Cleveland Plain Dealer. June 20, 2021.
Editorial: Fairer Ohio redistricting does not include arming one party at taxpayer expense
In two separate constitutional referendums, in 2015 and 2018, Ohio voters overwhelming rejected grotesquely partisan gerrymanders and decreed a series of safeguards intended to make how Ohio draws its congressional and General Assembly districts fairer and more transparent. Voters couldn’t outlaw partisan mischief by Democrats and Republicans, but they tried to make it harder to achieve.
What voters didn’t anticipate was that one party would try to use its hammerlock on the Ohio legislature to arm itself -- and only itself -- with public funds for the inevitable courtroom battles.
But that is just what Statehouse Republicans are trying to do. The maneuver -- hiding the provision in a 3,307-page budget -- should not succeed.
Tucked into Senate Republicans’ rewrite of Ohio’s pending budget (House Bill 110) is an amendment letting the House speaker (Lima Republican Bob Cupp) and Senate president (Lima Republican Matt Huffman) intervene in any lawsuit challenging a state law’s constitutionality – or challenging the congressional districts legislators draw. What’s more, the speaker and president could hire, at state expense, any lawyers they choose rather than have the attorney general represent them.
Slipping that amendment into the budget bill suggests a well-founded GOP fear that a bill lawyering up Huffman and Cupp at taxpayers’ expense could never pass. Nor should it, which is why it has no business in the budget.
Because of delays in the release of federal Census data, Huffman had earlier floated a trial balloon, calling for extended deadlines for redrawing districts, a move some opponents saw as an attempt to rush the redistricting process without sufficient time for citizen input. Legislators wisely shelved that idea -- Huffman in fairness had said he wouldn’t proceed without bipartisan buy-in. (In fairness, also, Huffman was prime co-sponsor of both the 2015 and 2018 reforms.)
The stakes couldn’t be higher now, however.
After every Census, Ohio must redraw its 99 Ohio House and 33 state Senate districts, and its congressional districts. Because of Ohio’s lagging population, the 2020 Census has decreed that the state’s 16 congressional districts must be reshaped into 15. That creates the likelihood that Ohio Republicans will seek to squeeze the state’s Democrats into even fewer districts.
Thanks to past gerrymanders, Democrats today represent only one-fourth of Ohio’s congressional districts -- that is, four, to Republicans’ 12 -- even though in the November 2020 presidential, election, Democrat Joe Biden won about 45% of the state’s vote. Earlier, the state voted for Barack Obama for president, twice.
Current Ohio law dictates that the legislature must draw congressional districts good for the next ten years by Sept. 30.
Per Ohio voters’ May 2018 constitutional amendment, the new process will require “yes” votes from at least 60 of the 99 state representatives and at least 20 of the 33 senators, with at least half the members of each party caucus voting “yes.” Given the legislature’s current makeup, that means at least 32 House Republicans and 18 House Democrats, and at least 13 Senate Republicans and four Senate Democrats. If those minima can’t be attained, there are procedural backstops that, bottom line, could produce congressional districts good for four years, not ten.
Per Ohio voters’ November 2015 referendum decision, it’s up to the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw new General Assembly districts. The commission is composed of Gov. Mike DeWine, Auditor Keith Faber, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and four others (two per party) picked by legislative leaders. DeWine, Faber and LaRose are Republican, making the panel 5-2 Republican. To adopt districts for ten years, at least one commissioner from the minority party must vote for them. If not, there are backstops that could produce districts good for four years, not ten.
Come what may, given the political stakes, litigation is inevitable.
Restricting which party can control that litigation -- and pick the lawyers prosecuting it, with the fees paid by taxpayers -- is a nonstarter.
Meanwhile, House Bill 286, sponsored by the House’s No. 3 Republican, Rep. William G. Seitz, of suburban Cincinnati, would require Statehouse corruption cases to be tried in a defendant’s home county, not in Columbus. Virtually all Ohio criminal cases are tried in the county where an alleged crime occurred. Coincidentally or not, for the first time since 1952, Franklin County’s prosecuting attorney is a Democrat, former Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals Judge Gary Tyack.
Like the Senate’s “Lawyers-for-Leaders” budget amendment, the proposed change of venue for Statehouse corruption trials belongs in the nearest Columbus wastebasket.
Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. June 18, 2021.
Editorial: What to make of Trump coming to town
Of all the fairgrounds in all the towns in all the country, why is former President Donald Trump coming to the Lorain County Fairgrounds?
Under normal circumstances, we’d agree with Wellington Mayor Hans Schneider’s assessment of Trump’s looming visit, which will take place June 26.
“I think anytime you have a president either sitting or former that comes to your area, it’s a good thing,” he said. “I know he has a lot of support in Lorain County, in Wellington, and he did win Ohio, so it makes sense to come here.”
Indeed, Trump did win the state and the county, performing especially well in rural areas.
As journalists, we expect the event to be exciting and newsworthy. Trump, for all his flaws, is an excellent showman, which helps explain why people flocked to his rallies even in the midst of a raging pandemic.
Trump’s Wellington appearance will be his first rally since he left office, although he has made speeches at the Conservative Political Action Conference and the North Carolina Republican Party State Convention.
