Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Akron Beacon Journal. Sept. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Ohio panel must do its job, create fair maps for public tired of one-sided politics

Attacks on voting rights. Curbing the governor’s public health powers. Irresponsibly presenting a fanatical witness claiming COVID vaccines magnetize people.

That’s what gerrymandering in Ohio has accomplished as heavily partisan candidates win districts rigged in their favor.

And it may get worse despite the clear will of Ohioans.

The five Republicans on the seven-person Ohio Redistricting Commission on Thursday presented a deeply red map for state legislative districts with their thumbs firmly pressing down the scale. We can only hope the final product due Wednesday will be fairer and win bipartisan support.

For now, the proposed map of Ohio Senate and House districts is a sham. An analysis shows Republicans likely would hold 67 of 99 seats in the Ohio House and 25 of 33 seats in the Ohio Senate. A map for Ohio’s congressional districts has not been proposed yet.

This is gerrymandering

Critics would like the new districts to be in line with voting patterns that show 55% of votes going to Republican candidates and 45% to Democrats.

Senate President Matt Huffman, a commission member, claims that if Republicans drew maps that way, it would amount to gerrymandering. Apparently, the Lima Republican doesn’t understand the word.

Gerrymandering, says Dictionary.com, is creating election districts “to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.”

In Ohio, Republicans have all the power, controlling the governor’s office and the state House and Senate since 2011, including their current veto-proof majorities.

Democratic lawmakers, whether liberal, moderate or conservative, are shut out of the conversation led by a Republican supermajority created through gerrymandering. And moderate Republicans often don’t make it to the state capital, as those who best appeal to fans of Donald Trump are the ones winning primaries these days.

Most recently, Trump-backed coal lobbyist Mike Carey won the GOP primary last month in central Ohio’s Republican-leaning 15th Congressional District. The GOP field was crowded in the race to replace former U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers. Carey will face state Rep. Allison Russo on Nov. 2.

The 15th District, by the way, is also the definition of gerrymandered, with parts of Columbus and all or part of 12 counties.

Ohio voters have already spoken

Ohio voters who overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments in 2015 (state districts) and 2018 (congressional districts) not only sought fairness in the makeup of districts. They voted for transparency in the map-making process, and they aren’t getting that, either.

The public is invited to comment on the maps submitted so far – four meetings are planned around the state Sunday through Tuesday. But how welcome is the public’s presence? The meetings weren’t announced until Thursday afternoon.

The commission members OK’d the GOP-made map as a working draft 5-2 (Akron Democrats Rep. Emilia Sykes and Sen. Vernon Sykes voted no).

We’re especially disappointed in commission members Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who often have made reasonable decisions in other matters. Could they not have prodded fellow Republicans to discuss ground rules and announce public meetings earlier?

LaRose even pushed for fairer districts in 2017 when he was a state senator.

“My goal is to establish a redistricting process that does not favor the interests of one political party or another but that works for all Ohioans,” LaRose said when he was a state senator.

Will LaRose now back more gerrymandering?

Looming is Wednesday’s deadline that could mean fair maps for the next 10 years.

If no compromise can be reached toward fair maps, Ohio could end up with four-year maps that have as many problems as the old maps.

We urge everyone to contact the commission and lawmakers to demand fairer districts across Ohio.

Ohioans deserve fair districts. To ignore the spirit of the law is to ignore the people of Ohio.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, Sept. 8, 2021.

Editorial: Skipping debates is a disservice to voters

Jeff Baxter’s partisanship was on full display last week when he pulled Republican candidates for Elyria City Council from a pair of scheduled debates.

In using his authority as Elyria area GOP chairman to do so, he deprived voters of an opportunity to size up the candidates — Democrat, Republican and independent — as they reacted under pressure to questions, some of which they might not have expected.

Perhaps Baxter, who is running for an at-large Council seat himself, feared that he and his fellow Republicans weren’t up to the task. Or maybe he just wanted to portray Republicans as victims who can’t get a fair shake from anyone other than their fellow conservatives.

The implication of unfairness was at the center of his explanation for withdrawing from the debates. He complained last week that the two moderators, Chronicle-Telegram Editorial Page Editor Brad Dicken and local businessman Jim Vandemark, were “Democrat-leaning individuals.”

He also was upset that debate organizer Brandon Rutherford, who runs the Elyria booster group Elyvation, hadn’t caved to his demand that the panel of moderators include a “conservative.” Rutherford rightly rejected that demand on the grounds that if he were to allow Baxter to pick a moderator, he would have to give the same consideration to local Democrats.

Baxter undercut his own argument, however, in a letter to the editor that appears in today’s edition of The Chronicle. He wrote that “party affiliation does not define a candidate.”

Apparently that logic applies only to Republicans running in a city where they’re outnumbered by Democrats among registered voters and not to the people chosen to question those same Republicans.

