Less than a week from Election Day, why are so many Ohio Republicans undecided?

Amid the maniacal bids to out-conservative one another, and the near fisticuffs, perhaps the most abiding feature of this year’s Republican U.S. Senate primary has been voters’ uncertainty. In a crowded field it might seem that voters would have an easy time finding a candidate whose message resonates. Instead, the limited polling available keeps showing double digit undecideds.

The latest poll, from Fox News, surveyed 906 people on landlines and cell phones over four days last week — one quarter of respondents counted themselves undecided. Another, from Blueprint Polling, spoke with 634 people during a similar timeframe and found a third of respondents hadn’t made up their mind. The smallest recent share of undecideds — 13% in a Trafalgar Group poll from two weeks ago — still outstripped all but three candidates, and the undecided share was within the margin of error for the third-place finisher.

A week and a half ago, former President Donald Trump attempted to clarify the race by endorsing J.D. Vance, and then last weekend he hosted a rally in Delaware urging his supporters to fall in line. But while Mindy Peck was ready to vote for Joe Blystone in the governor’s race, she was noncommittal about voting for Vance.

“We’ll see. We’ve still got time,” she said.

Scott Miller, a teacher from nearby Marion, said he liked Vance better than Josh Mandel, Mike Gibbons or Jane Timken, but the candidate he really liked was Mark Pukita.

“I’m still undecided,” Miller explained. “I’m here to listen to Vance today. If I’m not impressed with what I hear, you know, Pukita will still have my vote.”

Outside the Franklin County Board of Elections Wednesday Conrad Cooper explained he didn’t have a problem deciding at all. He wore a Vietnam veteran ball cap and described himself as a “Trumpster,” but instead of Vance, Cooper voted for former state treasurer Josh Mandel.

“Well, he’s entitled to his opinion,” Cooper said of Trump. “Some of his opinions I don’t agree with. He has what I would call a foot-in-mouth disease sometimes. You can tell him I said that — he’d probably agree with me.”

Bert Collard explained he was looking for a “bean counter.” He voted for Mandel, too.

“Getting the money straight was the main thing, and like I said, I’m not voting for personality, I’m voting for the balanced budget thing.”

And Trump’s decision on who to back didn’t do much for him either.

“I was actually going to go to that Trump rally,” he explained. “And then as soon as Trump endorsed that Vance guy, I said, Man, I’m not going there and wasting my damn time.”

Another couple who didn’t want to share their names said they voted for Dolan because he was the only one who wasn’t emphasizing divisions and who they could see putting voters ahead of partisan impulses.

And their decision might offer a hint at why so many voters remain undecided so late in the race. Even though there are a lot of options to choose from, many of the candidates are offering voters a pretty similar message: “I’m the real conservative.”

In the waning days of the campaign, candidates are trying to burnish those credentials with surrogates like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, visiting the state to stump for their favored candidates.

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Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

'We love Trump, but he's not God': Trump fans unmoved by his endorsement of J.D. Vance

Saturday saw Ohio’s first taste of summer, and thousands poured into the Delaware County fairgrounds, still spongy from spring rain. The throng crowded against metal barriers hours before former president Donald Trump arrived, their faces steadily reddening under the beating sun.

The jumbotron screens played campaign ads, a promo for Donald Trump’s coffee table book and the trailer for a voter fraud conspiracy documentary in between a soundtrack of classic rock hits — Whitesnake, AC/DC, Hagar-era Van Halen, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Overhead a plane circled lazily, towing a banner that read, “Joe Blystone For Ohio Governor”

Some of the attendees have begun following Trump from rally to rally like as if he was the Grateful Dead or Phish. Autumn Davidson was wearing a pink baseball cap that said “Trump” in rhinestones.

“It sparkles and it says Trump. What more do you need?” she laughed.

Davidson came up for the day from Louisville. A short trip, she explained, compared with driving to Dallas for a previous rally. She sold a tattoo removal business last year. As for what she’ll do next, she said she’d let “I’ll let God guide my steps on that one,” but she hasn’t missed the work for a second.

Steven Turner paused for a second to talk, juggling four or five cold bottles of soda that were beginning to sweat in the heat. With a wry half grin, he brought up Q-Anon and his website sheepnesia. Turner came from New York and he estimated there are 100 or 200 people he recognized who pop up at rallies around the country.

The candidates

Christi Weiss and Theresa Lucas didn’t exactly want to talk. Mike Lindell, the pillow guy, had just walked by and they were eager to track him down for a photo. They live in nearby Sunbury and were wearing matching “women for Trump” t-shirts. Both agreed that they wanted to show Gov. Mike DeWine the door, but they were unmoved by Trump’s recent endorsement of J.D. Vance.

“We love Trump, but he’s not God,” Lucas said. “We have our own minds, and we will make up our own minds. We do appreciate and trust what he says, but we’re not just gonna follow him blindly.”

Trump’s visit, in large part, was meant to build momentum for candidates like Vance — effectively putting the former president on the ballot even if he isn’t seeking office.

While that might not work on Weiss and Lucas, it made a difference for Joseph Harbolt. He hadn’t been following the Senate race all that closely, he admitted, so Trump’s endorsement of J.D. Vance meant a great deal.

“Being a full Trump supporter since the beginning, yeah, I’m very quick to just say I’ll go with him,” he explained.

Trump’s opening act was a string of local congressmen and GOP congressional candidates hoping to convert their stage time to votes on Election Day. Ohio Republican U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson kicked things off and reminisced about the boost he got from a Trump visit during his 2018 special election. Rep. Mike Carey, R-OH, and candidates Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, Max Miller, and J.D. Vance rounded out the lineup.

Miller, a former Trump aide, was certainly paying attention during his time in alongside the president. He walked out to Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, in a red tie and white dress shirt, sleeves rolled above his elbows. He milked the applause, walking back and forth on the podium, pumping his fist and pointing out into the crowd. Like his former boss, he veered toward the same attacks on the media, “how long did CNN+ last for?” and hyperbolic red-meat attack lines. Fauci is a “criminal” and belongs in prison, America’s exit from Afghanistan was a “surrender” and the “one of the greatest embarrassments in United States history.”

J.D. Vance was a bit subdued in comparison, but used the stage to try out some harsher rhetoric than he’s employed in the race so far. He stacked up a list of grievances that make him sick — relying on “communist China” for goods, an FBI focused on “arresting American citizens” rather than drugs and human trafficking at the border, big tech allegedly stealing the 2020 election, having to purchase foreign oil, the media calling republicans bad names.

“I’m sick, in sum, of the left destroying this country, and I’m sick of the RINO’s in Washington DC who refuse to fight back against it,” Vance told the crowd.