The problem is that Trump is not your normal ex-president turned elder statesman. He has taken a sledgehammer to the foundation of democracy.
He has continued to insist that the 2020 election was stolen from him, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Dozens of lawsuits making spurious claims of fraud have been thrown out. Elections and security officials, including some in Trump’s own administration, have said the election was free, fair and secure.
Trump’s refusal to accept reality has had dire consequences for the nation.
He called his followers to Washington on Jan. 6 for a rally, which he promised would be “wild.” He and his allies gave speeches in which they argued that the election was stolen before sending the enraged crowd marching toward the Capitol.
Some of his supporters stormed the Capitol, where Congress was meeting in joint session to certify the Electoral College count. Lawmakers were forced to seek shelter as the mob rampaged through the building. Some searched for those they considered enemies, including Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, who had refused to circumvent the process. Five people died.
Among the hundreds who have been accused of taking part in the attack is Clifford Mackrell of Wellington, who is facing federal charges of violent entry, disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds and assaulting a police officer.
Mackrell has pleaded not guilty, but federal authorities have said they have video of him repeatedly striking a police officer, then tearing off the officer’s gas mask as a chemical irritant wafted through the air.
Trump was rightly impeached for his role in instigating the attack, even though he managed to avoid conviction. He refused to attend Joe Biden’s inauguration and retreated to Mar-a-Lago in Florida to nurse his grudges and solidify his grasp on the Republican Party.
One of his objectives for the rally is to support Max Miller, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Rocky River, who had the courage to vote to impeach Trump.
Wellington, it should be noted, is represented in Congress not by Gonzalez, but by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, an ardent Trump supporter.
Trump’s fantasy of a stolen election has inspired a multitude of conspiracy theories, each more ludicrous than the last, including that Italian military satellites were somehow used to change votes.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, who represents portions of Lorain County, complained Tuesday that the Justice Department didn’t investigate that cockamamie theory despite being urged to do so by Trump’s then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
Worse, Trump’s delusions have spawned a bizarre hunt for bamboo fibers in Arizona ballots as part of an “audit” and spurred Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country, including in Ohio, to introduce laws that would make voting harder. Several have passed.
Even now, nearly five months into Biden’s term, many of Trump’s die-hard supporters are convinced he will somehow be reinstated as president by August. Trump himself has reportedly toyed with the idea as well, although there’s no provision anywhere in the Constitution or the law permitting that.
Regardless, the crowd that files into the fairgrounds for the “Save America” rally no doubt will be treated to a wide selection of Trump’s greatest hits against democracy.
It’s enough to inspire both anticipation and dread.
Akron Beacon Journal. June 20, 2021.
Editorial: Ohio senators should focus on budget, stop meddling with broadband systems like Fairlawn’s
Broadband internet service is hardly a luxury in today’s world. It’s as essential as water, electricity and other utilities for any person or business needing to connect with the world.
That’s why cities such as Fairlawn and Hudson are proud of their municipal broadband that’s been embraced by businesses and residents.
And it’s why those who lack access to high-speed internet primarily in poorer urban and rural areas crave broadband, a need intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, we’re at a loss to explain why the Ohio Senate’s budget strips proposed funding for broadband expansion and severely limits or prohibits local government-owned broadband networks such as FairlawnGig.
The bill would effectively restrict public agencies’ ability to expand internet access outside of their boundaries, a necessary ability when private firms fail to invest in what people need. Whether the language will survive the negotiating process with the Ohio House, which provided $190 million in broadband funding, is unclear.
Folks in Fairlawn, Hudson and Medina County, among other places with the endangered connections, are outraged by the language inserted into the state budget bill, noting it happened without public debate.
We urge Ohio lawmakers to listen to the complaints and remove the language.
In a resolution passed unanimously on Tuesday, Fairlawn City Council called “broadband internet service … an essential service for Ohioans’’ and condemned the Senate move. Summit County Council and Medina County commissioners also have passed resolutions against it.
That local communities felt the need to establish their own services speaks to the frustration customers have with Ohio’s major private providers. Frequent outages, opaque price structures and poor customer service are among common complaints.
Fairlawn’s initial investment in fiber cost $10 million. The city says in its recent resolution that it acted after private internet providers refused or failed to build what the community needed.
We agree with government officials, such as Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, who say “a monopoly for private providers” would be created if the law changes. She’s also right that the county’s home rule — the ability to make local laws — would be violated.
Language on moral beliefs, state judicial elections
Lawmakers, unfortunately, have thrown more unpleasant surprises into the budget bill.
One insert would allow Ohio physicians, hospitals and health insurance companies to refuse to provide or pay for a medical service if it violates their moral beliefs. They would be immune from lawsuits and would be allowed to sue others over the matter.
Abortion rights and LGBTQ advocates fear more restrictions and discrimination would follow, and we’re certain they’re correct. As in the language choking municipal broadband, this change was offered without public debate.
Why is the legislature so afraid to present both sides of the debate?
Another “surprise” addition would change how state Supreme Court and appellate court candidates are listed on general election ballots — their party affiliation would be included. Many judges and legal groups have stated their opposition to previous bills on the matter.