He ignores, for instance, The Chronicle’s history of endorsing Republicans as well as Democrats, despite having moderate Democrats as editor and editorial page editor over the years.

With the Republicans out, the events ceased to be debates, leaving The Chronicle with little choice but to withdraw.

Rutherford reworked the second scheduled debate, set for Sept. 15, into a candidates’ night, which would give voters a chance to meet those running for Council.

Baxter said last week that his people wouldn’t attend that event, either. Instead, he said, Republican candidates had other ways of getting their message to voters. What those were he didn’t say.

Perhaps Republicans will stage their own candidates’ night and post a bouncer at the door to check attendees’ party registration.

Maybe they’ll mount a massive billboard campaign, although that didn’t go so well in March when city Republicans put up billboards complaining about the state of Elyria, including one that called it “The largest ghosttown in Ohio.”

It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Baxter is still smarting over criticism that Rutherford and The Chronicle’s opinion writers leveled at him over the billboards.

At the time, Baxter said he was hoping to “provoke people, citizens, to some kind of action,” although he never specified what that action should be.

Rutherford countered that “Those billboards send a wrong message,” especially to those thinking of moving to the city or locating a business there.

Nevertheless, Rutherford seemed determined to provide fair debates. For instance, he said he had been willing to reschedule the first one, which had been set for today, because it conflicted with the Lorain County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner.

The timing wasn’t Baxter’s complaint, however. In his letter he argued that “there was no balance in the event.”

At the same time, though, he wrote that “at the city level, party affiliation has no impact on the ability to lead.”

That’s a fair point, although given his rank partisanship over the debates, we aren’t sure if Baxter actually believes it.

Rather than wading into divisive issues such as abortion, city officials are rightly focused on making sure city services are adequately funded, trash is collected, and the streets are plowed in the winter and repaired in the summer. We aren’t aware of the national Republican Party taking positions on which roads in Elyria are most in need of paving or how best to address local flooding.

Baxter wants to implore voters to look beyond party affiliation even as he wields it as a weapon.

He can’t have it both ways.

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Youngstown Vindicator. Sept. 12, 2021.

Editorial: DeWine right to challenge White House

Employers all over America are looking for workers. Ironically, at the same time, many residents say they cannot find work.

So why, then, would the Biden administration think it’s a good idea to attempt to put the kibosh to a plan that would require Ohioans to make an honest effort to seek and find work before or while drawing state-funded health insurance benefits known as Medicaid?

The Biden Administration revoked Ohio’s work requirements last month following the 2019 approval by the Trump administration. Members of the Ohio Legislature passed a bill in 2017 requiring the state to establish work requirements for the Medicaid expansion population.

Despite Biden’s action, Gov. Mike DeWine isn’t giving up on the idea that at least some Medicaid recipients should have to work to keep their health coverage.

We agree with his position.

Here is what DeWine had to say about the president’s move:

“Removing a provision that says a healthy, able-bodied individual should be working, looking for work, participating in job training or participating in a recovery program in order to receive free taxpayer-funded health care is contrary to Ohioans’ values. … Eliminating reasonable requirements discourages people from becoming self-sufficient and only reinforces government dependency. Ohio’s program would offer assistance when Ohioans need it, while providing opportunities for future success.”

According to published reports, the Biden administration regards work requirements as unhelpful to a policy of trying to make sure as many Americans as possible have health insurance coverage.

“Medicaid is a lifeline for millions of people in our country, and eligible Americans should be able to access and retain this benefit without unnecessary or undue burden. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the risks of significant coverage loss and harm to individuals associated with tying Medicaid eligibility to employment,” a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last month told the Sandusky Register newspaper.

Ohio reported 3,240,638 people enrolled in Medicaid in July, with figures trending upward month by month from 2,972,015 in July 2020.

“Medicaid enrollment has been trending upward throughout the COVID pandemic,” said Lisa Lawless, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

“Enrollments grow when the economy struggles, which has been the case since the start of the pandemic,” Lawless said. “Additionally, to qualify for enhanced federal funding, Medicaid agencies cannot disenroll individuals during the federally declared public health emergency, nor can we change the eligibility criteria or benefits to vary from what the state offered prior to the public health emergency.”

Wednesday, DeWine requested that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost begin necessary legal action to reverse the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw Ohio’s Medicaid work requirements. In response, Yost’s Office filed a notice of appeal with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

DeWine and Yost are right to take this position, based both on the merits of this case and the principle. That is, Ohio — and all states — should be free to govern on issues involving state-run programs without meddling from the federal government.

While DeWine’s approach may seem uncompassionate to some, it should be noted that the state has declined to impose its work requirement during the pandemic.

At the end of the day, state programs should be run by the state without interference from the federal government.

Asking unemployed workers to make serious efforts to find or seek employment or to seek job training should not be too much to ask. Assistance programs are intended to serve as a safety net for those who need it temporarily, while they work to get back on their feet. Seriously seeking employment during that time should not be too much to ask.

