Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 4, 2021.

Editorial: Lt. Gov. Jon Husted covers himself in shame by not disavowing ‘Wuhan Virus’ tweet

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted is a savvy and reasonable man who clearly aims for higher office. So why is Husted so dead set against apologizing for his ill-considered March 26 tweet: “So it appears it was the Wuhan Virus after all?”

Husted says the words were aimed at the Chinese government’s failure to come clean on what it knows on the origins of COVID-19, and were not aimed at those of Chinese or Asian descent. He added in lengthy public comments Thursday that no harm was meant, that he has many Asian American friends and that the word Wuhan is “inseparable” from the back story of the pandemic -- referring to a city, not an ethnicity.

Wrong response.

Husted knows that using weaponized expressions like “China virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “Kung flu” is wrong. That it is dangerous. That it is something for which he should apologize.

And he also knows why -- because it is largely thanks to former President Donald Trump that these words have been turned into ammunition of hate against the Chinese and others of Asian extraction as a way to deflect U.S. responsibility for not doing enough to curb COVID-19 on these shores.

Such prejudice is one reason the World Health Organization in 2015 came up with new “best practices” on disease naming that determined diseases would no longer be named for cities, countries, people, cultural practices or anything else that could inspire fear or bias.

Yet now, thanks to Husted’s words, Ohioans of Asian ancestry today feel more threatened, more vulnerable to attack -- because the No. 2 official in Ohio government has added his voice to weaponized anti-Asian talk. By failing to apologize and disavow those words, Husted gives sustenance and support to those who would use such official validation of hate-filled expressions to justify their own attacks and bias.

Husted spokeswoman Hayley Carducci said Friday that Husted would have nothing further to say on the matter. That’s too bad.

If Husted’s words were aimed at the Chinese government and its handling of COVID-19, Husted could have made that argument without any reference to a “Wuhan Virus.” His ten-word tweet didn’t even mention the Chinese government.

Admittedly, his tweet was in response to a news story reporting that a former top U.S. health official believed -- albeit without proof -- that the COVID-19 virus “escaped” from a virology lab in Wuhan, China, and had not arisen from animal-to-human transmission, as is widely thought and as a recent World Health Organization report concluded was “most likely.”

Yes, China’s failure to share its raw data on the first 174 cases it detected is wrong and adds to suspicions and uncertainty about the virus’s origins. The Chinese government’s actions deserve attention, and condemnation.

But they’re no reason to propel ethnic hate. Words like “Wuhan Virus” not only violate currently accepted practice on how to refer to such diseases, they also have caused demonstrable harm to Thai Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Filipino Americans and Chinese Americans, among others of Asian ancestry.

The forum “Stop AAPI Hate” (the acronym refers to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), counted 3,795 reported anti-AAPI incidents between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021 -- most of them racial slurs, harassment and shunning, but 11% of them physical attacks, 7% of them people being spat upon or “coughed at” and 3% people excluded from retail establishments or other businesses.

These numbers represent real people and real crimes: An elderly Thai man out for a walk was killed in January in the San Francisco Bay area in what the family believes was a clear hate crime, although the assailant’s lawyer says his client has anger-management issues. An 83-year-old Vietnamese American man was attacked while grocery shopping, and his assailant, as he fled, then punched and bloodied a 75-year-old Chinese American grandmother. Cleveland’s LJ Shanghai restaurant has been targeted with anti-Asian hate phone calls. And in a mass murder that got national attention, six women of Asian descent were among eight murdered last month in Atlanta, although the perpetrator disclaims anti-Asian motives.

People in positions of power like Husted carry particular responsibility to moderate prejudice, not to become complicit in it.

Last month, after Lake County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell three times referenced the “China Virus” in a January newsletter column, the Asian American Bar Association of Ohio said in a statement that, “Our organization, and community-at-large, is deeply troubled by the use of such discriminatory and racially-charged language by a member of the judiciary, particularly at a time when stereotypes associated with this language have led to a documented surge in anti-Asian bias and racist attacks related to the coronavirus.”

Husted surely understands all this. He should now make clear that he, along with the rest of Ohio’s leadership, will not tolerate anti-Asian hate crimes and messaging.