Voter rights groups, including the Ohio League of Women Voters and Common Cause Ohio, criticize the change, concerned that voters incorrectly would assume the judges’ rulings always would line up with party views.
The voter rights groups stress that fundamental changes to how judges are elected should not be done through a budget amendment. Lawmakers should keep the process open and attempt change through stand-alone bills, they say.
Perhaps our Republican lawmakers want to avoid packed hearing rooms at the Ohio Statehouse and that’s why they’ve dropped in these changes without public comment.
They didn’t seem so disturbed, though, when they allowed an Ohio physician and author of “Saying No to Vaccines,” to speak to a House committee for 45 minutes this month in support of a bill dubbed the Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act.
The vaccine-repudiating doctor became a viral sensation (in the internet sense). Jokes at Ohio’s expense and fact-checking, lots of it, spread across the nation.
Obviously, Ohio’s legislators have plenty of time to think up important changes to law. The state budget bill is one of the most important duties lawmakers have; it should not serve as a catch-all for projects better left for “next time” or never.
Newark Advocate. June 20, 2021.
Editorial: Let’s move on from Larry Householder
It took nearly a year, but Larry Householder is out of office.
The Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 75-21 to remove the former Republican Speaker from the legislature entirely.
We think it is about time.
Householder was indicted in July 2020 at the center of what FBI officials called Ohio’s largest public corruption case ever. While he was quickly removed as Speaker, he was allowed to stay in office until this week, earning a taxpayer-financed salary, benefits and expenses.
Trust in government is likely at an all-time low and having an official serving while facing corruption charges makes it worse. Removing Householder helps to restore at least some small measure of trust in our state government.
Some defenders of Householders will argue that he is innocent until proven guilty, and that is true from a criminal standpoint. It does not mean someone indicted of such charges should be allowed the privilege of making public laws and spending public money. He will have his day in court, and if exonerated he will have the ability to seek the office again, but it was clear he could not serve in the interim.
Householder, of Glenford, represented Perry and Coshocton counties and part of Licking County. Since his indictment, Householder has been stripped of committee positions and power in the House - rendering him largely ineffective as a legislator. Republican officials in Licking and Coshocton counties noted this in previous letters to the Ohio House asking him to be removed.
We need good representation in the statehouse - and someone under federal corruption indictment cannot provide that.
We understand there is frustration for how long it took Ohio House officials to remove Householder - frustration we share. It is also true that the case to remove Householder politically became stronger after several co-defendants in the corruption case pleaded guilty and cited Householder’s involvement.
Credit should be given to Rep. Mark Fraizer, R-Newark, who was a sponsor of the resolution to remove Householder. While it may not seem to require political courage to stand up against an indicted official, it unquestionably did. We recognize him for making what was clearly the right - if politically difficult - decision.
The Ohio House Republicans will select Householder’s replacement. Speaker Robert Cupp has yet to announce the process that will be used to make that selection.
As Householder’s allegations center around backroom dealings, we would ask Cupp to develop a plan that is as transparent as possible. Constituents should have confidence that the person selected to replace Householder will represent their interests and not those of some power brokers.
That can be best done if good people express an interest in serving. Several good candidates tried to unseat Householder as write-in candidates, but that proved to be too high of a political hurdle, even against an indicted incumbent. We encourage people in the 72nd District who have a passion for service to apply.
It may have taken longer than we would have liked, but the district and the state are better off with Householder removed. Let’s now move on to building a better Ohio.
Toledo Blade. June 19, 2021.
Editorial: SNAP test must go
As Ohio legislators hash out a budget through reconciliation of differing House and Senate proposals, one provision must be thrown out.
The Senate budget contains provisions to complicate and extend the means test for recipients of federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.
The means test isn’t good policy and won’t save the state or federal government much, if anything.
Historically, they were called food stamps when folks actually had books of stamps to take to the store with them.
The test is, simply, mean and mean-spirited.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks had it right. This bill will do little more than take food out of the mouths of hungry people, including children.
Once again, legislators seem more concerned about the political commercial value of legislation than reasonable public policy. Notably, this was a late addition to the Senate budget bill.
Among other things it would require disclosure of ownership of vehicles by all family members.
People fall on hard times, they may own a vehicle that’s relatively new and in good shape. That car or truck will count against them under the Senate plan.
If ownership of that vehicle cuts back, or eliminates benefits, the individual and their family will suffer — forcing them to effectively give up that vehicle — so much for the job search and getting back and forth to work. Let alone the need to eat.
The proposed means test will accomplish little. It’s not going to catch a lot of welfare cheats. People who receive SNAP benefits already have to meet several tests that require proof of income, medical documents, and more. Ample law and checking of documentation already required does catch cheats.
To require additional information and basing awards of benefits on such information will simply complicate the process for people desperately needing government help to survive.
There are cheats in any government program, and that includes wealthy and corporate cheats, but they don’t typically get the publicity or the auditing.
Think House Bill 6.
The budget conference must hash out a budget that throws out the means test.
There are far greater tasks to tackle, like school funding, than perhaps getting a few people out of the SNAP program.