Since securing Trump’s endorsement, Vance has forged further to the right, even co-opting some of the “RINO” hunting rhetoric of his more radically conservative opponent, former state treasurer Josh Mandel.

The main event

The opening speakers passed quickly, in a rat-a-tat of 5 or 10 minute speaking slots. The whole program wrapped up more than an hour and a half before Trump was set to speak. Mercifully, he took the stage 15 minutes early.

The speech itself was the just as vitriolic, rambling, and digressive as ever. The audience loved it.

At the mere mention of Congressman Jim Jordan, R-OH, half a dozen people were on their feet clapping or waving their hats. Trump criticized the “fake news media” and even more got up, turning to the cameras, screaming insults or waving middle fingers. One unfurled a banner that said “Trump ’24 or before.”

In the course of five minutes, Trump went from bragging about replacing NAFTA, to taking credit for saving a Whirlpool factory, to decrying energy star regulations on dishwashers, to his frustrations with low-flow faucets and shower heads, before making a hard but familiar pivot.

“The fact is the election was rigged and stolen and now our country and now our country is being destroyed, our country’s going to hell,” Trump said.

His remarks also served as a reminder of the limits of Trump’s power. While he created this conservative political movement, and he remains its foremost avatar and instigator, he can’t necessarily control it. Late in his speech, Trump referenced “parent’s rights” the latest buzzword for the conservatives’ push to excise any reference to LGBTQ identity in schools. The crowd erupted.

“That’s become such a big subject, and who would even think that that would be a big subject,” Trump wondered aloud.

The chant “save our kids” went up and Trump paused before continuing, “who would even think that would be a subject where it gets the biggest hand of all? Who would think it’s possible? And while we’re at it, we don’t want men competing in women’s sports.”

Again, the crowd roared its approval.

Underscoring the point of his trip, Trump brought Vance and Miller up to speak for a few moments during his own speech. Trump was particularly effusive about Miller.

“He’s a great guy, he’s going to be a tremendous congressman — (I’m) proud of him, he’s like my boy,” Trump said.

Back on the stage, Vance told the crowd they need to vote for “Republicans who know what time it is,” a line he’s been trying lately to describe the aggressive, pugilistic pursuit of culture war issues. At a NewsMax townhall last week, he used Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ bid to strip Disney of a special taxing district in retaliation for opposing the state’s “don’t say gay” legislation as an example of a politician who “knows what time it is.”

“J.D. is really an America First warrior,” Trump told the crowd. “He believes so much in making our country great again, and he’s going to do a job on these horrible people that are running against him.”

Would the real MAGA candidate please stand up?

While Vance has lately become sharper and more conservative in his messaging, he has not embraced the most extreme positions of his opponent Mandel. Throughout the campaign, Mandel has pushed limiting voting to election day, getting rid of voting machines, requiring ID and scrapping mail in ballots.

Despite calling Vance the “America First warrior” on stage, Trump demanded the same draconian voting restrictions Mandel has championed.

“Mail-in ballots, long term voting and no voter ID or signature verification is absolutely killing our country our reputation and our elections,” Trump said. “People have to believe in their elections, they have to believe that they were honest.”

“One. Day. Voting. Paper. Ballots,” Trump said later. “And if we’re going to have mail-in ballots we’re never going to have honest elections.”

And while Trump endorsed Mandel’s vision for elections, if not the candidate himself, the former president cast his lot with Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who despite a noticeable rightward lurch recently, has maintained that Ohio elections are secure.

“Despite every effort by those who put politics over principle,” LaRose said in a March tweet, “you’ll have the opportunity to make your voice heard in a secure, accurate, and accessible primary election. No one will take that away from you. Not on my watch.”

LaRose was on hand Saturday but didn’t speak. When Trump singled him out to tell the crowd he had is “complete and total endorsement” Trump didn’t emphasize elections — he thanked LaRose for his role in redistricting.


Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

How much a map costs: one law firm accounts for 1/3 of Ohio's $1.8 million redistricting expenses

As lawmakers consider their next move on redistricting, the overall cost has ballooned to nearly $1.8 million, according to an accounting through April 19 provided by the Legislative Services Commission.

The bulk of that expense has been charged to the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting, which has accounted for $983,283 going back to August of 2019. Their biggest single line item was a $282,271 expenditure to Ohio University, the school tasked with preparing census data for mapmakers. All told, the school received $427,597 for its efforts.

The second biggest line item charged to the Legislative Task Force was $103,000 to the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough. GOP lawmakers hired two Nelson Mullins attorneys, Thomas Farr and Phillip Strach, at a total cost of $114,500 to advise the General Assembly on redistricting. Farr and Strach made a name for themselves in part by defending North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered maps in court.

That advice might be expensive, but their representation costs more. Once the maps were challenged in court, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp again turned to Nelson Mullins to serve as their defense team. So far, they’ve run up nearly $475,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Between the firm’s work as special counsel advising mapmakers and its work unsuccessfully defending those maps in court, Nelson Mullins has earned $589,512.62 — roughly a third of the total cost of redistricting already, with more billable hours to come.

And that’s not the only firm making money representing the Republican leaders — Taft, Stettinius & Hollister has made $30,986 representing Huffman and Cupp. In addition, a different law firm, Organ Law, has brought in $68,022 representing the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

Across the aisle, meanwhile, the law firm Ice Miller has raked in $174,792 representing Democratic members of the Commission, Sen. Vernon Sykes and House minority leader Allison Russo.

In all, Ohio has spent nearly $750,000 on litigation through April 19.

The $1.8 million accounting provided by the Legislative Services Commission could be far from the end of redistricting’s expenses. Late last month Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting commission decided to ignore the proposals offered by a pair of independent mapmakers they brought in to draft boundaries. That episode cost the state $89,000, but the invoice from only one of the mapmakers is reflected in the current accounting.

Similarly, there are more bills coming on the legal front. The most recent invoice is dated April 11 — four days before the state supreme court tossed lawmakers’ fourth try at drawing legislative boundaries.

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Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

J.D. Vance defends Florida's 'don’t say gay' bill ahead of Trump visit

In Delaware Wednesday night J.D. Vance had the stage to himself, taking questions from voters in a townhall hosted by NewsMax. The event, at Ohio Wesleyan’s Chappelear Drama Center, landed right between him securing Donald Trump’s endorsement and the former president’s visit this weekend at the nearby county fairgrounds.

The organizers invited all five GOP frontrunners, but after a wave of previous get-togethers, the other candidates declined. Vance didn’t miss the opportunity to get a few digs in.

