Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer. March 27, 2022.

Editorial: Repeated failure to draw constitutional maps is closing off options. Was that the plan all along?

The window is closing on Ohio’s politically fractured effort to draw new, lawful state legislative and congressional maps in the first test of constitutional amendments voters adopted in 2015 and 2018. But the narrowing options for fair maps within the current primary election schedule raise an uncomfortable possibility: Was all the foot-dragging and repeated drawing of unconstitutional maps by a Republican majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission a tactic to prevent use of constitutional maps this year?

The evidence for this is unclear but suggestive -- although the process is far from over. The Ohio Supreme Court has not yet ruled on a second challenged congressional map and has ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to produce a fourth set of state legislative maps soon.

Still, the primary election calendar is unforgiving and is starting to drive the train.

The legislature’s failure to push back the May 3 primary has already forced a change in deadlines for military and overseas ballots that had to be approved by the Pentagon. Last week, key Ohio litigants challenging the latest congressional map as unconstitutional, including the ACLU and League of Women Voters, dropped their challenge, citing the lack of time to see it through -- although a separate lawsuit goes forward.

The delays and uncertainty about the primary also raise fairness, legal and logistical concerns about candidates seeking congressional and state legislative office, when maps for all of them remain unresolved.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose last week directed county boards of election to remove state legislative races from ballots -- sort of.

LaRose had previously ordered the boards to confirm these candidates for the ballot, even though the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional the maps governing those districts. Now, in ordering these candidates’ names off May 3 ballots, LaRose kept open the possibility of restoring them -- if a federal court order is issued soon enough, directing that the election be run using a previously rejected set of maps, as Republican litigants in U.S. District Court have requested. LaRose estimated that would have to be by Thursday, March 31, cleveland.com’s Andrew J. Tobias reported.

A three-judge federal panel has begun hearing the federal case filed by Republican activists who want the federal court to impose unconstitutional state legislative maps in default of the constitutionally valid maps the state has yet to produce, given potential disruptions to the Ohio primary. Yet any disruption could easily have been avoided through a good-faith redistricting effort and by delaying the primary.

The federal panel -- made up of two Trump appointees and a Clinton appointee -- may have disappointed litigants Friday. Cleveland.com’s Tobias reports the three-judge panel declined to order the state legislative candidates’ names back on Ohio ballots immediately. Still, the case goes on, and such an order could be one outcome after the three-judge panel weighs the evidence.

Among litigants’ other requests to the panel, Tobias reports, is that the federal court abbreviate Ohio’s legally required early-voting period, so ballots don’t have to be ready by April 5.

Think about that.

Instead of delaying the primary to save money and logistical headaches and to create a fairer process for candidates and a more orderly process for voters, the Republican activists litigating the federal court case want to shorten the legally required period during which Ohioans can vote early in-person and absentee in the primary.

In truth, the ultimate losers in any efforts to end-run Ohio’s voter-enacted fair-districting constitutional amendments will be the voters. That’s not just because they will be denied the ability to vote on candidates in constitutionally sound legislative districts, but also because the rushed primary lessens the likelihood they’ll be able to cast an informed in-person or absentee vote according to the legally established Ohio election calendar.

Maybe those who appear more interested in partisan advantage than in meeting the letter and spirit of Ohio’s voter-enacted constitutional amendments on redistricting will pay a price down the road. They should.

That doesn’t rescue the May 3 primary from likely confusion and needless extra expense. It’s time that Ohio’s elected officials act in the interests of all the voters, and delay the primary, so an orderly, fair process can go forward.

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Columbus Dispatch. March 27, 2022.

Editorial: Maureen O’Connor pulled a Liz Cheney and now ‘wicked’ lawmakers coming for her

It seems a gaggle of Statehouse Republicans have picked a villain for the hero-less fairy tale being spun to justify their anti-democracy attempts to control the outcome of Ohio elections.

Remarkably, their bubbling campaign to impeach Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor — a Republican and arguably the most powerful female politician in this state’s 219 years — rose to the surface during Women’s History Month.

O’Connor — a fierce defender of the judicial branch and advocate for justice system reforms — pulled a Liz Cheney and put country ahead of political party.

