Elyria Chronicle. Feb. 17, 2021.

Editorial: Redistricting just got more complicated

Ohio’s experiments in drawing fairer congressional and state legislative districts haven’t even gotten underway and already they’re in trouble.

That’s because the U.S. Census Bureau will be late in reporting the data needed to redraw the districts. Very late.

The bureau had planned to deliver the data by March 31, but announced Friday that it wouldn’t do so until Sept. 30. Other states are in the same boat.

It was, as Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, said, “a disappointing setback.” She called on the legislative task force responsible for redistricting to begin its work, including seeking public input.

“The fact remains that regardless of when the data arrives, we need to be ready to deliver on the promise of fair districts,” Sykes said. “I again urge my co-chair to convene the Task Force and release the funds so we can begin the work of bringing fair districts back to Ohio.”

She’s right. The task will be complex, and putting off the groundwork would make it even more so.

Given the pandemic, the bureau’s struggle to get states accurate data on time was probably inevitable, but a six-month delay is unacceptable.

During redistricting in 2011, Ohio got census data March 9 but didn’t finalize a new congressional map until December, The Plain Dealer reported last week.

This year, new legislative districts are supposed to be approved no later than Sept. 15. New congressional districts are supposed to be completed no later than Nov. 30.

Ohio’s redistricting was already going to be more difficult than usual this year for two reasons.

First, the state is widely expected to lose a congressional seat. Second, voters have changed the process for redrawing districts in response to the gerrymandering that Republicans foisted on the state in 2011.

Buy-in from the minority party is now required for newly drawn districts to remain in place for a full decade. Districts must be compact, too, and the public must have input. Failure to reach agreement could produce districts that remain in place only four years instead of 10.

That’s a recipe for confusion.

Voters deserve clarity on who represents them, and candidates should have a chance to familiarize themselves with their districts before entering congressional or state legislative races.

For instance, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, plans to run for reelection, but he doesn’t know what his district, which now includes portions of Lorain County, will look like.

Jordan has already drawn one Democratic challenger, Jeffrey Sites of Lima, but there’s no guarantee the two will even end up in the same congressional district. Jordan lives in Champaign County while Sites lives in Allen County.

As drawn now, Jordan’s district is all but guaranteed to elect a Republican (and likely will be again, given his national profile). Lorain County’s other two other U.S. representatives, Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, and Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, are likewise in safe districts.

Unfortunately, waiting for the Census Bureau to deliver the data is the only reasonable option.

The state could draw new districts based on the bureau’s 2019 population estimates, but the estimates are far less accurate than the 2020 count.

GOP gerrymandering has given the party control of 12 of Ohio’s 16 U.S. House seats, even though the state was politically purple in 2011. True, Ohio has trended redder in recent elections, but not so much that only 25 percent of voters are Democrats.

Regardless of when the Census Bureau gets the data to Ohio, voters have given elected officials responsible for redistricting their marching orders: fairer districts.

It’s a mandate they should follow.

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Cincinnati Enquirer. Feb. 19, 2021.

Editorial: CPS needs to honor COVID-19 vaccine deal

The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education seems to have forgotten that if you agree to something, you follow through on your promise. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was right to call out the district for failing to honor its agreement regarding staff COVID-19 vaccines.

CPS was one of the first districts in the state to get the vaccine, on the condition that it return, at least part-time, to in-person learning by March 1. But the school board recently voted, 5-2, to go back on its word and allow Walnut Hills High School to remain in the virtual learning model. The board’s decision came after some teachers and parents at Walnut Hills raised concerns about inadequate social distancing requirements due to the school’s high enrollment and small classrooms.

The district has claimed “no malintent” associated with the Walnut Hills High School delay. Perhaps, but at the very least, the school board mismanaged the situation with poor communication and a lack of transparency.

Problems with overcrowding at Walnut Hills and the building itself are no secret and have long gone unaddressed. The board knew or should have known that achieving the CDC’s recommended 6 feet of social distancing there was going to be challenging prior to accepting the governor’s deal. If district officials didn’t discuss this hurdle with DeWine upfront, they should have, or at least before the board’s vote to double back.