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Toledo Blade. Sept. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Report finds STRS didn’t check its math

“Surprise, surprise, surprise,” as TV character Gomer Pyle used to say.

That’s the only possible response to the news that the state’s teachers pension fund trashed the findings of an independent review of how the fund handles, or truthfully, mishandles, the monies with which they are entrusted.

The review was conducted by Ted Siedle on behalf of the Ohio Retired Teacher’s Association. Needless to say the review found problems — some of them already well-documented. Mr. Siedle is a former attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It doesn’t take a study to figure out that losing half a billion dollars on one investment alone shows a level of incompetence that must have taken a great deal of effort to achieve.

That’s right, $500 million turned into zero. That’s not professional investing, it’s simply dumb. Add that to largely underperforming the market for years.

For too long the system board and the financial managers to which it has paid millions have avoided examination. There’s serious trouble at the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio. It’s time for the governor and legislators to step in and get the system under control by providing more oversight and making changes.

The result of a failed state-sponsored pension fund is all too clear. Taxpayers end up footing the bill. That must not happen.

The $500 million plus was invested in Panda Power. What a cute name. Who could object to investing in Panda Power? You have to wonder if that was the thought going through the heads of the investment advisers for STRS, because not much else was going on in those high-paid gray cells.

It isn’t that hard to at least perform as well as the market, the late Vanguard maven Jack Bogle would tell you. And over the past 15 years, tracking the market would be a very good strategy.

It’s been clear for many years that index funds, for instance, which try to do nothing fancy but invest in large chunks of securities reflecting the various indexes, do at least as well, and usually better, than financial managers and funds that try to beat the market. But risky investments are so sexy. What a great idea — getting paid to lose other people’s money. And the bonuses STRS recently announced amounted to more than $6 million.

The sad thing is that the governor and top legislators make appointments to the STRS board — other members are elected by stakeholders. Houses need cleaning and STRS is a messy house. If they don’t fix it, voters should hold them accountable when they’re asked to pay to save the fund.

The leadership and financial advisers of the system keep doing the same thing year after year. It is time for a change. It’s time for them to go.

Taxpayers and teachers who paid into the retirement system mustn’t end up footing the bill for incompetence.

Reform the state teachers retirement system, before the bill comes due.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer. Sept. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Amend Cleveland charter to prohibit felons barred from holding office from the ballot

On Tuesday, when Cleveland voters from Ward 4 decide among the 11 candidates for City Council listed on their nonpartisan ballots, it’s likely many will vote for the man who held the office for four decades -- Ken Johnson. That could advance Johnson, with the second top vote-getter, to the Nov. 2 ballot. Johnson, who took 57% of the general-election vote when he last ran for the council seat four years ago, could conceivably win this year, too.

The problem is that Johnson, 75, was found guilty by a federal jury this summer of 15 federal corruption counts and faces 10 years in prison, and will be ineligible to hold office. Ohio law bars felons like Johnson from holding public office.

That means that any Ward 4 voters who cast their ballots for Johnson on Tuesday -- or in early voting that started Aug. 17 -- will effectively be disenfranchised.

If Ken Johnson wins, the other 16 members of City Council, not the voters of Ward 4, will be able to choose the new Ward 4 council person, with voters unable to weigh in again until a special election can be set not less than 160 days later. That will give the council-chosen replacement an edge while costing Cleveland taxpayers for the special vote.

The presence of a person unable to serve on the primary ballot also denies the third finisher in the Ward 4 primary the chance to contend in November. But its distortions go beyond that -- adding to voter disaffection and mistrust.

How can a person barred from office run for election? Easily, when municipal charters, as they typically do in Ohio and as Cleveland’s charter currently does, limit ballot qualifications to things like residency and being a “qualified elector.”

In Ohio, it used to be that felons couldn’t vote, meaning they weren’t “qualified electors,” but they have since -- and rightly so -- regained their right to the franchise upon their release from prison. But Ohio law still bars those convicted of felony theft from holding public office -- which means the “qualified elector” charter language in Cleveland and other municipalities should be updated.

Granted, a Cleveland charter change limiting ballot access to those able to hold office under Ohio’s felony disability requirements would still not have kept Ken Johnson from the ballot.

That’s because, when Johnson qualified for the ballot, he was indicted, but not convicted. Even after a charter change barring certain felons from ballot access in Cleveland, a person charged but not convicted would still qualify.

But closing the felony loophole in ballot-access language in the Cleveland charter would go a long way to restoring electoral credibility.

It would keep someone like Johnson from being able to appear on the November ballot, for instance. And future candidates with disqualifying, unexpunged felony theft convictions would be barred from the primary ballot, too.

To restore integrity to the electoral process, Cleveland should amend its charter language on ballot access, and other municipalities with similar language should consider following suit.

END