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Watch our Ohio state government closely, and hold these politicians accountable: Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek

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The state House of Representatives, where most Republicans decline to wear masks or practice social distancing. (Photo: Ohio Capital Journal)

Those who can’t govern, grandstand. You see it in Congress where the minority party routinely resorts to performing for right-wing media with manufactured controversies and tired catch phrases that bemoan “cancel culture” or “woke” libs. But it’s a lot easier to grab attention on Fox News by reading Green Eggs and Ham than it is to lead constructively in government with, say, historic relief legislation overwhelmingly embraced by pandemic-weary Americans.

Governing to improve lives with public policy that advances the greater good is hard work. It takes time, thoughtful debate, dissection of information, tough compromise, flexible negotiation and feedback from stakeholder constituents. Political theatrics, on the other hand, requires none of the above. Anyone can spout knee-jerk reactions to get a rise in partisan realms.

Sure, showboating accomplishes little for folks back home, but for notoriety-seeking politicos it accomplishes plenty in free publicity. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who regularly ranks among the least effective members of Congress in legislative productiveness — i.e., introducing bills, getting them out of committee and onto the floor for consideration — made clear that he views his job not as a lawmaker (sorry, 4th District) but as a combatant to keep libs in line and Trump on a pedestal.

Honestly, the whole concept of public service seems to have eluded him entirely.

The same could be said of Statehouse Republicans who also vie for the political spotlight in lieu of responsible lawmaking. Again, it’s easier to play aggrieved combatants for a targeted audience than to craft meaningful legislation that might actually help people. Trouble is, we let them do as they please. We largely ignore state politics. Many of us can’t name our state rep or senator let alone say what he/she is up to in Columbus. Not good.

Because while we’ve been waiting for stimulus checks and coping with life under covid, Ohio Republicans have been on a legislative tear to impose a far-right agenda on Ohio. Their focus is not on getting Ohioans back to work and school safely or repealing a corrupt utility bailout bill but sharpening their Trumpian bona fides to ward off primary challengers. To that end they plan to: Cripple Gov. DeWine’s ability to manage a public health crisis in the state, ban abortion, relax concealed carry laws, celebrate their shoot-first-ask-questions-later Stand Your Ground law, cut nearly a third of state regulations because they contain words that give them teeth, weaken Ohio’s prevailing wage law, and make it harder for the poor and homeless to access food and unemployment benefits.

The extreme political posturing that passes for “governing” in Ohio hardly represents the everyday priorities of a most Ohioans. But under one-party rule in the state, policy is what works for the ruling party—not what produces tangible benefits for 11 million people. Proof is Senate Bill 22. There was no mass clamoring for the General Assembly to wrest control from the governor and his health department during a public health crisis. On the contrary, polls consistently showed high support among Ohioans for the governor’s pandemic response, including mask mandates and business restrictions. It is widely accepted that Ohio’s early decision to invoke emergency public health orders protected Ohioans from a worse pandemic fate. But Ohio House and Senate Republicans did not act on our behalf with a bill to give themselves power to alter or end public health orders.

They did not act on behalf of a majority of Ohioans who opposed the fetal heartbeat abortion ban enacted. They did not act on behalf of an overwhelming percentage of voters who wanted common sense reforms to stop gun violence in Ohio, especially after the Dayton massacre. GOP legislators passed gun rights laws and introduced concealed carry legislation only a gun lobby could love.

Clearly, Statehouse Republicans do not represent mainstream Ohioans, but they’re betting you won’t notice. Or care. That way those who can’t govern, can’t come up with innovative ideas or practical solutions to ongoing challenges, including unequal school funding or infant mortality rates among Black babies, can keep grandstanding about faux grievances and pushing legislative lunacy. Then, as insurance against voter backlash at the polls, the ruling party can scheme to suppress voting with hurdles designed to discourage participation. It’s already underway in dozens of GOP-run states across the country.

But Ohioans have grit. They voted to change the way congressional, and state legislative lines were drawn after Republicans gave themselves job security in 2010 by partitioning voters into gerrymandered districts to achieve preordained election outcomes. Worked every time. Unfortunately, fairness and transparency in the new redistricting reforms, being rolled out this year, are by no means guaranteed. And there is no assurance that every voter will have equal access and opportunity to exercise their franchise in a state led by Republicans in full self-preservation mode.

Consider yourself warned. Do not let your vote and voice be cancelled by politicians consumed with keeping power at any cost. Learn about your state rep and senator and start following what they do in their respective chambers. 2021 will set the stage for either ten more years of incessant grandstanding or inspired governance. The latter is the way forward, but it depends on us giving a damn about state politics that hit home.


Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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