Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Akon Beacon Journal. Nov. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Reckless and misguided. Hudson’s Roegner joins Shubert’s unnecessary rhetoric on schools

If conservative causes are as righteous as so many believe, why do some proponents increasingly distort facts, lie and use verbal flame-throwers?

That question weighed on us after reading Republican state Sen. Kristina Roegner’s irresponsible response Tuesday to a rational and thorough report from Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan-Walsh, a Democrat, who investigated threats made against school board members in their hometown of Hudson.

The report accuses Roegner of sparking Mayor Craig Shubert’s false child pornography allegations against the city’s school board Sept. 13 where he demanded their resignations to avoid criminal charges.

Shubert, also a Republican, told investigators he learned about the book in question, “642 Things to Write About,” from Roegner during a political fundraiser immediately before the now infamous meeting. That’s when Shubert, Roegner and Summit County Domestic Relations Judge Katarina Cook discussed the book and child pornography, the report states.

Instead of doing his homework or rationally alerting school board members to a few questionable writing prompts on sex in the supplemental book for a college-level course, Shubert went into attack mode with false claims, including that a judge had declared the book was child pornography.

Shubert’s lies, title and mention of a judge sparked a torrent of angry threats from fellow conservatives who wrongly trusted him. He became a viral conservative hero while leaving school leaders confronting more than 150 vile threats such as “you better watch your (expletive) backside.”

It was a completely avoidable crisis.

Unfortunately, prosecutors have been unable to secure enough evidence to charge anonymous callers and email writers from around the U.S. for their alarming threats. They’ve also declined to prosecute Shubert, claiming Roegner and Cook’s refusal to speak with investigators makes it difficult to understand Shubert’s intent before he spoke that night. Legally, intent is critical to proving any wrongdoing by someone who was clearly but carelessly exercising his First Amendment rights.

Roegner also refused to answer questions from the Beacon Journal, instead issuing her statement filled with buzzwords intended to distract from legitimate questions.

She does refute what Shubert told prosecutors, though.

“Regarding any suggestion that I was involved with the Mayor’s comments or that they were in anyway politically motivated are patently false,” she wrote.

Well, why would Shubert lie to prosecutors about meeting Roegner? And the latter half of her sentence is laughable.

For months, Republicans concerned with school diversity efforts, books available in libraries, sex education and mask mandates in classes had been laying the groundwork to win school board seats in the November election in Hudson and across America. Shubert hurt that effort in Hudson.

Many conservative concerns about our schools are certainly worthy of public debate, including the book Shubert questioned. Unfortunately, many public statements in Hudson have been steeped in misinformation as demonstrated by Shubert’s reckless rant and Thursday response to the report.

The mayor has not only refused to apologize for his tactics, he criticized prosecutors for failing to charge school board members for allowing at least 40 books with “highly sexual and pornographic material” to remain in the schools. He also singled out specific books more focused on marginalized communities, raising more questions about his motivations. Shubert also appeared recently in a political video with a U.S. Senate candidate who grossly misrepresented key facts.

To us, the mayor is an embarrassment and should resign or be recalled from his ceremonial role, but we take solace in the reality he has no real responsibilities in running Hudson.

As for Roegner, she foolishly frames the report as a “sham” political attack on those who dared challenge their local school board while failing to condemn serious threats prosecutors allege resulted at least partially from her actions.

Shubert and Roegner’s divisive rhetoric are a sad illustration of everything that’s wrong with American politics right now.

The following statement was released by State Sen. Kristina Roegner, who declined to answer questions from reporters.

“Much like the abusive tactics of the U.S. Attorney General to intimidate parents, a rogue county prosecutor is trying to blame parents and elected officials for having the audacity to appear at a public school board meeting to learn more about what is happening inside their taxpayer funded schools.

