SUDDES: Legislature ignores Ohio’s real problems to go after imaginary ones

Sometimes, the Ohio House of Representatives faces up to Ohio’s real problems. True, those real problems don’t include this one: That per capita income in Ohio last matched the nation’s in 1969. That was 53 years ago. It’s been downhill ever since.

Nor this problem: That infant mortality rate in Ohio is worse than the national rate – and much worse for babies born to Black Ohioans.

Nor this one: That median household income, $58,116 in Ohio, is $64,995 nationwide – that is, 12% greater.

Instead, the GOP-led Ohio House is focusing on what actually, really, ails Ohio: The threat LGBTQ citizens present to Western civilization – and the evil stirred up by those “divisive” Americans who think that, somehow, race is a factor in America’s history.

The latest jewel in the Statehouse’s crown is House Bill 616, introduced by Trumbull County’s Mike Loychik and suburban Cincinnatian Jean Schmidt, once in Congress, both Republicans. Schmidt is best known for accomplishing a rare feat in a GOP-rigged congressional district: She lost re-nomination (and hence her U.S. Capitol seat) to a fellow Republican.

As for Loychik, his best-known initiative is an unpassed bill to rename Mosquito Lake State Park, north of Warren, as Donald J. Trump State Park. It encompasses Mosquito Creek Lake, impounded in 1944 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (There is no discernible connection between Mosquito Creek and President Trump.)

HB 616, according to its official summary targets “the promotion and teaching of divisive or inherently racist concepts in public schools.” What it really represents is Headline Envy – for all the ink Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Don’t-Say-Gay law draws.

From kindergarten through third grade, the Loychik-Schmidt bill also takes aim at “any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity.” So much for the children of gay or trans parents.

The bill specifically bans “Critical race theory … Intersectional theory … the [New York Times’s] 1619 project … Diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes … [or] Inherited racial guilt.” You have to wonder if pupils in Loychik’s Trumbull County will be forbidden to learn of its history in backing two of the GOP’s anti-slavery ancestors, the Liberty and Free Soil parties.

Whether the bill goes anywhere depends largely on how Ohio House Speaker Robert Cupp, a Lima Republican, wields his gatekeeping gavel. In many ways, and unlike any Ohio speaker in recent memory, Cupp has become the instrument of his caucus rather than vice-versa. But you can be sure that a fair number of GOP caucus members would relish election year headlines over the bill.

There are two other Republican prizewinners in the House’s Bash-a-Thon, House Bill 322, sponsored by Rep. Don Jones, from Harrison County’s Freeport, and House Bill 327, sponsored by Reps. Diane Grendell, of Geauga County’s Chesterland, and Sarah Fowler Arthur of Ashtabula County’s Rock Creek.

Among other features, according to nonpartisan legislative analysts, HB 322 forbids classroom statements that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States.” It’s hard to reconcile that claim with the U.S. Constitution, which, when written, treated someone who was enslaved as three-fifths of a person for congressional representation.

As for HB 327, it also targets “divisive concepts” by, in effect, telling classroom teachers what and how they may teach. That’s pretty rich coming from a legislature that ignores Ohio’s real problems to go after imaginary ones – and, by doing so, willingly, deliberately, and cynically stokes the very social divisions it claims to oppose.

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. He covered the Statehouse for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer for many years.

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