Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Toledo Blade. October 1, 2022.

Editorial: Larry Householder starts pre-trial legal joust

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder is in the process of carving out a new role in state politics, as an educator on federal corruption law.

Mr. Householder’s trial on federal racketeering charges is set to begin in January. But it’s not without significant legal jousting over how Mr. Householder can structure his defense.

The Blade reported this week on a motion by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker to bar expert testimony in Mr. Householder’s defense, which would liken his action to standard campaign fund-raising practice in Washington by leaders of both political parties.

But the money funneled anonymously by FirstEnergy and other Ohio utilities to a political nonprofit, Generation Now, was not a political action committee devoted to the purpose of making Mr. Householder Ohio House Speaker. It was a dark-money fund created to achieve a billion-dollar bailout for the utilities’ economically distressed nuclear and coal fired power plants, while locking in rates at an artificial high. Electing him was a means to that end.

As the federal prosecutor’s motion points out, Mr. Householder is not charged with campaign finance violations. Letting his defense speak on campaign finance issues as if they are relevant will confuse the jury and could lead them to a conclusion that Larry Householder has been improperly charged.

This is no slam dunk case for prosecutors; even though Mr. Householder converted about $300,000 of the Generation Now money to personal use to pay for repairs to a home in Florida.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in overturning a corruption conviction against the former governor of Virginia that only direct government action made because of a bribe is illegal. Mr. Householder can plausibly argue that his support for Ohio House Bill 6 was based on economic development philosophy, not on a bribe.

Moreover, there is a good case for Mr. Householder regarding improper prosecution. FirstEnergy has entered a deferred plea agreement and paid a $230 million fine after admitting they bribed Mr. Householder and former Public Utilities of Ohio Commission Chairman Sam Randazzo for assistance in passing H.B. 6.

A shareholders suit against FirstEnergy has forced the revelation that former CEO Chuck Jones and External Relations Vice President Mike Dowling were the executives responsible for the bribes.

Mr. Randazzo, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Dowling have not been charged.

The implausibility of a one-man conspiracy is far more relevant to whether Larry Householder is being improperly prosecuted than campaign fund-raising practices in Washington.

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Youngstown Vindicator. September 29, 2022.

Editorial: Solution is matter of life and death

Ohio is becoming a deadlier place to live, according to data from the state health department and analyzed in a report by the Ohio Capital Journal. Last year saw the highest number of fatal overdoses, gun deaths, homicides and motor vehicle fatalities in the past 15 years. It was also the third-worst year on record for suicides in Ohio.

Numbers show a 51% increase in deaths of working-age Ohioans over the past 15 years.

“The mortality falls into the category of what sociologists call ‘deaths of despair’ — often indicators of larger ills around economics, access to health care, economic and geographic mobility, racial inequalities and other complex societal problems,” the Capital Journal reported.

“One thing that’s particularly troubling is that these causes of death are largely preventable,” Amy Bush Stevens, vice president of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, told the Capital Journal. “There are effective things that we can be doing to reverse these.”

Among those solutions are better tools to both truly tackle (rather than throwing money at without regard for effectiveness) the substance abuse epidemic in our state, and reduce the harm for addicts; reducing the stigma surrounding mental health challenges, and increasing access to care; genuinely working to grow and diversify our economy for all regions; providing quality, relevant public education and higher education opportunities; and kicking out of office those politicians who are actively working to damage our state by driving it backward toward socio-cultural norms that generally have been understood to be wrong for more than a century.

Not an easy fix, is it? No, it is easier for elected officials and bureaucrats to find one or two headliner targets at which to hurl funding so they can claim they are working to improve quality of life here and give us hope.

We can’t afford to let them get away with it any more. It is killing us.

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Elyria Chronicle Telegram. September 30, 2022.

Editorial: Vote no on noncitizen voting amendment

Ohio has a strong tradition of home rule.

Republicans tend to favor local control until some community or school district does something they don’t like.

Then the GOP-dominated legislature swings into action, introducing bills to put a stop to whatever it might be. (See: gun restrictions, single-use plastic bag bans and “divisive” school curriculum. You get the idea.)

Some of those bills even become law.

Each time that happens, more power shifts to the state.