This so called report issued by the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office is nothing more than a thinly veiled sham. Indeed, it reads more like a negative campaign attack ad targeting a Mayor who is Republican by a Prosecutor who is Democrat. Sending armed investigators to the homes of over a dozen Hudson residents who dared speak their concerns at the Hudson Board of Education meeting was a disturbingly inappropriate intimidation tactic very much in line with the recent treatment nationally of concerned parents as domestic terrorists. Parents are rightfully concerned about what is taught in our schools and the concerted effort to divorce parents from the classes, coursework, and education of their children.

Regarding any suggestion that I was involved with the Mayor’s comments or that they were in anyway politically motivated are patently false. Like the Mayor, the majority of parents, staff and school board members, I was genuinely and deeply disturbed by several of the writing prompts in question. I briefly attended a school board meeting consistent with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. I did not speak at the meeting. I was there to listen and hear what parents and teachers had to say about this issue. Due to scheduling constraints, I had to leave prior to public comments. Finally, I did not encourage anyone to email or call members of the school board.

Naming people in her letter and releasing it to the media is a purposeful and malicious attempt to create harm and borders on prosecutorial misconduct. The County Prosecutor is attempting to convict innocent people in the press because she cannot prove her case in a court of law. Individuals are innocent until proven guilty in Ohio unless you are before the Summit County Prosecutor.”

Read Shubert’s statement

“I am pleased Sherri Bevan Walsh has acknowledged my First Amendment right of free speech. She and I may disagree on how the message was delivered, but the fact that “A Girl on the Shore”, “Gender Queer”, “Lawn Boy”, “Out of Darkness,” plus 40 more books of highly sexual and pornographic material were made available to children in the school remains troubling.

The prosecutor’s office has spent tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds gunning for me, to intimidate me and the Hudson parents who spoke at the September 13 school board meeting, but has ignored the real crime of who is responsible for ‘pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor,’ as defined by the Ohio Revised Code Section 2907.322, into Hudson High School.

The behavior and actions of others is solely on them. I encourage the prosecutor to pursue those individuals and file charges to the fullest extent of the law. Violence is not the answer.

At the end of the day, the Board of Education remains accountable for the pornographic content it allowed students to view.”

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Youngstown Vindicator. Nov. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Evasive officials let down their constituents

The lack of responsiveness from local elected officials sought for comment or answers about things like proposed legislation or their positions and beliefs on controversial issues of the day appears to be growing more common.

In just one week, this newspaper has been denied access from elected officials on three separate occasions. Ohio Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, and state Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, both declined to answer our calls. Also, Trumbull County Commissioner Niki Frenchko recently announced publicly that she no longer will answer our questions.

Rulli this week and on several previous occasions has not responded to calls, texts, emails or even personal visits from us and his constituents.

Rulli is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 103, legislation seeking to repeal Ohio’s death penalty. Multiple efforts to reach Rulli when we first wrote about the bill this spring, and again last week when we updated the story, have been unsuccessful. We’ve called Rulli’s office, emailed him and even visited the grocery store his family owns in hopes of tracking him down.

In fact, Rulli rarely responds to text messages from our reporters and doesn’t answer his phone when we call. Constituents, likewise, have reported difficulties in getting responses, even from legislative aides in his Senate offices.

Undoubtedly, capital punishment is a controversial issue. Certainly, his constituents deserve to hear why the senator they’ve elected has an interest in repealing it. Indeed, his reasoning may be justified, but without an opportunity to ask, we may never know.

Also last week, Loychik, once again, declined to respond to questions from this newspaper’s reporter about his plans to introduce legislation that would not require members of the Ohio National Guard to get COVID-19 vaccinations. Loychik released the information in a prepared media statement last week.

Let’s face it, all things COVID-19-related are controversial these days. The nation is very divided on this issue, and so we attempted to reach Loychik to ask questions that his constituents might want to know. But, as is typical, attempts to reach Loychik were unsuccessful. In fact, since his election to the House one year ago, Loychik has spoken only once to reporters from this newspaper despite numerous efforts to speak to him. That one time was when we encountered Loychik in person at an anti-mask mandate rally.

Frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised. Loychik never returned our candidate questionnaire when he was seeking election, and he refused to participate in the routine candidate interview with this newspaper’s reporters and editorial board.

Loychik may have very good explanations for the legislation he put forth, but without opening himself up to questions, we may never know.

Then, recently, Frenchko appeared on local talk radio, offering criticisms of this newspaper’s leadership and a reporter, who for several years covered county commissioners.

Dissatisfied with our coverage, Frenchko said she would not be speaking to us anymore and instead would rely on conversations with her constituency via social media.

While use of social media to speak directly to the public may seem easier to elected officials like Frenchko or to candidates seeking office, the problem is it allows for a lack of accountability.

What happens when an official shares inaccurate or unreliable information? Who follows up with the hard questions when an official spins the truth?

The fact is, the value of an unfettered press was recognized by the founding fathers of this great nation hundreds of years ago. Indeed, the most basic ethical tenet of journalism in the United States is that the press remains independent of government.

Realizing that human beings commit wrongs, our forefathers were suspicious of the tendencies of government. Despite imperfections of the press, they knew that maintaining a separation would allow the press to act as a critic, distinct from government.

When that role is eliminated and attempts are made by government representatives to bypass the media via a direct funnel, unfiltered, through social media to the constituency, all critique is lost.

Indeed, things have changed drastically since this nation was formed, but some things have not — including the need to hold accountable our leaders with challenging questions on behalf of the public that put them in office. Too often elected officials — particularly newer ones — forget that the media is speaking not for the media, but for the public. We are seeking answers to questions that the electorate deserves to hear.

When elected officials refuse to answer questions from the media, they are not hurting the media organization. They are failing to serve their constituency.

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Toledo Blade. Nov. 20, 2021.

Editorial: Why choose oblivion?

Why fentanyl? A paper clip. A dollar bill. A raisin. A stick of gum. These are all everyday objects that weigh, give or take, one gram.

Now, pick one of these, and imagine dividing it into 10 pieces. Then take one of those pieces, and divide it into 10 more pieces. Now take one of those pieces, if you can find one, and divide it, once again, into 10 more. Finally, take two of those tiny fragments, each one-thousandth of a paper clip or dollar bill, and hold them in your hand. That, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the weight of fentanyl it takes to kill an average person.

Another image: You’re making pancakes. You pour 100 grams of flour, a little less than a cup, into the bowl. You add 1 gram, about a quarter of a teaspoon, of salt. After all the other ingredients, you mix and mix and mix, but no matter what some pancakes have a little more salt than others. The flour is a standard street drug like heroin or cocaine; the salt is fentanyl; and every slightly-saltier-than-average pancake will kill you.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is roughly 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Because it is generally cheaper to produce than other street drugs, it is added to other white powders to increase dealers’ margins and users’ highs. While deaths strictly because of the abuse of prescription opioids, such as OxyContin, peaked about 2017, fentanyl-involved deaths have overtaken them, and have not stopped climbing. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, opioids accounted for 75 percent of the 100,000 overdose deaths in the last 12 months, and 85 percent of those — about 64,000 deaths — involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Governments and agencies and families must ask: Why? What could possibly be the appeal? Sure, humans have dabbled with opium for millennia, but while smoking dens might have resulted in listlessness, they didn’t threaten death with every puff. Something else is going on. The scientific term for the high is “euphoria,” but this is a serious misnomer. Euphoria is a Greek word that means, more or less, “to bear life well.” To be at ease with oneself and with the world. To be at home.

But the opioid high is all about dissociating from oneself and from the world. The high is a kind of death. Fentanyl just brings the genuine article to the table. Maybe that’s why use has only risen since it burst onto the scene; maybe the nihilism of the risk is part of the high. In other words, opioid use is a symptom of the opposite of euphoria: a widespread and profound dysphoria. That’s an unshakable unease, and a feeling alienation from the world, and from one’s very self.

