain on the misdemeanor side of the law and maintain a driver’s license.

Ohio lawmakers must consider whether examples such as these warrant a change in the law to make such convictions cumulative, after a certain point, and therefore warranting a harsher punishment. That could save lives — including those of problem drivers.


Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. January 19, 2023.

Editorial: Return of a bad idea

It’s hard to keep a bad idea down.

Take, for example, a plan to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution, which failed to win passage in the General Assembly’s lame-duck session last year.

The setback didn’t deter state Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, who reintroduced his so-called “Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment” last week.

Stewart’s proposal would raise the threshold for passing amendments to the Ohio Constitution to 60% of the vote from a simple majority.

Originally, it would have applied only to amendments introduced through a citizen-led initiative, not those put on the ballot by the General Assembly. The double standard was roundly condemned and Stewart revised his plan to require 60% support to pass amendments put forward by state lawmakers, but even that change didn’t lead to passage.

Stewart’s latest version manages to be even worse.

He tacked on a provision to eliminate a “cure period,” which gives petitioners a chance to gather additional voter signatures to place amendments on the ballot if the initial attempt comes up short.

To get an amendment on the ballot, petitioners need to gather signatures from voters equal to 10% of the turnout in the last gubernatorial election. Turnout last year was around 4.2 million, which means petitioners would need roughly 420,000 valid signatures.

Inevitably, some signatures won’t be valid, which is why petitioners usually gather far more than they need.

There’s nothing wrong with allowing petitioners a little time to make up a signature shortfall.

Another change proposed by Stewart would require voters from all 88 Ohio counties to sign a petition to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. That’s far more onerous than getting signatures from voters in 44 counties, the current requirement.

“When we talk about changing our Constitution,” Stewart said in a news release, “we need to make sure it has widespread support from all corners of the state.”

That’s what voting is for.

Since the turn of the century, 16 amendments proposed by citizens have made it onto the ballot, but only five of those have passed.

Not what we would describe as a clarion call to make it harder to amend the Constitution, unless Stewart and his allies, such as Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, fear voters might do something they don’t like.

Which is exactly why they’re in such a hurry to make it harder to change the Constitution.

There are movements afoot to put forward amendments that would protect abortion rights and reform redistricting, ideas that the GOP-controlled General Assembly would never support.

Naturally, Stewart and LaRose have insisted those aren’t the driving force behind their proposal.

Instead, they have raised the specter of “out-of-state special interests” swooping in to amend the Ohio Constitution. Do they share the same concern about the influence of “special interests” on members of the General Assembly?

Were they upset when special interests pushed a lame-duck bill, signed into law by GOP Gov. Mike DeWine, that defined natural gas as “green energy”? (Natural gas may burn cleaner than coal, but it’s still a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change.)

Anyway, LaRose dismissed the entirely reasonable fears that abortion and redistricting were motivating factors behind Stewart’s proposal.

“Today, people might want to pretend or think that it’s about abortion or redistricting or whatever issue, but 50 years from now, it could be about holograms and flying cars,” he said. “We just don’t know what the things are that are going to come up, but if it can’t get 60 percent, it probably belongs in the Ohio Revised Code and not in the Ohio Constitution.”

Stewart has made clear what this was all about.

When he was trying to ram his proposal through the lame-duck session, he sent a letter to fellow Republicans urging passage by citing the issues of abortion and redistricting.

Stewart’s proposal might not make it out of the Ohio House, where Republicans are engaged in a bitter feud following the surprise election of state Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, as speaker with Democratic support.

Even if Stewart’s proposal does make it onto the ballot, it would still take a simple majority of voters to stop it from becoming part of the state Constitution.

That’s exactly as it should be.


Sandusky Register. January 20, 2023.

Editorial: Looks like a trend

Nearly $2 million. That’s how much of an increase year-over-year there’s been in the annual sales tax collections in Erie County. We remember years ago when Erie County commissioner Pat Shenigo pushed the idea that building a sports center somewhere in the county could help make the area more of a year-round destination than a summer tourist spot. The result, he said, would be an enhanced revenue stream. The shift toward being a year-round destination was already trending with Cedar Point staying open weekends through October with its HalloWeekend programming. But, in the years since the Sports Force Parks and Cedar Point Sports Center opened, annual sales tax collection has risen by nearly $5 million annually since 2018 to about $21 million last year. They both continue “to attract a huge amount of visitors year-round for both indoor and outdoor sporting events,” county administrator Hank Solowiej said announcing the totals for 2022. Despite the revenue bump, Shenigo and commissioners Matt Old and Steve Shoffner have shown resolve. They aren’t “growing county government,” as Old said. Commissioners want to ensure this money gets spent on one-time capital projects. “We can’t go back to the wasteful spending of years past,” he said. Amen to that.

Ohio’s senior senator key to success

We’re glad U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is talking about the Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, a law that took effect on Jan. 1. The PACT Act allows veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to get medical coverage and benefits. The fact that they couldn’t previously is nearly incomprehensible except for the fact that it was true. Brown called the PACT Act “one of the most important things we’ve ever done” when he spoke with a dozen veterans last week at Youngstown State University. The Register reported about the efforts to get the law enacted for several years because a Sandusky woman, Susan Zeier, Heath Robinson’s mother-in-law, is the person Brown credits with making him aware of the need for the legislation. Robinson, a member of the Ohio National Guard who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, died in May 2020 of illnesses caused by toxic exposure during his service. Brown was a champion for this legislation. We appreciate that he’s a humble man, but we’re simply convinced that without Brown’s steady leadership, dedication and resolve, there wouldn’t be a PACT Act. He stayed above the fray, pushed hard for bipartisan cooperation and showed what leadership means. It is important that we honor the men and women who serve this country, and the PACT Act fixes a horrible failure to do that.


We appreciate the hard work it takes to be recognized by your peers for outstanding performance. We also appreciate the Caryl Crane Youth Theatre for its unique place in our community. Members of the company competed in the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta last weekend and took home the outstanding production honor for its production of “Annie.” Huron High School senior Caylin McCormick also took home an award for outstanding performer for her portrayal of Miss Hannigan. The part of “Annie” was played by Sasha Dresser of Huron. The Junior Theater Festival brings featured 125 theater groups and more than 6,300 students. Caryl Crane is in its first year with the Sandusky State Theatre after transferring from BGSU Firelands. “We are so proud of Brian and the kids,” state theater executive director Chris Parthemore said. “It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to compete on a national level and they really had a great performance. We’re excited about the group’s future with the state theater.” Caryl Crane will perform “Annie” at the Sandusky Elks Lodge, 120 E. Adams St. Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 27 and 4 p.m. on Jan. 28. People can visit Caryl Crane Youth Theatre on Facebook for performance updates and ticketing information.