Husted can do that most clearly and directly by apologizing for his use of the term “Wuhan Virus,” and by speaking out unambiguously against the use of such expressions as an adjunct to anti-Asian hate.

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Akron Beacon Journal. April 4, 2021.

Editorial: Ohio must revise purging process to protect felons’ voting rights, allow more drop boxes

Voting may not top the list of things felons want to do once they get out of jail.

But they have that right and nobody should cheat them out of it.

Unfortunately, Summit County Board of Elections officials have purged a number of felons’ voter registrations without confirming whether they were still behind bars.

Felons currently in jail or prison are not permitted to vote. But once out, adults with a criminal record, except those who have committed certain violations of elections laws, are free to cast a ballot in Ohio.

The problem seems to lie in the purging process. County and federal courts provide monthly lists of all convicted felons, but it’s up to local elections officials to determine whether the individuals are home or incarcerated.

Making this determination varies by county. Reading court records to figure out whether someone is behind bars can be time consuming and confusing.

It seems appropriate for the Ohio secretary of state’s office, working with corrections and clerk of court officials, to develop a better idea at the state level. A modern system that can easily cross-check names should be available and perhaps administered at the state level.

It will still be up to felons to make sure their voting rights have been restored. Boards of election and the secretary of state’s office need to work with community groups to inform felons of their rights.

Denying rights to any eligible voter is wrong. Government officials should be encouraging voting, not discouraging people who are trying to get their lives back in order.

The For the People Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives addresses the rights of ex-prisoners, allowing them to vote in federal elections while several states continue to deny voting rights to felons even after they’ve completed their sentences.

Whether this extensive bill, also known as H.R. 1, will pass the Senate is unknown. Ohio could certainly study some sections — the bill requires states to provide written notice to people when their voting rights are restored, the Brennan Center for Justice says.

A look at Georgia’s controversial elections overhaul is also illuminating.

The law decried as “Jim Crow 2.0” leaves Georgia voters with more ballot drop boxes than Ohioans. Because of an interpretation by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, only one drop box has been allowed per county, no matter the size.

Georgia voters in larger counties had multiple drop boxes in the 10s and 20s last year; they now will get one per 100,000 voters. They’re upset with the reduction, but to Ohioans in larger counties it sounds not so bad.

But to be clear, the Georgia law deserves condemnation. It will close those drop boxes four days before Election Day. The early voting period is squeezed from nine weeks to four. An appointed state board can take over the job of elections officials elected in their counties.

We’ve all heard about the unpopular mandate in Georgia: Outside groups can’t pass out food and drink to voters waiting in long lines.

Opinion writers at our sister paper in Savannah say the “reforms” will in fact erode election integrity.

Then why was the law written? To appease the large number of Republicans loyal to Donald Trump and his lie that the election was stolen.

We repeat: The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Joe Biden won. Fairly. In the face of continued criticism from Trump, the Georgia leaders, even before the overhaul, continued to vouch for the integrity of absentee voting and the success of automatic registration.

The important lesson is that Ohio counties have needs that the secretary of state could help them solve. The state doesn’t need to embrace every letter of the Democrats’ For the People Act, nor does it need to copy Georgia.

But some progress is due on absentee ballot drop boxes and felon voting rights.

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Columbus Dispatch. April 4, 2021.

Editorial: Columbus Zoo can’t afford to get it wrong when it comes to CEO scandal

It took mounting pressure and the launch of a state investigation, but the board that controls the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium became a fan last week of “greater transparency” around an internal investigation that led to the resignation of two top officials.

“In consideration of the community’s broad interest in this matter, and calls from the Franklin County Commissioners and the City of Columbus for greater transparency, the Zoo will be providing preliminary written findings and recommendations to the public on Tuesday, April 6,” said a statement released Thursday by Zoo board chairman Keith Shumate.

It’s only right that a nonprofit organization that sits on city-owned land and draws $19 million of its annual $92 million budget from Franklin County taxpayers would feel obligated to tell the community the facts.

It should not have taken a public outcry for zoo board officials to come to that decision. And now that the board has said it will release “preliminary written findings and recommendations,” it is important to define what that means in the eyes of the public: It means release all of the details the board received from Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, the law firm the board hired to conduct the internal investigation.