More specifically, her crime is following Ohio’s constitution and demanding the Ohio Redistricting Commission produce fair congressional and State House and Senate district maps instead of lopsided hot messes that carve the state’s voting districts up like otherworldly jack-o’-lanterns.

The push to jettison O’Connor — the state’s first female chief justice and its second female lieutenant governor — goes beyond a recent Tweet from state Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wayne County, calling for her removal.

The reporting team that provides statehouse coverage for the Columbus Dispatch got its hands on an email from a Republican state central committee member that says an unnamed lawmaker disclosed that he or she will be filing an impeachment charge against O’Connor, who began her public service career 37 years ago as a Summit County court magistrate.

An insider told the team that it was not clear where the campaign would go.

“Judging by conversations I’m aware of, there is growing support for this move,” the insider said.

Republicans are upset to be sure.

State Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, dismissively said she does not know what “the woman” wants when it is clear what the woman wants.

It is the same thing Ohio voters demand.

The woman, a statewide elected official longer than any other woman in Ohio history, wants fair maps which incidentally would still mean a healthy advantage for Republicans in right-leaning Ohio.

A 54% to 46% advantage is not enough for many in the GOP. They want it all, even if getting it means betraying their own.

Are they seeking payback against O’Connor for not toeing the corrupt party line?

Sure looks like it to us.

O’Connor was the deciding vote in each of the 4-3 decisions rejecting three statehouse maps and one congressional map, siding with the Democrats on the high court.

The court last ordered the commission to draw a new set of state House and Senate maps by March 28.

Instead of targeting O’Connor, Republican lawmakers should be working for the fair maps voters said they wanted when a definitive 71% of Ohioans approved an anti-gerrymandering initiative in 2015.

That constitutional amendment and one in 2018 sought to change the way officials draw voting district boundaries.

Blame for this wholly embarrassing episode in our state’s history should be placed where it belongs: the backs of the Republicans controlling the General Assembly and the Republican elected officials who dominate the Ohio Redistricting Commission: Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp.

It is their fault not O’Conner’s that millions in taxpayer dollars have already been squandered on this disgusting quest to cheat Ohioans out of true representation.

It is their fault not O’Connor’s that Ohioans may not get a May 3rd primary with both legislative and statewide races.

It is also their fault that two new mapmakers, Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor, and Douglas Johnson, president of the National Demographics Corp, will earn up to $49,000 each for a week of work to collaborate on maps to meet the upcoming deadline.

Hiring independent map drawers who would answer to both Republican and Democrat commission members was a suggestion of the high court.

Clearly elected officials have proven they are too inept and/ or politically frightened to do the just and legally required thing.

But blame O’Connor they do.

Some of them are even calling O’Connor, who cannot run again due to age limits and is set to step down from the high court Dec. 31 anyway, an activist judge and, worse in their minds, a Democrat.

Her record does not reflect those silly charges.

Was she an activist judge in writing that majority opinion in Ohio vs. Jordan in which the court found a police officer is not required under law to get an arrest warrant each time circumstances show that it is possible to get a warrant?

We could of course go on.

Why bother?

What is clear from O’Connor’s record is that she is sometimes an independent voice on a divided court.

It is just as clear that the woman does not think there is a place for partisan politics in the judicial branch or the drawing of legislative districts.

“Having now seen firsthand that the current Ohio Redistricting Commission—comprised of statewide elected officials and partisan legislators—is seemingly unwilling to put aside partisan concerns as directed by the people’s vote, Ohioans may opt to pursue further constitutional amendment to replace the current commission with a truly independent, nonpartisan commission that more effectively distances the redistricting process from partisan politics,” O’Connor wrote in rejecting the state legislative maps in January.

It would be an outrage if O’Connor were impeached for following the will of the people.

It is instead clearly time for Ohioans to kick politicians out of the process of drawing legislative district maps in Ohio as is the case in other states.

They want to pick voters instead of letting the voters pick who they want to elect.

Republican Statehouse members have proven they are the the real wicked step mothers and fathers in the sad fairy tale they’ve created.

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Toledo Blade. March 24, 2022.

Editorial: State of the State

Gov. Mike DeWine struck positive notes during his State of the State address Wednesday. That is not unexpected. There is much to celebrate for our state.