“I’m not afraid to talk to voters, and I’m not afraid to actually answer tough questions,” Vance told an audience member asking why she should cast a vote for him. “I think it’s pretty cowardly and pretty pathetic that nobody else decided to show up.”

But while his opponents ceded the stage, Vance’s GOP critics haven’t taken the Trump endorsement lying down. In a letter, 33 of Trump’s 2016 delegates and electors expressed a sense of “betrayal” that Trump would back “a political chameleon” like Vance.

“We are the original and proud ‘Trumpers’ who served as your delegates in Ohio when everybody was against you or supporting other candidates,” the letter states. “We are the ones you trusted to stand and deliver for you in 2016! And we did it for you against the Ohio Swamp and many in the establishment! We did it in the face of ‘Never Trumpers’ like JD Vance.”

Trump’s 2016 state director Rob Scott and electoral college elector Ralph King are leading the effort to convince Trump to reconsider.

Trump’s backing carried weight for some attendees Wednesday night, but not for others. Bill Orr and Janice Weinandy couldn’t care less.

“I’ve never let those types of endorsements influence me in the past,” Orr explained.

Lisa Giesler had been vacillating among the field even wishing she could put parts of them together into one candidate. Trump’s endorsement decided her, but she was a bit apologetic.

“I feel bad for the other people,” she said. “They spend so much money and time. I mean, it’s a hard thing, but I guess they know that when they go in.”

Jessica Miller decided to back Vance before the announcement, but she said it certainly didn’t hurt.

Townhall takeaways

The townhall format gave Vance a bigger bullhorn, but much of what he had to say reiterated points from previous debates. Vance railed at big tech censorship, got loud applause for his border plan, and stood firm on his skepticism of involvement in Ukraine.

On the issue of transgender participation in sports Vance took the party line in opposition. But instead of dismissing the idea that people can be trans, he offered the first glimpse of a potential bid to win over more moderate voters.

“Look, I’ve got friends of mine who have kids who are going through gender identity problems,” Vance said. “and they’ll be the first to tell you it’s unsafe, and it’s unreasonable to expect our young girls to participate against people who have been through puberty.”

Vance also addressed so-called “don’t say gay” legislation, zeroing in on the provision that teacher can’t address gender or sexual identity at all for grades K-3.

“We’re talking about 5, 6, 7, 8-year-old kids,” he said. “That seems like a pretty good idea. Right?”

Vance went on to explain that his son will be in kindergarten next year.

“My son wakes up and thinks that he’s a dinosaur, right?” Vance asked. “The idea that my son can engage in conversations that are that mature, is really ridiculous.”

Vance’s description of Florida’s legislation, of course, glosses over the much broader provision that any instruction be “age appropriate,” which the measure does not define.

His comments on Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill also showed how quickly lightning rod issues can muddy the political waters. Despite Republicans long defending corporate political spending as free speech, Vance applauded Florida Gov. Ron Desantis for threatening Disney’s special taxing district, arguing that the government should punish companies for engaging politics.

“They get a ton of special privileges, they get liability protections, they get subsidies,” Vance said. “We should be willing to cut that stuff off if these corporations are going to engage in politics. We’ve got to stop bribing people with our own money, who hate our values. It’s really that simple.

Separately Vance invoked common carrier status — effectively regulating an entity like a public utility — as a way to keep tech companies from regulating speech on their platforms. But the same status was revoked for internet service providers during the debate over net neutrality. Donald Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai led that charge.

Speaking after the townhall Vance shrugged off the inconsistency, arguing individual companies need to treat users fairly.

“I don’t want ISPs to be able to discriminate against conservatives, either. That’s not the main issue. The main issue is sort of the forward-facing companies,” he argued.

As for Trump’s endorsement, Vance chalked it up to debate performance.

“I think he sort of came to think that a lot of the other guys were just you know, sloganeering and talking points, and didn’t actually believe the things that they were saying,” Vance said.

And when it comes to the 30-odd Trump delegates asking the former president to reconsider, Vance made a bid for their support.

“One of the things I do when I win the primary, and even before,” he said, “is going to be you have to convince those people that I’m actually on their side, I’m on their team and that they should help me.”


Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP Senate candidates criticize Biden but offer the same response to Russian aggression

Russia has launched what President Joe Biden is calling an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine. After weeks of teetering on the verge of conflict, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a war was swiftly met with condemnation from international leaders. In a statement, Biden promised the world, “will hold Russia accountable.”

“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring,” Biden said, “and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.”

Ohio’s outgoing Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman co-chairs the Senate Ukraine Caucus, and he urged the president respond rapidly to Russia’s aggression.

“The Biden administration promised tough sanctions,” Portman wrote. “The administration must stand by that commitment. We can and we must cripple Russia’s military by starving it of financing.”

Portman went on to call for export and import controls against Russia as well as greater military support in the form of additional weapons and even a NATO Rapid Response Force.

The candidates running for his seat weighed in on the crisis as well.

Not surprisingly, Democratic candidates Morgan Harper and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan backed the President’s plans for sanctions.

“This devastating and unnecessary loss of life justifies aggressive sanctions to protect global security,” Harper said in a tweet.

Ryan argued innocent people will die because of Putin’s “insatiable pursuit of power,” before addressing the Ukranian people directly.

“We stand with you today and every day,” Ryan said. “Make no mistake: Putin will regret this decision.”

Across the aisle, Republicans have a lot of critiques for Biden, but they don’t have any novel ideas for how to respond to the crisis.

Republican Mike Gibbons invoked Ohio’s Ukranian-American community directly and its outsized presence in his hometown of Parma. While he condemned Russia’s actions as “unacceptable” he directed most of his ire at Biden.

“Joe Biden’s policy of appeasement has failed,” Gibbons said. “His statement in January telegraphing a non-response to a ‘minor incursion’ by Russia into Ukraine sent a clear message of weakness to Vladimir Putin.”

But while Gibbons suggests Biden bears culpability for not projecting enough strength, he offers no other recourse than what Biden has promised. Russia should be isolated politically and economically, Gibbons argues, but he remains “one hundred percent opposed” to deploying American troops in Ukraine.

The arguments are much the same from other Republicans running for Senate.

Jane Timken took shots at Biden’s “feckless” leadership that “emboldened” Putin. Her response, though, mirrors the administration’s plans.

“As a U.S. Senator, I would have pushed long ago for crushing economic sanctions against Russia and vital military aid for Ukraine,” Timken said before also describing herself as 100% opposed to sending U.S. troops.

She also urged the president to block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is a decision for Germany to make. This week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted the natural gas pipeline’s certification.

Timken is facing scrutiny though, because of the family business. Her husband sits on the board of the Timken Company which inked a deal in 2014 to provide industrial bearings to two major Russian steel producers. The announcement came shortly after Russia invaded Crimea.