It was unacceptable that the board initially refused to divulge details about how former president and CEO Tom Stalf and former chief financial officer Greg Bell were able to allow family members to use zoo-owned housing and zoo-controlled tickets to local shows and concerts.

The public knows those details because of Dispatch reporting earlier in March that prompted the zoo board’s internal investigation. What we don’t yet know is whether the internal investigation revealed anything beyond what was covered in the Dispatch stories.

The zoo may not be required legally to turn over documents, but for the sake of the transparency, it must provide full disclosure to maintain public trust.

We applaud the board of directors for launching an investigation and now pledging to release findings, and we are eager to learn why board members didn’t know about the questionable activities of their top executives before the Dispatch investigation, and what the board will do to make sure such things never happen again.

Central Ohio residents deserve far more than just a scratch of the surface. They have supported the zoo financially and otherwise since its beginning 95 years ago.

Columbus City Council adopted a resolution in November 1926 requesting that the state develop a 21-acre game refuge on lands east of the Scioto River in southern Delaware County. The first animals – reindeer donated by The Dispatch – went on display on Oct. 4, 1927.

Since then, Columbus area residents have pumped millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours into the institution that made history in 1956 when Colo became the first gorilla to be born in captivity.

In an editorial published online last week, we joined the Franklin County commissioners in their call for swift release of records that will shed light on not only this apparent abuse of authority, but also the checks and balances that were or were not in place at the time.

“The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is not only a world-class attraction for our community, but also a community investment,” the Franklin County Board of Commissioners said in a written statement.

The zoo board can not afford to fumble this one with anything less than full disclosure and changes in its operation.

Stalf’s and Bell’s resignations last Monday and Attorney General Dave Yost’s plans to investigate came on the heels of a Columbus Dispatch investigation into the apparent misuse of zoo assets.

After learning of the Dispatch’s investigation, Shumate, the chair of the zoo’s 23-member board, asked for the internal review “to make sure we’ve got all the facts.”

Board member Stephanie Hightower said the incident was “not a good look for a nonprofit entity.”

It’s beyond that. It’s a terrible look, and board members are not the only ones who need all the facts.

The former zoo executives who resigned last week created an image problem for themselves and the zoo. It’s a real head-scratcher when anyone paid so well – Stalf received $269,023 as a base salary and $488,486 in total compensation, while Bell received $224,388 in base salary and $362,355 in total compensation – would risk their jobs for perks they easily could pay for.

Candor is especially important if and when the zoo seeks to renew the tax levy approved by voters in 2015. It was a 10-year levy, which means that without a windfall of cash from other sources, the board likely would have to come back to voters in four years to seek renewal.

As zoo leaders prepare whatever they plan to release on Tuesday, it’s an opportunity for them to take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they want to fully set the record straight now, or take a chance that voters will forget this unfortunate incident – and risk losing 20% of their budget.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. April 2, 2021.

Editorial: A race against the virus and the legislature

Ohioans are on a shot clock.

The days are ticking down to mid-June, when an ill-conceived state law will take effect, giving the Republican-controlled General Assembly the power to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s health orders, such as a statewide mask mandate.

Given the antipathy so many of DeWine’s fellow Republicans have shown toward his orders, there’s every reason to fear they will use their new powers quickly, whether the pandemic is under control or not.

Were DeWine’s defensive measures to fall, the virus could spread rapidly among the state’s unvaccinated population. Although some people would continue to follow public health guidance, others would abandon it, either because of politics or pandemic fatigue.

As of Thursday, nearly 3.5 million Ohioans had begun a vaccine regimen, or almost 30 percent of the state’s population. About 2 million of those had completed their vaccinations, or a little more than 17 percent of the population.

Vaccinations will continue to climb, but the question is whether they can outpace a rise in cases. That increase is driven, at least in part, by more contagious variants of the coronavirus, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the Ohio Department of Health’s chief medical officer, said.

The state reported 2,475 new cases Thursday, well above the 21-day rolling average of 1,672.

