What happened to Frank LaRose? You know, the Ohio Secretary of State prostrating himself before the MAGA altar (a la JD Vance) to get noticed as U.S. Senate material? The elections chief shredding any reputation he may have had as a reasonable, down-the-middle Republican who was competent at conducting statewide elections? That guy.
What happened to him? Consider the before and after of Secretary LaRose’s sad transition from even-handed to extreme, in his own words.
BEFORE: October 9, 2020. “When we take the oath of office we aren’t wearing a red jersey or a blue jersey. We effectively put on the referee stripes. You can elect a principled Republican or a principled Democrat to do this job and do it well.”
AFTER: April 24, 2022. “Ohio’s become THE leader for election integrity. But that can all be undone if Democrats win. President Trump knows that and he’s given me his full support.”
In two short years, Frank went from “principled Republican” aspirations to partisan hatchet jobs on Twitter with a coveted (?) endorsement from a disgraced ex-president who stomped all over election integrity on his way out of office. The metamorphosis was jarring — and disappointing.
Ohio’s elections chief is wearing a red jersey like a uniform and regurgitating talking points from the Fox “News” silo of disinformation. He’s obviously laying the MAGA groundwork for a U.S. Senate campaign. Forget the referee stripes. Frank is tweeting up tirades.
But it’s weird. Erratic blasts about the “radical left,” school indoctrination, “gender ideology nonsense,” the ‘weaponization’ of federal officials, chaos at the border, cities (all Democratic) letting violent criminals run free. No one outside the Fox bubble relates.
BEFORE: Frank bragged (rightly) about Ohio’s safe, secure and highly accurate election system in 2020.
AFTER: He bowed to the “stolen election” crowd in 2022 by creating an election “integrity” unit for show — plenty of scrutinizing mechanisms already in place — and to tackle a “crisis of confidence” generated by the baseless conspiracy theories (still) promulgated by Trump World.
AFTER: A year later, LaRose roiled that confidence when he pulled Ohio out of the only voter data sharing organization among states — widely regarded as an invaluable tool in fighting election fraud.
BEFORE: A month before LaRose left the key, multi-state partnership, he praised it as a “great benefit” to “catching people who try to vote in multiple states” and “maintaining the accuracy of our voter rolls.” But the national voter database program had become the focal point of false, far right conspiracies (fueled by Trump) and LaRose caved.
In 2023 he also reversed himself on a 2022 law he championed (then ignored) to eliminate costly, low turnout elections in August — traditionally used to sneak issues past voters on vacation.
BEFORE: “This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work. More importantly, it doesn’t have to. Voters are just as capable of voting on these important issues during the standard primary and general elections,” declared LaRose before flipping to promote an August election to sneak through a major constitutional change crafted by Ohio Republicans.
AFTER: “That’s how democracy works,” the top elections officer tweeted, lacking any self-awareness of his whipsaw cognitive dissonance. No. This is how democracy dies with a stealth partisan attack on majority rule in the state. The ‘before’ Frank knew this.
Slipping a statewide ballot amendment past Ohio voters designed to make it nearly impossible for citizens to amend their constitution, (with a supermajority vote) let alone get an initiative on the ballot, is an authoritarian stunt to seize power. State Issue 1 is a Republican move to deny Ohioans a voice on issues that affect their lives from abortion rights to gun safety.
And LaRose is all in. He’s peddling the charade of “protecting our state constitution” from outside interests with deep pockets — even as wealthy, out-of-state interests fund the effort to rob Ohioans of their century-old right of direct democracy. Who is that Frank and what did he do with the one who joined his Democratic Michigan counterpart in October, 2020, to talk collaboration on nonpartisan approaches to elections.
BEFORE: He talked about their commitment “not to endorse candidates or causes, not to speak at rallies.”
AFTER: He broke that commitment with a 2022 Vance endorsement and Trump rally appearance. He advanced election lies that flew in the face of the facts his office released about the infinitesimal number of possible voting fraud cases in Ohio after the 2020 election. He validated the Big Lie when he could have repudiated it.
BEFORE: The very idea of standing with election deniers like Vance and a former president who tried to fraudulently overturn a free and fair election would have seemed anathema to the Frank featured in the University of Michigan forum with Secretary Jocelyn Benson.
Back then he was adamant about “combatting disinformation” that comes from partisans who “push the hyperbole button over and over again because it excites people. It elicits a response. It makes people want to come to a rally or push a button on a website to donate money.”
AFTER: Frank is pushing those buttons to get a rise and raise money in an ethically shady way.
What happened to him?
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.