We will monitor the work of public and private authorities to mitigate this crisis in the usual ways — awareness, education, social support, medical intervention. These are all good and important. But we also want to insist that these authorities consider the deeper roots of the crisis, and what they can do to restore hope and meaning to the individuals, families, and entire communities who do not feel at home in the world they — we — have built.

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Columbus Dispatch. Nov. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Ohio ‘anti-riot’ bill is an instrument of intimidation to silence free speech

There are times in most self-reflective people’s lives when they look back and acknowledge that they overreacted to something.

In that vein, we ask the Ohio House and Senate to reflect on House Bill 109 and realize that it is an overreaction and unnecessary, and to reject it.

Virtually every “problem” this bill was supposedly written to solve is already addressed in Ohio law – with specificity and without the vague and broad language that could ensnare innocent protesters.

As reporter Anna Staver wrote in a recent news story, the sweeping bill would increase the charges, penalties and civil lawsuits that could be filed against protestors in cities and towns across Ohio.

House Republicans passed House Bill 109 out of committee on Nov. 10, over Democrats’ objections that its vague language violates the First Amendment.

If the intent of the draconian proposal isn’t an attempt to intimidate people and scare them away from peaceful protests, the result, if this bill is approved, certainly would be a chilling effect on anyone who might consider using their constitutional right to public expression of their grievances.

This is especially true for marginalized people with little means – people who can’t afford lobbyists to carry their messages to lawmakers or lawyers to represent them if they run afoul of a bad law.

The threat of months in jail for blocking an intersection, or the possibility of a big civil judgment in a lawsuit filed by a police officer who could claim you made a “false complaint” under this bill, would give pause to anyone thinking about joining a protest.

It could effectively silence those with legitimate grievances and few other options for making them known.

Make no mistake: We condemn rioting and violence. Those who harm other people, overturn cars and smash windows – whether at businesses, the Ohio Statehouse or the U.S. Capitol – should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But the majority of protests in the state capital – of which there are many each year – are peaceful. And temporarily blocking an intersection is not rioting.

Supporters say the “Ohio Law and Order Act” would protect police, peaceful protestors and free speech. But opponents say the penalties are far too harsh because, for example, five people blocking an intersection could meet Ohio’s definition of a riot under this bill.

Not throwing rocks or bottles. Just temporarily blocking an intersection while marching from, say, City Hall to the Statehouse.

That happened many days in Columbus and other cities across Ohio following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and after a Columbus police officer killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in April 2021. The vast majority of the protests that temporarily blocked intersections were peaceful.

They might have been disruptive, and it was technically illegal to block intersections, but those actions were not what any reasonable person would consider to be felony-level crimes.

And yet, under House Bill 109, protesters convicted of certain disorderly conduct crimes, such as blocking a street, could spend 180 days in jail if prosecutors labeled the event in question a riot or illegal protest.

The bill also would create a new fifth-degree felony called “riot assault,” which could become a more serious fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, if the victim is a police officer.

Assaulting a police officer is already a crime, up to and including a first-degree felony depending on the severity of the assault.

House Bill 109 also would expand Ohio’s corrupt activities law to include people or organizations who knowingly provided “material support or resources” to rioters.

When it comes to civil legal action, the bill would allow police officers who are injured during such events to file lawsuits against individuals as well as “any organization that provided material support or resources to the responsible party.”

Officers also could sue someone for filing a false complaint related to such incidents.

Those two points are alarming. A church that lends its bus to protesters, or feeds them, could be charged because it provided “material support.” And who decides what constitutes a “false complaint,” which is undefined in the bill, in a he-said, she-said argument between an officer in uniform and a protester?

Protestors might refuse to file legitimate complaints because they are worried officers will sue them, said Gary Daniels, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

There also is a fear that prosecutors would apply the riot label to certain protests – such as Black Lives Matter and gay rights organizations – but not others.

A similar bill passed in Florida was recently blocked by a federal judge, but other laws in states like Arkansas and Iowa have gone into effect.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee found that Florida’s “anti-riot” law was “vague and overbroad,” and amounted to an assault on First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, as well as the Constitution’s due process protections, according to an Associated Press report.