In an op-ed published by the Columbus Dispatch two weeks ago, Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, tried to connect domestic energy policies with Russia’s growing hostility. Dolan argued the Biden administration’s decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling leases on federal land created an opening in world markets that Russia seized upon. Still, while criticizing Biden, Dolan acknowledged that record U.S. exports of liquified natural gas were buying the European Union time to stand up to Russian aggression.

In a more recent statement, Dolan described Putin as “an egomaniacal tyrant hellbent on delegitimizing NATO,” but offered the same set of responses the Biden administration has offered.

“Russia’s annexation of Crimea provided the powerful lesson that weakness invites aggression unless economic sanctions are crippling,” Dolan said.

Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer and presumed front runner, has been less direct in his responses. He posted a picture of Biden tweeting that Putin was afraid of him becoming the nominee, along with the message, “having Biden as President is exactly what Putin wanted.”

In another post, Mandel criticized a person floating concerns about COVID as Ukrainians shelter from attacks. “Innocent lives will be lost but this is the American left’s primary concern,” Mandel quipped. In another, he argued to “bring back the peace president” with a photo of Donald Trump.

Mandel has offered no statement thus far regarding how he believes the U.S. should respond to Russia’s aggression. Ohio Capital Journal reached out to Mandel’s team and did not get a response.

The one Republican who stands out from the pack is Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist, J.D. Vance because of his off the cuff remarks during an appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast.

“I gotta be honest with you,” Vance said. “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.”

In a statement after the fact, Vance doubled down on his argument, deriding his “America last” opponents.

“Spare me the performative affection for the Ukraine,” he said, “a corrupt nation run by oligarchs, that is as close to a functional democracy in 2022 as Afghanistan was when Joe Biden handed it over to the Taliban in 2021.”

Vance insisted the conflict has nothing to do national security and serves no American interest. Instead, he argued, it distracts from the problem of drugs and human trafficking at the U.S. Mexico border.

Thursday, Vance waded back into those waters, highlighting the trend of Republican candidates echoing vague calls for sanctions.

“They should try being honest with the American people and admit what they really want: military intervention from American or NATO troops,” Vance suggested. “This would be a disaster, and we must stand against it under any circumstance.”

While every Republican candidate criticized Biden they suggested Putin would not have pursued this aggressive course if Donald Trump was still president. Meanwhile, Trump himself praised the Russian president’s actions as genius.

Thursday President Biden announced additional sanctions that would apply to five of Russia’s largest banks, as well as seven oligarchs and their children or businesses. Biden’s actions held two significant responses in reserve, though. The U.S. and its allies will not be kicking Russia off the global banking system known as SWIFT. Also, sanctions have yet to be placed on Putin himself, but Biden said that’s still an option.


Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio GOP Senate candidates criticize Biden but offer the same response to Russian aggression

Russia has launched what President Joe Biden is calling an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine. After weeks of teetering on the verge of conflict, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a war was swiftly met with condemnation from international leaders. In a statement, Biden promised the world, “will hold Russia accountable.”

“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring,” Biden said, “and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.”

Ohio’s outgoing Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman co-chairs the Senate Ukraine Caucus, and he urged the president respond rapidly to Russia’s aggression.

“The Biden administration promised tough sanctions,” Portman wrote. “The administration must stand by that commitment. We can and we must cripple Russia’s military by starving it of financing.”

Portman went on to call for export and import controls against Russia as well as greater military support in the form of additional weapons and even a NATO Rapid Response Force.

The candidates running for his seat weighed in on the crisis as well.

Not surprisingly, Democratic candidates Morgan Harper and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan backed the President’s plans for sanctions.

“This devastating and unnecessary loss of life justifies aggressive sanctions to protect global security,” Harper said in a tweet.

Ryan argued innocent people will die because of Putin’s “insatiable pursuit of power,” before addressing the Ukranian people directly.

“We stand with you today and every day,” Ryan said. “Make no mistake: Putin will regret this decision.”

Across the aisle, Republicans have a lot of critiques for Biden, but they don’t have any novel ideas for how to respond to the crisis.

Republican Mike Gibbons invoked Ohio’s Ukranian-American community directly and its outsized presence in his hometown of Parma. While he condemned Russia’s actions as “unacceptable” he directed most of his ire at Biden.

“Joe Biden’s policy of appeasement has failed,” Gibbons said. “His statement in January telegraphing a non-response to a ‘minor incursion’ by Russia into Ukraine sent a clear message of weakness to Vladimir Putin.”

But while Gibbons suggests Biden bears culpability for not projecting enough strength, he offers no other recourse than what Biden has promised. Russia should be isolated politically and economically, Gibbons argues, but he remains “one hundred percent opposed” to deploying American troops in Ukraine.

The arguments are much the same from other Republicans running for Senate.

Jane Timken took shots at Biden’s “feckless” leadership that “emboldened” Putin. Her response, though, mirrors the administration’s plans.

“As a U.S. Senator, I would have pushed long ago for crushing economic sanctions against Russia and vital military aid for Ukraine,” Timken said before also describing herself as 100% opposed to sending U.S. troops.

She also urged the president to block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is a decision for Germany to make. This week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted the natural gas pipeline’s certification.

Timken is facing scrutiny though, because of the family business. Her husband sits on the board of the Timken Company which inked a deal in 2014 to provide industrial bearings to two major Russian steel producers. The announcement came shortly after Russia invaded Crimea.

In an op-ed published by the Columbus Dispatch two weeks ago, Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, tried to connect domestic energy policies with Russia’s growing hostility. Dolan argued the Biden administration’s decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling leases on federal land created an opening in world markets that Russia seized upon. Still, while criticizing Biden, Dolan acknowledged that record U.S. exports of liquified natural gas were buying the European Union time to stand up to Russian aggression.

In a more recent statement, Dolan described Putin as “an egomaniacal tyrant hellbent on delegitimizing NATO,” but offered the same set of responses the Biden administration has offered.

“Russia’s annexation of Crimea provided the powerful lesson that weakness invites aggression unless economic sanctions are crippling,” Dolan said.

Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer and presumed front runner, has been less direct in his responses. He posted a picture of Biden tweeting that Putin was afraid of him becoming the nominee, along with the message, “having Biden as President is exactly what Putin wanted.”

In another post, Mandel criticized a person floating concerns about COVID as Ukrainians shelter from attacks. “Innocent lives will be lost but this is the American left’s primary concern,” Mandel quipped. In another, he argued to “bring back the peace president” with a photo of Donald Trump.