The $20 billion Intel plans to invest in semiconductor plants, and the Cleveland Cliffs plant were among the economic achievements Mr. DeWine pointed out in his speech.

More needs to be done.

Ohio must work harder to keep our children here and provide good jobs for them. Population and jobs growth remain slow compared to other states. That meant one congressional seat lost and a continued exodus of talent.

It will take dedication from a General Assembly more focused on economic development than fighting culture wars.

Moving forward from the pandemic and its strictures also is worthy of celebration.

We are not past the pandemic, but great progress has been achieved. We still need more Ohioans to get vaccinated. It wasn’t that long ago that the governor called out the National Guard to assist overwhelmed hospitals. Those hospitals were largely filled with unvaccinated people ill with coronavirus.

The governor re-emphasized his commitment to improving mental health in the state. In doing so, he cited a startling statistic: “Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death for Ohioans ages 10 to 64, with the rate rising in rural Ohio and in our communities of color.”

That indeed is cause for concern, and the governor is right to put mental health near the top of his agenda.

Despite much good news, the State of the State left some concerns.

Sadly, reform of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission didn’t make the governor’s agenda.

Legislators should take up the cause of consumers and advance towards elected PUCO commissioners. Ohio needs a General Assembly that doesn’t genuflect before utility interests and fights for consumers.

Until recently, the governor proposed gun safety measures. He’s had no luck in the General Assembly with advancing those ideas. Governor DeWine recently signed a permitless carry bill that is directly opposed to some of his gun-control efforts. He seems to have given up, which is unfortunate. The governor did mention punishing violent offenders using guns, which is appropriate.

All in all the State of the State achieved the governor’s goals and made a clear statement of where we need to go for the good of Ohioans.

As the governor said, may God bless Ohio.

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Youngstown Vindicator. March 27, 2022.

Editorial: Gov. DeWine should have agreed to debate

Gov. Mike DeWine had an opportunity Wednesday to address the Legislature and his Ohio constituents with the return of his State of the State address after it was canceled the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The timing was convenient for the governor who is seeking re-election this year, including facing three primary challenges from within his own party.

In the spring, DeWine will face fellow Republicans Jim Renacci, a former congressman from the Wadsworth area; ex-state Rep. Ron Hood; and Joe Blystone, a farmer from central Ohio who was born in East Liverpool.

Democrats facing off in the primary are John Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati; and Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton.

Among his priorities, DeWine in the Wednesday afternoon address urged state lawmakers to approve legislation to increase penalties for “dangerous felons,” to fund law enforcement training, to clamp down on driving while texting, to focus on mental health and to invest in Appalachia, which includes our Mahoning Valley, including broadband, downtown redevelopment and workforce development.

Some of his points were supported by some local legislators.

But one local Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said the address “sounded more like a campaign speech than anything else.”

State Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, wondered why DeWine didn’t speak about other important issues like making changes to the funding of public education and explaining why Local Government Fund money isn’t being restored.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairwoman Liz Walters pointed out that DeWine on Wednesday also did not address the state’s legislative redistricting process that has been rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court three times as unconstitutional. Because of the delays caused by the legal action, the future of the upcoming primary election, including the district lines and the election date or dates, remains unclear. DeWine is a member of the Redistricting Commission.

These are good points, and voters, who soon will be heading to the polls to cast ballots in the gubernatorial primary election, deserved to hear DeWine being challenged — not just having free rein to address the state less than two months before the scheduled primary election.

Along that line, we were especially disappointed in recent weeks when DeWine declined to participate in a planned gubernatorial candidate debate that was being coordinated by the Ohio Debate Commission. It had been set for this Tuesday at Central State University.

DeWine’s decision not to participate triggered cancellation of the Republican portion of the gubernatorial debate.

As in most elections in which there is an incumbent, DeWine’s opponents are running against his record. They’ve criticized him for his responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as his positions on guns and on former President Donald Trump.

Initially after DeWine declined the invitation, the debate still was expected to go on without the governor and almost certainly without Hood, who hadn’t responded to the commission’s requests, leaving Renacci and Blystone to spend an hour criticizing DeWine and one another.

Renacci pulled out, though, realizing it wasn’t going to do him any good, and the debate fell apart.