The board also should have anticipated that parents already concerned about a return to in-person learning would be even more uncomfortable with the reduced 3-foot social distancing requirement.

Maybe board members saw an opportunity to get their district vaccinated, grabbed it and knew they would have to ask forgiveness later. Or perhaps they just didn’t do their homework, failed to pay enough attention to the concerns of parents and then made a panicked vote when teachers and the community turned up the heat – some even threatening to get lawyers. Either scenario is simply bad governance.

It is the responsibility of the school board to assess the needs of the entire district. Board members cannot cross their fingers and hope that Walnut Hills would be OK when signing this deal. Is Walnut Hills High School so packed that even a hybrid rotation cannot happen there? Or are school officials just not thinking creatively enough about all the ways in which they could safely return Walnut Hills students to the classroom? We recognize the lack of imaginative solutions goes back to space, technology, infrastructure and money. But these are all things the best-performing public school in the city and state should have.

To be clear, we don’t like that DeWine is willing to compromise the 6-foot standard set by the CDC for one school because of mask-wearing protocol. If the the rest of the district is at 6 feet – Walnut Hills should be, too.

Still, the district must find a way to honor its commitment by returning all of its approximately 36,000 students to their buildings, at least part-time, by the agreed upon deadline. The district claiming that it just can’t make it work at present isn’t acceptable, especially when so many other Greater Cincinnati districts have been finding a way to make in-person learning work since August.

Almost every school system is in a no-win situation. There are more and more parents who want their kids in school, period, and parents who don’t want their kids exposed and don’t trust they will be OK in school. There are teachers who want to be in school and teachers who don’t want any part of that. And there is broad agreement among parents that the virtual learning experience offers a diminished education.

Medical experts agree – and the data from schools that have been back since the fall have shown – that schools have not been the super spreaders many feared. But with so much back-and-forth and confusion with the Walnut Hills High School situation, it’s no surprise parents don’t feel confident in the decisions being made for their children at this point. The board and district administration need to quickly come up with a workable solution that gets Walnut Hills High School teachers, staff and students back in the building by March 1.

After all, a deal is a deal.

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Columbus Dispatch. Feb. 17, 2021.

Editorial: Follow Joe Burrow’s lead and address ‘philanthropy gap’ in Appalachian Ohio

The challenges facing our fellow Ohioans in Appalachian communities at times seem so overwhelming that it could be difficult for anyone to know where or how to start to address them.

Here is one easy way: Make a donation to the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.

A recent story by Dispatch and Report For America reporter Ceili Doyle highlighted not only the poverty in the region, but also the dearth of philanthropic efforts across Appalachian Ohio, which pale in comparison with their urban and suburban counterparts.

The story noted that the region has 90% fewer charitable assets per capita than counties outside of Appalachia. That’s roughly $770 spent on a person in the region, as compared with an average of $6,663 spent annually on Ohioans not living in Appalachian counties, according to 2016 data, the latest available, provided by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.

But a little over a year ago, we saw the good that can happen when thousands of people from across the land rally around Appalachia.

That outpouring was inspired by a native son, Joe Burrow, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback from Athens County, who dedicated 31 seconds of his nationally televised Heisman Trophy speech in December 2019 to highlight the poverty and hunger in his home county.

“Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very, very impoverished area. The poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” Burrow said that night in New York. “There are so many people there that don’t have a lot, and I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.”

After seeing Burrow’s emotional speech, another native son, Athens resident Will Drabold, set up a Facebook fundraiser to benefit the Athens County Food Pantry.

Donations flooded in – more than $650,000 so far to an agency that previously had an annual budget of no more than $100,000.

The pantry spent some of the donations on food and resources, but it then invested $350,000 to create the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund as a longer-term solution. The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio was able to match that investment dollar for dollar using money allocated to it by the state, for a total initial investment of $700,000.

Joe Burrow, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback and Athens County native, is the namesake of the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund, which serves Appalachian communities.