Which brings us to Issue 2, an amendment to the Ohio Constitution placed on the November ballot by Republican lawmakers. If passed, it would bar noncitizens from voting in local elections. (Noncitizens can’t vote in state and federal elections.)

The main reason Republican lawmakers put the amendment on the ballot dates to 2019, when Yellow Springs held a referendum over whether noncitizens who lived there should be able to vote in local elections.

It passed with 59% of the vote, but has never been used.

That’s because Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told the Greene County Board of Elections not to accept noncitizen voter registrations. (Yellow Springs is in Greene County.)

He told us earlier this week that he didn’t believe it would have been legal for noncitizens to vote in local elections. However, he said there was enough legal ambiguity that Yellow Springs might have won if it had taken the matter to court.

One of the reasons for the uncertainty, The Columbus Dispatch reported, is a 1917 Ohio Supreme Court decision that the home-rule provisions of the state Constitution permitted local governments to determine who could vote in city elections. At the time the decision allowed women to vote locally prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. (Ohio was the fifth state to ratify it.)

LaRose and other supporters say Issue 2 needs to pass to make clear that noncitizens can’t vote even in local elections.

The privilege of voting in the United States should be reserved for citizens, he told us.

We agree when it comes to state and federal elections, but they’re not under consideration here.

If Yellow Springs voters want to let a handful of noncitizens who live there have a say in local affairs, what does it matter to the rest of the state? No one is forcing any other community to let noncitizens vote.

The Dayton Daily News reported in May that Yellow Springs had around 3,800 residents, about 170 of whom were born abroad. The majority of those were naturalized citizens.

Village Council President Brian Housh told the paper the referendum would have given roughly 30 people the right to vote in local elections. He described those folks as business owners and other residents with an interest in the affairs of the village and local schools.

“It’s a local issue,” Housh told the Daily News. “It’s about local issues.”

A scattering of communities across the nation, including in California, Maryland, New York and Vermont, allow noncitizens to vote in local elections in some form or fashion. The biggest are New York City and San Francisco.

The republic is still standing.

Nor will it fall if a similar measure under consideration in Washington, D.C., becomes law.

There are a few other wrinkles to consider.

Some critics of Issue 2 have pointed out that because the amendment says voters have to be 18 in order to cast a ballot, it could prevent 17-year-olds who would turn 18 on or before Election Day from voting in primary elections. Ohio has allowed that practice for some time.

LaRose has said he doesn’t believe it would be an issue, and no one has suggested 17-year-olds shouldn’t be able to continue casting limited ballots in primaries.

Given right-wing hysteria about virtually nonexistent voter fraud, which has led to draconian election “integrity” bills around the country, it wouldn’t surprise us if a challenge emerged at some point.

Fears about immigrants illegally voting in federal, state and local elections are largely unfounded. LaRose, for instance, has found only a few examples of noncitizens improperly registered to vote, and most of them hadn’t cast a ballot.

Nevertheless, those fears have the potential to drive turnout for Issue 2. Given the politics of immigration and border security, we suspect that juicing GOP turnout was part of the calculus behind pushing the amendment in a midterm election.

A Siena College poll, released Tuesday, showed that 59% of likely voters supported Issue 2. The support was broad, with 43% of Democrats, 72% of Republicans and 60% of independents either strongly or somewhat supporting it.

Based on those numbers, it seems likely Issue 2 will pass.

It shouldn’t.

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USA Today Network Ohio. September 28, 2022.

Editorial: Mike DeWine shirking duty by cheating Ohio voters out of debate with Nan Whaley

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to skip debates leading up to the Nov. 8 election is a slap in the face of his Democratic challenger Nan Whaley.

That’s one thing.

Far more outrageous, his actions show contempt for the will of Ohio voters and the democratic process.

The refusal to publicly debate is also part of a disturbing trend, nationally, by Democrats and Republicans, departing from traditional American norms.

The people want and need a debate, but it seems DeWine is content to run out the clock until Election Day. A recent USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University poll shows 84% of likely Ohio voters want candidates for the state’s top political posts to face off in one-on-one debates.

Our boards are left to conclude DeWine is so confident the fundamentals of the race are in his favor, that he doesn’t have to care what you think.