When asked why he was skipping the debate, DeWine told reporters: “It might be an entertaining hour, but I’m not sure how productive it would be.”

That’s a shame because voters deserve to hear what the candidates have to say, and they especially deserve to hear the candidates being challenged by both a debate moderator and by each other.

We believe DeWine should have given voters that opportunity. We also don’t believe it’s too late, and we call on organizers to make another attempt to plan a debate for this critical race. If such attempts are successful, we urge DeWine, this time, to agree to take part.

It’s worth pointing out that DeWine also declined four years ago to debate then-Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor in the Republican primary for governor. DeWine won that primary handily.

Still, we strongly believe that the public deserves to hear our governor defend his record against his Republican opponents. And if he’s successful in this primary, then we will urge him again in the fall to be willing to face off against the successful Democratic candidate and any others who might get into the race before then.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. March 22, 2022.

Editorial: O’Connor shouldn’t be impeached

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has done nothing to warrant impeachment.

Yet some Republican state lawmakers are mulling exactly that because they haven’t liked her redistricting rulings. O’Connor was the lone Republican to side with the court’s three Democrats in declaring that proposed maps for congressional and state legislative districts were unconstitutional.

Why? Because the maps overtly favored Republicans despite amendments to the Ohio Constitution that required them to reflect Ohio’s political breakdown. Voters overwhelmingly approved those changes in 2015 and 2018 after Republican gerrymandering following the 2010 census.

In recent statewide elections, not including nominally nonpartisan judicial races, Republicans have won 54 percent of the vote compared to Democrats’ 46 percent. Yet even when the Republican-drawn maps do approach that split, many of the districts the GOP claims as Democratic-leaning are toss-ups, while Republicans can hardly lose in their districts.

In other words, O’Connor is following the law and insisting that the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission and General Assembly do the same.

As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone over well with many of O’Connor’s fellow Republicans, who seem to think she should put her party before the law. (They aren’t targeting the Democratic justices for impeachment; only O’Connor.)

“It’s time to impeach Maureen O’Connor now,” state Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, tweeted Thursday, a day after the Supreme Court struck down the most recent state legislative maps.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that this was being discussed among other Republican lawmakers and the party’s state Central Committee as well.

It’s a bad sign when Republicans are actively considering impeaching a justice not because of any misconduct on her part, but because they don’t like her rulings.

That would set a terrible precedent, not only in Ohio, but across the entire nation.

It also would accelerate the growing belief among the public that judges and justices are not impartial umpires applying the law equally to all, but political creatures acting to further the interests of their party rather than justice.

There’s good reason more and more people feel that way. The majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, for instance, has become increasingly activist on behalf of conservative causes.

There also has been a growing trend in our splintered nation toward attempts to impeach political opponents who couldn’t be defeated at the ballot box.

Some Democrats were too quick to call for Donald Trump’s impeachment after he won the presidency in 2016. Ultimately, he was rightly impeached twice, but those votes came about because of his egregious conduct in office.

Likewise, some Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, who represents portions of Lorain County, have called for President Joe Biden’s impeachment. But Biden has done nothing to merit such a rebuke beyond having defeated Trump and governed as a Democrat.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who sits on the Redistricting Commission, was correct last week when he came out against impeaching O’Connor.

“I don’t think we want to go down that pathway because we disagree with a decision by a court,” he said, “because we disagree with a decision by an individual judge or justice.”

What the commission should do is create maps that will pass constitutional muster. Republican commission members are at least talking about cooperating with Democrats. Given how they’ve operated so far, though, one could be forgiven for skepticism.

As it stands, Republicans’ secrecy and refusal to work with Democrats have so dragged out redistricting as to threaten the state’s ability to hold the primary election as scheduled May 3.

Among the complications is a delay in sending out absentee ballots to military and overseas voters, which was supposed to happen Friday.

Things are only going to get worse. The commission has until March 28 to draw up new state legislative maps, and the most recent version of the congressional maps could still run aground and cause further delays.

Republicans have refused thus far to move the primary, which is absurd. They might not like the idea, but by now they should have realized it’s the best option available to them and voters.

If they’re looking for someone to blame for this mess, they should look to those GOP members charged with redistricting. Not O’Connor.

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