As valuable as those dollars are to the hungry families of southeastern Ohio, the difference between charitable assets per capita in counties outside of Appalachia versus those within Appalachia remains stark.

Thirty-two counties in eastern and southern Ohio are considered part of Appalachia. They stretch from Ashtabula County in the far northeast corner of the state to Clermont County next to Cincinnati, and they also include these counties: Adams, Athens, Belmont, Brown, Carroll, Columbiana, Coshocton, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Highland, Hocking, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mahoning, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Trumbull, Tuscarawas, Vinton, and Washington.

Jennifer Sheets, a Meigs County attorney, told Doyle that the lack of charitable funds is a significant structural barrier to success, and contributes to the overwhelming sense that Appalachia is the “lost corridor of Ohio.”

The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, a regional community nonprofit group originally funded by the state legislature, now has a goal to raise $1 billion over the next 20 years and eventually give $55 million annually.

In its last budget, the state awarded Foundation for Appalachian Ohio a $10 million matching fund, which helped it establish 11 local community funds in Appalachian counties.

In his latest budget proposal, Gov. Mike DeWine recommended that the legislature grant the foundation $5 million each year out of a $20.5 million appropriation for local development projects in the upcoming 2022-2023 budget.

This is a wise state investment, as was the original seed money for the foundation and subsequent investments in the foundation.

It’s clear from the the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio’s website that residents of Appalachia are making donations to improve their communities. But it’s also clear that because of the relative lack of wealth in Appalachian communities compared with their urban and suburban counterparts, the best hope for building strong community foundations in Appalachian communities will come from outside them.

That could include all of us who spent four years or more studying at colleges within Appalachia – Marietta College, Muskingum University, Ohio University, Shawnee State University and Youngstown State University, for example.

It includes those of us who enjoy weekends in the Hocking Hills or any of the many tourist destinations across one of the most beautiful parts of this state.

It includes the businesses that have benefited from the natural resources and manpower in Appalachia.

And it includes people like Burrow, who grew up amid both the inspiring natural beauty of southeastern Ohio and the the painful knowledge that too many of his neighbors go to bed hungry each night.

He didn’t forget, and he demonstrated in a powerful way that one person – each of us –can make a difference in a part of our state where the seemingly overwhelming challenges leave us wondering where to begin.

The answer is easy: Make a donation to the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio at appalachianohio.org or 35 Public Square, Nelsonville, Ohio, 45764.

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Toledo Blade. Feb. 18, 2021.

Editorial: Rush in the arena

Rush Limbaugh, who died Wednesday at 70, was, to liberals, leftists, and maybe to a good number of people in the political center, an agitator and showman at best, and, at worst, a lout, a loud mouth, and a demagogue.

But to many conservative American, libertarians, populists, and just plain folks who are tired of being told what to think and how to say what they think or feel, he was a hero. He was a truth teller. He spoke truth to the power of the dominant media and academic culture.

And not only was he fearless. Not only was he uncrushable. He was funny. His one-liners went to the heart of the hypocrisy and rubbish he perceived in American life.

He said, for example, that the reason we have a Second Amendment is in case the First Amendment is destroyed.

Listen to a few other Limbaugh bon mots:

● “Liberals measure compassion by how many people are given welfare. Conservatives measure compassion by how many people no longer need it.”

● “Liberalism is a scourge. It destroys the human spirit. It destroys prosperity. It assigns sameness to everybody. And wherever I find it, I oppose it.”

● “I must be honest. I can only read so many paragraphs of a New York Times story before I puke.”

● “Racist — a person who wins an argument with a liberal.”

Mr. Limbaugh was one of a kind. He said no one else did what he did, and he was right. Long before Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh — who started his career at Pittsburgh area radio stations — was the champion of the forgotten working class, small-town America, and the unsanctioned and invisible disenfranchised.

Long before Fox News he became the voice of the Nixon-Reagan not-so-silent majority.

He had more wit than anyone on Fox, and he lacked Mr. Trump’s demons. He was actually optimistic about America, and he loved what he did. He enjoyed life.

He loved the battle. He loved being in the arena as a gladiator of prejudices and controversies.