People engaged in peaceful protest or innocently in the same area when a demonstration turned violent could have faced criminal charges and stiff penalties under the law, the judge said.

A key issue is defining what the word “riot” means in the statute. Walker noted that past Florida laws sought to prevent demonstrations that could threaten segregationist Jim Crow-era practices.

“If this court does not enjoin the statute’s enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians,” Walker wrote.

“It unfortunately takes only a handful of bad actors to transform a peaceful protest into a violent public disturbance,” the judge added.

In Ohio, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association both testified in support of the House Bill 109.

“Peaceful protest deserves to be protected. Riots and vandalism do not,” Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association Director Lou Tobin said.

Blocking a street may seem like an annoyance, Tobin added, but it can delay life-saving care by slowing down ambulances.

As for making first responders a protected class, Tobin thinks that’s appropriate because Ohio is asking these people to put themselves in harm’s way in the name of public safety.

“Our first responders have an incredibly difficult job as it is,” Tobin said. “They should not on top of that be subjected to harassment and intimidation because of what they do.”

We agree that the job is challenging and dangerous, but this bill is less about protecting first responders and more about intimidation.

It is clearly an effort to silence people with legitimate grievances, and again, we ask the House and Senate to reflect on this over-reaction and reject the bill.

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Sandusky Register. Nov. 18, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t let cheaters win

Try, try, try. Try again. But the old adage that successive efforts might lead to success will never hold true if someone is purposely failing.

When it regards the mandate from Ohioans to end gerrymandering of the state’s political districts, Republicans are refusing the order, in an arrogant and disrespectful manner.

No excuses.

Our local representatives, State Sen. Theresa Gavarone and state Rep. D.J. Swearingen are playing along, pretending the maps of district boundaries proposed by Republican leaders for Congressional seats are fair and in the spirit of reform Ohioans are demanding.

Bet they aren’t, and officeholders who say one thing is true when the truth is obviously something different are insisting that their side gets to cheat at every step along the way, to unduly influence an election and tilt the balance to the cheating side.

In our view, it shows a lack of confidence in ideas that can win over the public and serve the community in favor of a skill to cheat at the business of electing — to win by fixing the odds and percentages.

In the latest map reconstructions, the Republican Party maintains a significant advantage by where they’ve drawn the boundaries, maybe even a greater one. The districts are drawn to elect Republicans to go to Washington and Columbus — and do not follow the edicts of reform, which include mapping out competitive, compact districts that are fair and sensible.

One part of the state that will become more competitive is in U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s 9th Congressional District, which currently stretches from Toledo to Cleveland along Lake Erie and includes Sandusky. The newest map from Republican leaders lops off the eastern portion of the district, cutting Kaptur’s huge advantage with Democratic voters in Cuyahoga Lucas County.

We like that our 9th District will be more competitive. That’s how great leaders emerge: through real campaigns about real issues with real candidates, not manufactured ones who wage grievance campaigns that demonize the opposition and are void of true wisdom or courage. It’s time to end outrage politics.

That kind of competitive structure can be and should be in every district in Ohio. That’s what Ohioans told are leaders to do, yet they continue to defy the will of the people. Ohioans have clearly, loudly and with an overwhelming vote demanded that our political parties play fair. We’re tired of the gamesmanship, the statements that fall short of being straight-out lies but are, nonetheless, misleading and misinforming, intentionally. We’re oh, so weary, of the disingenuous, and we’re not fools.

The mandate Ohioans handed Gavarone and Swearingen, Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio House Speaker Bob Cuff, Senate President Matt Huffman and leaders of the minority party is fair districts that will result in fair elections. We expect you to fulfill that people’s mandate.

There is nothing about it that is unclear, and there is nothing about how Republican leaders are responding to that mandate that isn’t clearly in defiance of the will of the people and the desire for fair elections.

END