Mandel has offered no statement thus far regarding how he believes the U.S. should respond to Russia’s aggression. Ohio Capital Journal reached out to Mandel’s team and did not get a response.

The one Republican who stands out from the pack is Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist, J.D. Vance because of his off the cuff remarks during an appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast.

“I gotta be honest with you,” Vance said. “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.”

In a statement after the fact, Vance doubled down on his argument, deriding his “America last” opponents.

“Spare me the performative affection for the Ukraine,” he said, “a corrupt nation run by oligarchs, that is as close to a functional democracy in 2022 as Afghanistan was when Joe Biden handed it over to the Taliban in 2021.”

Vance insisted the conflict has nothing to do national security and serves no American interest. Instead, he argued, it distracts from the problem of drugs and human trafficking at the U.S. Mexico border.

Thursday, Vance waded back into those waters, highlighting the trend of Republican candidates echoing vague calls for sanctions.

“They should try being honest with the American people and admit what they really want: military intervention from American or NATO troops,” Vance suggested. “This would be a disaster, and we must stand against it under any circumstance.”

While every Republican candidate criticized Biden they suggested Putin would not have pursued this aggressive course if Donald Trump was still president. Meanwhile, Trump himself praised the Russian president’s actions as genius.

Thursday President Biden announced additional sanctions that would apply to five of Russia’s largest banks, as well as seven oligarchs and their children or businesses. Biden’s actions held two significant responses in reserve, though. The U.S. and its allies will not be kicking Russia off the global banking system known as SWIFT. Also, sanctions have yet to be placed on Putin himself, but Biden said that’s still an option.

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Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

LGBTQ icon Jim Obergefell announces Ohio House bid

Jim Obergefell, whose lawsuit established marriage equality in the United States, is running for an Ohio House seat. The Sandusky native announced his bid for the 89th District Tuesday morning.

In the current map, the district covers the coast in Erie and Ottawa Counties, and Obergefell put protecting Lake Erie front and center in his announcement.

“We need to invest in our great lake, protect our great lake and show the nation how Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

He talked about forming a bipartisan Lake Erie caucus with members along the coast to develop a comprehensive preservation plan. State lawmakers rolled out a similar caucus about decade ago, headed up by then Sens. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, with Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island. The caucus held hearings about algal blooms and in 2014 urged the EPA in not to dump sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River in the lake. With it’s founders now out of office, it doesn’t appear the Lake Erie caucus remains a going concern.

As Obergefell made his announcement, the Ohio Redistricting Commission gathered for a new round of negotiations after the state supreme court threw out their legislative maps. The 89th District is currently held by Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, but new round of drafting means district boundaries around the state are up in the air for now. Obergefell says he’ll be running regardless.

“I need to fight for the people where I live,” he said. “My family, my friends, the people I know, the people I don’t know. So whatever that district ends up looking like that really will have no impact on my decision to run.”

Still, Obergefell acknowledged how redistricting intersects with partisanship, and the potential stakes for LGBTQ issues in Ohio. He voiced hopes that the new maps will better reflect voter’s wishes.

“My hope is that means the hostilities, the divisiveness, the hyper-partisanship will start to fade away,” he said. “And we’ll start to have a legislature that looks like us, cares for everyone, and a lot of these really harmful things that happened, especially targeting the LGBTQ plus community will come to an end.”

In office, Obergefell said he would support the Ohio Fairness Act which would codify protections based on gender and sexual orientation when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodations.

Former state health director Rick Hodges — Obergefell’s ostensible opponent in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case — is actually a long-time friend of Obergefell. Hodges, a Republican, is also a former state representative, and he’s excited at the prospect of having a person like Obergefell in the House.

“He approaches people, and government and politics out of a spirit of civility and trying to find solutions to problems,” Hodges said. “And to me, that’s exactly what we need right now.”

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican J.D. Vance takes campaign to Delaware shooting range

J.D. Vance’s Delaware County campaign stop wasn’t exactly subtle. The Republican vying for a chance to succeed outgoing U.S. Senator Rob Portman hosted a town hall at Black Wing Shooting Center, a sprawling shooting range a few miles outside of downtown Delaware.

Candidates on both sides of the aisle have been campaigning for months, crisscrossing the state, blanketing social media and elbowing into football game ad breaks. Vance’s stop in Delaware is part of a week-long “No B.S. Tour.” Over the weekend he visited the Cincinnati area, including a stop in his hometown of Middletown, which he depicted in his memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Lori Flaglor came with her friend Nydia Mcclenathan to get a sense of the candidate. Flaglor read the book and she’s been drawn to his recent statements.

“I’m kind of curious about whether he’s gonna be a fighter,” she says. “He seems like a bulldog, and I think that’s what we need.”

Mcclenathan cited border security as her main issue, and said a politician who fell into the “pool of wokeness” wouldn’t get her vote. Flaglor noted while she’s not sure Donald Trump should run again, a politician who rejected the former president wouldn’t get her support.

At a table in the back of the banquet hall, Victoria and Jacob Waynick did their best to wrangle two little kids. They both found an affinity with Vance through “Hillbilly Elegy” — Victoria noting similar family roots and Jacob noting his time in the military. The couple had the day off so they decided to come hear what he had to say, but they’re still considering the field of candidates.

Despite the setting, Vance didn’t spend a much of his time talking about guns. He told the 40 or so people on hand how much he was looking forward to shooting Mamaw’s .44 afterward, but that was about it. Instead, he opened with a mea culpa for his previous rejection of Trump.

“I’m not gonna hide from the fact that I did not see Trump’s promise in the beginning but you know, he delivered,” Vance said. “He delivered, and he cared about people. And I think that’s important. It’s important (to) change your mind.”

He tried to turn the ads attacking him for those statements to his favor, arguing it’s indicative that the campaign has momentum and it’s “shaking things up.”

It’s a bit too soon to say whether that’s true. The field is crowded, and polling is limited. Vance’s book has certainly helped out with name recognition, but frontrunner Josh Mandel has actually won a statewide election before as Ohio Treasurer. Other candidates like Mike Gibbons have made runs in the past and as former Ohio GOP chair, Jane Timken has connections around the state. A recent poll commissioned by Club for Growth, which is backing Mandel, showed Vance is trailing all three. On the other hand, the same poll put “undecided” in second place and “someone else” beat the other two candidates pollsters asked about.

Vance’s pitch in the room emphasized economic arguments about trade and immigration that wouldn’t have been out of place 30 years ago.

“It was a choice that our leaders made to ship our manufacturing and industrial base off to communist China, a regime in a country that hates us,” Vance argued. “It didn’t happen because of economic law. It did not have to happen. It happened because our leaders chose to let it happen. It’s one of the stupidest things that an American leadership class has ever done to its country.”