He said conviction plus research would attract people like a magnet.

And he proved it. He built an empire in radio and was the most important broadcaster since Paul Harvey.

Second only to Ronald Reagan, he stood as the champion of a traditional America that questioned the inherent goodness of change.

Was he also a part of the coarsening of America?

Yes, he was.

Did he sometimes damage the public dialogue more than he fed it?

Yes.

Did he insult those who disagreed with him?

Often.

And was he often wrong?

Like all of us, yes.

But he also mellowed with age and illness, and he usually listened to the arguments of the other side (the better to dismantle them), and he was a genuine patriot.

And, like I.F. Stone on the left, he did afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

Liberals don’t see that because they don’t see themselves as powerful or comfortable, and they don’t see the former auto worker who is now a security guard as afflicted. They don’t see him at all.

Half of America will shrug at this man’s death and say, “farewell to a right-wing primitive.”

But the other half knows in its collective heart that Rush Limbaugh was a giant of his kind and genuinely grieves the loss of their tribune. If the two Americas could recognize each other’s feelings and opinions, if we could see each other, we would be a better country.

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Youngstown Vindicator. Feb. 18, 2021.

Editorial: Uphold trade ruling on EV battery plant

Last week’s U.S. International Trade Commission decision could have far-reaching benefits for the local battery-cell plant being built in Lordstown because it effectively scales back some of the competition for the electric vehicle batteries that will be manufactured here.

Indeed, business monopolies are not something we generally support, but this case goes far beyond that. The trade commission determined that a competing battery manufacturer being built in Georgia used nefarious means to garner the technology needed to compete against our local $2.3 billion Ultium Cells LLC facility.

The trade commission ruled last week that South Korean company SK Innovation stole 22 trade secrets from competitor LG Energy Solution, a subsidiary of LG Chem. The ruling recommends that the company be barred from importing, making or selling batteries in the U.S. for 10 years.

LG Chem, of course, is partnering with General Motors on the Ultium Cells joint venture in Lordstown. Ultium Cells intends to start production here in early 2022. GM foresees the plant will be a major player in its plans for an all-electric future.

SK has contracts to supply batteries for an electric Ford F-150 truck and an electric Volkswagen SUV to be manufactured in Chattanooga, Tenn. The trade commission said SK can supply batteries to Ford Motor Co. for four years and to Volkswagen for two years, saying it had tailored its order not to disrupt those customers. SK also can repair and replace batteries in Kia vehicles that already have been sold.

A local expert said the ruling potentially opens a door for a more expansive customer base for Ultium Cells in the long run.

“In some ways, I think it makes other car companies that are thinking of building hybrids or electric vehicles maybe think more about getting close to the Lordstown facility because it looks like into the future there will be more stability with that plant than with SK Innovations,” Paul Sracic, political science professor at Youngstown State University, this week told our business writer Ron Selak Jr.

In the trade commission case, LG had accused SK of hiring away dozens of employees to steal battery technology. An administrative law judge last year ruled in LG’s favor, and now the trade commission has upheld the ruling.

SK Innovation responded that it has “serious concerns about the commercial and operational implications of this decision for the future of our EV-battery facility in Commerce, Georgia.” The state gave $300 million in free land, cash and other incentives for the factory, which is now partially built and is supposed to open in 2022.

As one would expect, Georgia officials are not accepting the trade commission’s ruling lying down.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp now has asked President Joe Biden to review the ruling against SK Innovation and override the decision. SK Innovation is building a $2.6 billion electric- vehicle battery plant in Georgia that the company has said would employ 2,600 workers.

Biden has 60 days in which he may review or block the ruling.

Local elected officials, business and development experts have been working hard to shift the Mahoning Valley’s automaking efforts into the next century. So far, there is much promise for our future. Those efforts can be drastically upended, however, if others in the industry are permitted to play by different rules.

President Biden must take all of this into consideration if and when he studies the International Trade Commission’s ruling. Upon review of the findings of the case, we are hopeful that Biden will do the right thing by guaranteeing that the United States’ intervention to correct this wrong is maintained.

END