Ducking out of debate is a disservice

Last week, DeWine and Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance officially declined to participate in Ohio Debate Commission debates planned for October. DeWine argued Ohioans already know where he stands on key issues from the economy to guns and abortion.

Meanwhile, Vance, who has since agreed to take part in two debates with his Democratic challenger Tim Ryan in Cleveland and Youngstown, spurned the Ohio Debate Commission debates because its executive director Jill Zimon is a “liberal Tim Ryan donor who has repeatedly and publicly smeared Republican,” according to his campaign.

The Ohio Debate Commission is a nonprofit organization of which The Enquirer, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Columbus Dispatch and other media organizations, voting rights groups and foundations are supporters.

While we reject Vance’s “too liberal” narrative for ducking out on the Ohio Debate Commission debates, we are pleased to see that voters will at least get a chance to see him debate Ryan before the midterms.

DeWine cheating voters out of debate

DeWine owes voters no less.

This would be only the second time since 1978 that there’s not been a gubernatorial debate.

Incumbent Gov. John Kasich’s decision to not debate Democrat Ed FitzGerald in 2014 was the other one.

The fact that DeWine is refusing to debate the first woman ever nominated for governor reflects poorly on him and robs both Whaley and Ohioans of a truly historical moment.

It might seem like sound political strategy to not debate given DeWine’s big lead over Whaley in polling (53% to 39%, according to the USA TODAY Network/Suffolk poll), fundraising and name recognition.

DeWine probably figures he has little to gain and more to lose by going toe-to-toe with Whaley in a public debate where he could make a costly gaffe.

The incumbent governor likely isn’t eager at this stage to defend attacks on his record or answer questions about former President Donald Trump, abortion, gun control or his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But none of those are good reasons for cheating voters. DeWine must consider the value of the debates to voters over his only personal and political gains.

Debates are not a ‘gotcha’ game

Debates are the equivalent of a job interview for candidates running for office.

They allow voters a chance to see how quickly candidates can think on their feet, handle criticism and answer tough questions. Voters can compare and contrast candidates’ style in real-time. And in these times of misinformation and misleading campaign ads, debates offer voters, especially those with limited information, a glimpse at who candidates really are, their grasp of history and the issues, competence and even their temperament.

Broadcasters can tell you state and local debates are far from rating-getters.

Some might argue that they don’t change votes and are too often about “gotcha” moments for viral social media and political ads rather than real conversations and information. However, they can produce defining moments, such as the angry nose-to-nose confrontation this year between former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons during a Republican primary debate for the Senate nomination.

Moments like that one may not move diehard supporters, but they have been known to sway undecided or wavering voters.

Ohio candidates must be ‘unafraid’ to defend positions

Candidates need to be willing to publicly debate and not shy away from them out of fear of scrutiny, fact-checking or blowing a big lead in the polls. They should be prepared to argue the issues and stand on their convictions, policy positions and the accuracy of their statements regardless of their opponent or the forum in which these things might be challenged.

Participating in debates shows a respect for the democratic process and voters.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown understand this, which is why both still debated opponents in their last elections despite holding sizable leads in the polls.

Portman in 2016 held three debates with Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland, and Brown agreed to debate Republican nominee Rep. Jim Renacci in 2018.

Both stood up to attacks on their record and personal lives and answered tough questions, despite having little to gain personally from the debates. The previous two Republican governors before Kasich, George Voinovich and Bob Taft, also participated in debates with their Democratic opponents before easily winning reelection.

They were all unafraid and understood the importance of answering tough questions outside the presence of their political handlers and without carefully crafted scripts filled with talking points.

They respected the critical role debates play in educating voters on where candidates stand on the key issues. And they recognized their duty to serve as exemplars of how we engage civilly across differences.

Candidates who say no to debates shirk this responsibility and set a dangerous precedent in refusing to even engage with the other side. This is a move away from the tradition of civic debate and dissent and, therefore, a move away from democratic norms that form the bedrock of our nation.

As our society becomes an increasingly closed off echo chamber, we need more conversation across political ideologies and more thoughtful debate and discussion, not less.

DeWine should debate Whaley. He owes it to Ohio voters.

END