Vance praised Trump for being ahead of party leaders when it comes to trade and immigration policy. He shared a story about talking with a hotel chain CEO who complained about having to pay higher wages because Trump’s policies meant he could hire fewer immigrants.

“We should like the fact that when we have a secure border, American business leaders have to pay American workers higher wages. Isn’t that what we want?” Vance said. “We want people who work hard and play by the rules to get higher wages. We don’t want our leaders to go and lobby the government to allow them to import low wage foreigners to undercut the wages of American workers.”

It has been widely reported that the Trump Organization itself relied on undocumented and temporary immigrant labor at his resorts for years.

The more novel plank in Vance’s stump speech was what he terms “big tech censorship.” Vance raised Trump and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene as examples.

“If America’s leaders cannot speak to their own citizens and their own constituents using modern forms of communications, this country’s done. We lose something fundamental,” Vance argued.

Trump and Greene were both permanently suspended from Twitter. Trump over concerns of inciting violence in the wake of Jan. 6, and Greene after repeatedly spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Greene’s official, congressional Twitter account remains active.

Vance fielded questions after his speech from voters. What can one senator really do? Raise a lot of hell; what sets him apart? He sees the “leftwing takeover” for what it is, and will act aggressively; what about term limits? If you can’t get it done in two terms it’s time to look for a new job; worries about him working across the aisle? Well, there’s good bipartisanship and bad bipartisanship.

One voter pressed Vance on his own ties to tech. He got his start in venture capital working for a firm headed by Peter Thiel, and Thiel has cut a $10 million check to an outside group supporting Vance’s candidacy. But Vance argued that Thiel, despite making a fortune in the tech industry, has been critical of firms’ outsized power.

“I think it’s good that I’m working with the one guy, and supported by the one guy who actually knows how powerful these companies are and why we’ve got to break them up,” Vance said.

This week Vance’s tour continues. He’ll start Monday in Cincinnati, and make a stop in Grove City before heading to the Youngstown area. Tuesday he’ll trace the state’s southeastern border with stops in Woodsfield and Marietta on his way down to Portsmouth.


Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

What Ohio’s Senate map says about the GOP's redistricting strategy

Early next month, new state legislative districts go before the Ohio Supreme Court. The congressional map approved last week is on its way to court, too. In both cases, Ohio Republicans controlled the process throughout, and approved maps that garnered no support from the minority party — directly at odds with the stated intent of the constitutional amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters. These new lines are transparently partisan, but they're built to be right at the bleeding edge of defensible. The new Senate plan offers a glimpse at state leaders' strategy.

Packing and cracking in Cincinnati and Cleveland

Three different state senators will represent portions of Hamilton County. Cuyahoga will get four. They're the second and third most populous counties in the state, so splitting the counties was likely unavoidable. But political scientist David Niven takes issue with how those splits were made.

“Gerrymandering isn't just about drawing a bunch of districts for your party to win. It's also about drawing districts for the other party that they can't lose," Niven explained. “You maximize the number of their voters who are bunched together, so they harm the dominant party in as few districts as possible."

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This practice, known colloquially as packing and cracking, influences outcomes by changing what researchers call the efficiency gap. Efficiency has to do with the relative weight, or power, of a given vote. Casting a ballot in one party's stronghold is less efficient, for instance, than casting it in a toss-up race. When the margins are tighter, a single vote means more.

According to analysis from PlanScore, the Senate map as a whole gives Republicans a nine-point edge. Dave's Redistricting puts the efficiency gap at 11 points.

Niven says the areas around Cleveland and Cincinnati are poster children for this approach. He contrasts the 23rd District in Cleveland where Democrats can expect about 80% of the vote, with the neighboring 27th District which gives Republicans a slight edge.

“It's almost perfectly efficient, it's almost the ideal district from a Republican perspective, just enough Republican votes that they win — no wasted votes," Niven said. “You know, if you put any of those Democrats from 23 into 27, and they border each other, you could do this, you would have two Democratic districts."

In Cincinnati, Niven says Republican drafters took their tinkering with efficiency a step further. Hamilton County skews Democratic. In 2020, voters there gave Joe Biden 56% of the vote — that's 15 points more than Donald Trump's share. But the current map is likely to produce two Republican state senators and just one Democrat representing Hamilton County because of major differences in population.

“That's the special sauce, it's not only the drawing of the lines, but it's taking liberties with the size of districts," Niven said. “They cram quite a few more voters into the Democratic district than into the Republican districts, because if you if you apportion them evenly it would be harder to make two Republican districts."

We're not just talking about 100 people here, 100 people there — we're talking about a 29,000 or so difference. And you know, obviously that's a strategic choice. It has absolutely nothing to do with trying to achieve fair representation.

– Political Scientist David Niven

This stands in stark contrast to the process for the congressional map.

Republican lawmakers there insisted on as little population deviation as possible. Every district in the congressional map is equivalent, plus or minus one person. Sponsor Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, used an equal population argument to justify splitting Summit County. And Republicans used population as cudgel as well. Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, criticized the Democratic proposal noting one district was 748 voters above the ideal population while another was 491 voters below.

Those considerations went out the window for the Ohio Senate map.

“The Democratic district has 371,000 people. One of the Republican districts has 342,000 people," Niven said of the Hamilton County Senate districts. “We're not just talking about 100 people here, 100 people there — we're talking about a 29,000 or so difference. And you know, obviously that's a strategic choice. It has absolutely nothing to do with trying to achieve fair representation."

It's worth noting that courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have determined populations from district to district do not need to be exactly the same, and they do give greater leeway to state legislative lines. But while cases like Tennant v. Jefferson County and Reynolds v. Sims established that small deviations are fine, “as nearly as is practicable" populations must be equivalent. Further, they determined that where states do deviate, they must “justify population differences between districts that could have been avoided."

Flipping the math outside Columbus

In 2020, Senate District 16 was decided by just 116 votes. Incumbent Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, was able to fend off a challenge from first time Democratic candidate Crystal Lett.

“We were in the race for about two years," Lett, who now works with Red, Wine and Blue, said. “It was an insanely hard-fought race. I don't think I could have possibly worked harder than I did."

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Franklin County has grown considerably since the previous Senate map was drawn in 2011. That influx puts the district's current population more than 12 percent higher than the ideal population, and it has also pushed the district to the left, creating more of an opening for candidates like Lett.

But the results aren't likely to be as tight as they were in 2020 anytime soon. Under the previous map, district 16 favors Democrats over Republicans 52%-45%. With the new map, that advantage flips — favoring Republicans 52%-46%.

Mapmakers accomplished that swing by excising suburbs like Worthington that are trending blue, while adding in the entirety of largely rural Union County.