They’re not the grim numbers we saw during the worst surge of the pandemic around the holidays, but the increase in cases is troubling because they had fallen before plateauing recently.

In early March, DeWine had said he would lift the health orders once the incidence rate dropped to 50 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks.

At the time, the state sat at 178.5 cases per 100,000 people. The rate dropped over the next two weeks, hitting 143.8 cases March 18, but then it started to rise again.

By Thursday, it had climbed to 167.1 cases per 100,000 people.

Things were even worse in Lorain County, which had 198.8 cases per 100,000 people. The county remained red on the state’s coronavirus heat map and made DeWine’s list of the 20 counties with the highest incidence of spread.

Ohio is not alone in experiencing an uptick in cases. Things are particularly bad in Michigan, and DeWine said the Ohio counties closest to our northern neighbor have felt the effects of what’s happened there.

The variants, the rise in cases and the difficulties too many people have had getting vaccinated are all reasons for DeWine to fight hard to retain his authority to issue health orders.

The law will allow the legislature to rescind public health orders and states of emergency, and to bar them from being issued again for at least 60 days. It will limit emergency declarations to 30 days, although the legislature could extend them.

It also limits local health boards’ authority to issue quarantine orders that impact schools and businesses and to isolate people suspected of coming into contact with contagious deadly diseases.

As we’ve argued before, legislators’ desire to provide a check on the governor’s public health and emergency powers might be warranted had DeWine abused his authority. He hasn’t.

Conversely, if DeWine had refused to protect public health, and the legislature wanted to force him to do so, a law allowing members to supersede his authority might have been justifiable.

Even then, however, there would be serious questions about the constitutionally of a law blurring the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. That was one of the chief concerns DeWine raised before he vetoed the bill.

His veto was promptly overridden by legislators, including, disappointingly, state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and state Reps. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, all of whom represent Lorain County. By voting as they did, they placed politics ahead of the health of their constituents.

DeWine laid out a host of other valid concerns about the law, including the limits it could place on him or a future governor to address a pandemic, bioterrorism attack or other emergency.

He said Thursday that his lawyers were looking into the possibility of a legal challenge.

DeWine would be justified in taking the matter to court, but he needs to move quickly.

The clock is running.

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Youngstown Vindicator. March 31, 2021.

Editorial: Despite new legislation, HB6 still needs to go

We were pleased to see House Bill 128’s passage last week in Columbus, a bill that includes language to repeal parts of the controversial nuclear bailout bill that added fees to all Ohioans’ electric bills.

HB 128 passed the Ohio House last Thursday by a vote of 89-0. It passed the Ohio Senate Wednesday by a vote of 33-0. Legislators representing Valley constituents who voted “yes” included Reps. Al Catrona, R-Canfield; Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown; Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta; and Michael O’Brien, D-Warren; along with Sens. Sandra O’Brien, R-Knox; and Michael Rulli, R-Salem. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

HB 128 removes the nuclear subsidy enacted in House Bill 6, lowering utility rates and saving $1 billion for Ohioans over the next seven years, while protecting the thousands of people employed by the zero-emission nuclear facilities in Ohio.

Indeed, the bill saves money for ratepayers, and that’s good news. But we believe more still needs to be done.

As you will recall, the nuclear bailout bill, or HB 6, that passed last year was at the center of, if proven, the largest public racketeering and bribery scheme in Ohio history.

In July 2020, federal authorities arrested former state House Speaker Larry Householder and four of his associates. They were accused of being involved in a $60 million bribery scheme allegedly utilized to ensure passage of a bill to bail out two nuclear plants near Cleveland and Toledo.

The bill called for Ohio consumers to pay surcharges totaling $150 million each year through 2026 to keep the nuclear plants afloat.

HB 128 stops short of complete repeal of HB 6. That’s something we have been calling for since the criminal allegations came to light. In fact, we were opposed to HB 6 before it even passed and became law.

We believe the repeal still needs to happen. Such action, of course, would not preclude Ohio’s lawmakers from heading back to the drawing board to debate whether bailouts of Ohio’s nuclear plants should occur.

But for now, we know HB 6 passed with manipulation and, if proven, improper influence through illegal acts. The only way to correct this is to repeal it in its entirety.

END