“I think the needs of Union County voters and the needs of Western Franklin County voters are significantly different," Lett argued. “I think it'd be a huge challenge to represent both areas and represent them well. And I think that's maybe the biggest offense of gerrymandering itself is that it lumps communities in that don't have much in common and expects someone to be able to meet the needs of everyone that they represent."

She also calls it “interesting" that she no longer lives in the district.

“They literally drew the line around my precinct to draw me out of the district," she laughed. “I am by a mile no longer in Senate District 16, which I can't imagine was done on accident."

The six-point swing in the 16th District is actually one of the biggest on the map, but by keeping the margin within the range of what could be considered competitive, it has the sheen of fairness. Similar shifts can be seen throughout the map. While a handful of left leaning districts see their margins climb markedly, right leaning districts see their figures move slightly — sometimes up, sometimes down, but often just enough to maintain an advantage. Niven says while those changes are subtle, they're significant.

“It's not that far of a distance from standing on the deck of a boat to being, you know, drowning in the water a few feet away," Niven said. “It's not that many votes, a lean Democratic district to a lean Republican district, but it makes a world of difference."

Sen. Kunze is term limited, so she won't end up running in the new 16th District. Still, she doesn't see the inclusion of Union County in her district as all that surprising given the population growth in central Ohio. And she rejects the idea that incorporating a largely rural neighboring county will change the complexion of the district. Instead, she highlights Jerome Village right across the county line from Dublin.

“That growth and influx is dynamic and increasing all the time, and to me, my little bit of time that I've seen and known people that moved out to Jerome village, that looks much more similar to a Franklin County (voter) than it does to a Union County voter," Kunze said.

Niven argues the impact of those changes affect more than just the margins. He says drawing in Union County re-centers the district — pushing it away from a growth area for Democrats and toward something of a no-man's land.

“So realistically, this would be an afterthought race for Democrats," Niven said. “Not one that they would go into fully expecting that they could win, which is I think where it is right now."

But Kunze and Lett are more sanguine about the district's competitiveness. Speaking about the current GOP advantage, Kunze said, “I expect that to drop. I expect it to remain a very competitive seat."

Although Lett believes the new district would be more challenging for Democrats, she thinks it's still winnable.

“If I swung the district nine points in 2020, could another Democrat come in and swing the district back to having a Democrat win? I think that's obviously possible," she said.

And that is part of the trade off when mapmakers maximize the efficiency of one party's votes. Although the lines are static, people aren't. Populations shift constantly, and given enough time, margins can narrow, or even flip.

But here again, Republican lawmakers may have insulated themselves by favoring a purely partisan process. Assuming the courts allow it to take effect, the new map will only be in place for the next four years, because no Democrats voted for it. With supermajorities in both chambers, and a map that gives them an edge, the GOP's grip on power seems unlikely to slacken before the latest map expires.

After that, Republicans can go back to the drawing board, and Ohioans could see the same process play out again.

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Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican Mike Carey wins OH-15 special election

Republican former lobbyist Mike Carey has won a special election to represent Ohio's 15th Congressional District. The race raised the profile of an otherwise typical off-year election dominated by local offices like city council or school board.

The contest was seen by some outside Ohio as one of the latest proxies for determining former President Donald Trump's influence over GOP voters. But in the end, the reliably Republican seat offered few surprises.

In its 2021 partisan voter index, the Cook Political Report describes the district as favoring the GOP by nine points, and Cook's U.S. House editor Dave Wasserman noted Trump won the district by 14. The district has not flipped since being drawn in 2011. Neither has any other Ohio congressional district in the last 10 years, with the party of the incumbent going 82-0 in that time. Ohio's congressional delegation is split 12-4 Republican-to-Democratic.

While Franklin is the most populous county in the district that manages to claw together Columbus suburbs to the south and west like a giant hand making an 'OK' sign, the majority of voters live in one of the 11 other counties the district touches. That broad territory running from towns like Sabina in the west and out past Athens in the east gives the district a decidedly rural bent despite the suburban influence from Franklin County.

Carey's victory was built on winning big in those rural counties, stacking up two or even three to one margins among voters in counties like Clinton, Vinton and Ross according to unofficial results. Russo ran up big margins of her own in left-leaning Athens County, but she didn't notch the kind of overwhelming win she'd need in Franklin County to make up for weaker showings elsewhere.

The race was only on the ballot this year because Republican Steve Stivers resigned the seat earlier this year to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Stivers first won the seat in 2010 and won reelection handily in each successive race. But rather than run again in 2022, he joined the list of moderate Ohio Republicans, including Pat Tiberi, Anthony Gonzalez and Rob Portman, who found themselves displaced amid their party's hard, Trump-ward shift.

Mike Carey started Election Day in Columbus area suburbs, greeting voters in Upper Arlington, Grove City and Hilliard. In videos posted to Twitter he urged supporters to head to the polls from a handful of stops around the sprawling southern Ohio district.

State Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, cast her vote Tuesday morning at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church with her family in tow. She described how getting results and having a voice in Washington were on the ballot, but admitted that, like any race, it would come down to turnout.

And turnout was up, relatively speaking, ahead of Election Day. Turnout was just a fraction of a typical even year congressional election, but in his final release of early and absentee voting data, Secretary of State Frank LaRose noted an 18% statewide increase compared to the last odd year election. Still, at the county level, early turnout results were mixed.

“I would say this is a pretty typical municipal election in an odd year," Fairfield County Board of Elections director Brett Riffle said Monday afternoon.

He explained a handful of voters were inside casting their ballots as he hung up signs announcing early voting had concluded. Another half dozen turned up just after the cut off.

In neighboring Pickaway County, though, board deputy director John Howley saw a noticeable uptick.

“One of the parties put out a mailer for absentee ballot applications, and it was money well spent because a lot of them got turned in," he said, taking a break from loading up machines for Election Day.

He explained in a typical off year election they'd see between half and three quarters of the requests they received this year.

Pickaway County voters Gale Gloyd and Barbara Caldwell cast votes for Mike Carey.

“He was the only choice, as far as I was concerned," Gloyd said.

Concerns about education and critical race theory were the primary motivator for Gloyd's vote. Caldwell spoke highly of former Congressman Stivers, and cited the U.S. border as her biggest political issue.

Denny and Lori Barker, also from Pickaway County, cast votes for Carey as well and put veterans' issues at the top of their list.

For those in Pickaway and Fairfield County who supported Allison Russo, one issue came to the fore — Carey's ties to HB6.

Carey worked for Murray Energy which made donations to a dark money group controlled by former House Speaker Larry Householder to promote candidates crucial to passing the nuclear bailout measure. Murray Energy stood to gain from coal provisions contained in the bill.

In Fairfield, Pamela McQuade described Carey's role in the HB6 “debacle" as the main issue that drove her decision. Stuart Michles from Pickaway voiced similar concerns about Carey being “mixed up somewhat" in the controversy.

“Which sadly to say is too normal," Michles said with a bitter laugh.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Police abuse of paraplegic man shines light on state and local police reform efforts

During a traffic stop, late last month, Dayton police officers pulled Clifford Owensby from his car by the hair. Owensby, who is paraplegic, repeatedly told the officers he could not get out of the car, that he wanted them to call a supervisor, that they could hurt him by pulling him from the vehicle. They pulled him out anyway, handcuffed him, and dragged him away.

“It actually feels unreal, it feels like waking up to a bad dream over and over again," Owensby said of the incident in an interview Monday.

It comes as Dayton, like many cities around the country, works to reform its police department. In June of last year volunteers began developing recommendations, and city officials say they've completed more than 50 of the 142 proposals put forward. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley was quick to note those changes were instrumental in bringing to light what happened to Owensby.

“Without the police reform process there would never have been the body cameras in place, and the commitment from the city to show the video, right?" Whaley said. “So all of that process — the body camera policy, how we were going to have accountability and transparency in the process — that all came from police reform."

Local organizers like Daj'za Demmings recognize that point but can't help but be frustrated.

“They had body cameras, right? They were still bold enough to do everything they did knowing that those body cameras were on," she said. “That tells you the type of person it is. We can keep trying to fire the officer and do all this, but it's like cutting the leaves off. We have to get to the root of the issue."

To Demmings, the problem is one of mindset. She argued many officers come from outside the city and don't know how to operate in settings where people of color make up the majority of residents.

It's a point echoed by David Fox, a former police chief with forty years of law enforcement experience. He currently serves as criminal justice chair for the Dayton NAACP executive committee.

“This is about attitude," Fox said. “It's the attitude of the chief on down to the officers in terms of how do you respect and how do you give dignity to people? That's where it starts. And when you come into the community, the question is are you going to be a warrior or are you going to be a guardian?"

State efforts stalled

While Dayton pursues reform locally, a statewide proposal backed by the governor appears dead on arrival. Gov. Mike DeWine first announced his plans in June of 2020 alongside Attorney General Dave Yost. The package included banning chokeholds, providing oversight and independent investigations for use of force incidents, and state dollars for body cameras and training.

Legislation never materialized. Then in April, shortly after Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the murder of George Floyd, DeWine went on “Face the Nation," and argued there's a “clear pathway" for police reform. But so far, the closest DeWine's legislative partners have gotten is a measure expressing the intent to “study and implement" the governor's ideas.

That proposal never got a hearing.

One of the sponsors, Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, is the former sheriff for Montgomery County which includes Dayton. He called the Owensby video “disturbing."

“It doesn't look good for anybody," Plummer said. “It's difficult, but as long as the investigation is done and if there's wrongdoing they're held accountable and people are properly trained I think we can move forward."

Plummer spoke after a committee hearing aimed at setting up a vote for HB 435, the vaccine mandate measure favored by GOP leadership. The attempt to line up support for that bill ahead of a floor vote eventually fizzled, but the party's single-minded focus on vaccine politics is keeping initiatives like police reform on the back burner.

“It's kind of been put on hold for obvious reasons," Plummer said of the proposal. “We have this bill (HB 435), we have several other things pending, so we have to revisit that bill. It's not finished yet by any means."

Plummer's cosponsor, meanwhile, appears ready to move on to different, narrower approaches. Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, is a former Cincinnati police officer who now serves as assistant majority whip. Like Plummer, she pointed to other legislative demands like the budget or redistricting pulling attention away from police reform. As a former officer, she said her focus is on training.

“The more training you have, the better person you have in fill in the blank industry," Abrams explained.

She described securing a 50% match in funding for training in the last budget and said that going forward she wants to double that.

“We are working toward 100% state funded, mandatory training and it's going to be top notch for our law enforcement, and we will lead the nation in again, top notch, state funded law enforcement," Abrams said.

But so far as the governor's broader range of proposals, Abrams' focus right now is elsewhere.

“We'll take a look at it," Abrams said, “like I said, I'm focused on training right now, so that's not even a focus of mine at this moment,"

How Dayton moves forward

Without significant movement in the Statehouse, Dayton and other cities are on their own to figure out how to improve the relationship between police and the community.

“Oh, I'm shocked that the GOP Legislature hasn't moved at all on something important," Whaley said dripping with sarcasm.

Whaley, who is running for governor, criticized DeWine's approach as top-down while local efforts have been more inclusive.

“It's like we're going to do these things to communities, is the way Plummer and DeWine look at it, instead of how do we do things with communities," Whaley argued.

Operating alone, the city can't establish programs like a database of problem officers, but Whaley believes the city is taking meaningful steps to improve relations. She identified efforts to increase diversity in recruiting, expand training in de-escalation, and build alternative response systems to divert calls away from the police. Still, she acknowledged those changes won't yield results overnight.

“I don't think anybody in Dayton, and certainly not the city commission, and certainly not myself, and I don't believe the community, thought, 'Oh we did police reform so we've got this all figured out.' That is not the expectation, and I don't think anybody has that expectation down here in Dayton."

Whaley contended it will be up to the city to prove it is serious about reform in how it responds to use of force cases.

Neighbors react

On the block where Owensby was pulled from his car, neighbors are shaken. One woman who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation said incidents like Owensby's happen all the time, but rarely get reported. She argued whether he was involved in criminal activity or not, police should've treated him like a human being.

Another neighbor, who also didn't want to share his name, called the police response “wholly unacceptable." He was particularly concerned about officers using Owensby's criminal history as a pretext for searching the car and to discredit him after the fact.

“If he was wrong at any point," he asked, “does that give them the right to pull him out by his hair?"

For her part, Daj'za Demmings is frustrated with the state of local reform. She said the way police treated Owensby feels like a betrayal for some of those who participated in city's efforts. She also criticized city leaders for waiting almost two weeks to acknowledge the incident publicly.

“How can we vote for you?" she asked.

Demmings continues to demand accountability in the Ownesby case, and local officials are investigating. But the incident has also forced her to zero-in on one primary concern.

“I'm just trying to make sure that my community knows how to navigate the spaces that they're in," she said. “And like, who wants to have to have that conversation with a 12 year old boy? When a police says something to you, make sure your hands are visible, make sure you're looking them in the eye, no sudden movements, like who wants to say that to a child? But that's what we have to do, so that's where our focus is."


Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.