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VOICES: Ohio's extremist, bad faith politicians are betraying the voters and the republic

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By Marilou Johanek, Ohio Capital Journal


“Ohio. The Heart Of It All.” The old state tourism slogan made new again perfectly encapsulates Ohio’s growing notoriety as a Midwest mecca for radical bad faith politics. From Columbus to Capitol Hill, Ohio hardliners have aggressively cemented the state’s reputation as a hub for far-right demagogues.

Lifelong Ohioans are stunned at the state’s rapid descent into political extremism from crazy, scary legislation to full-on embrace of lawless rule. At the Statehouse, gerrymandered politicians answer to no one. Vehement voter opposition to outrageous bills wending their way to passage is ignored.

Supermajority state Republicans drew their legislative district boundaries precisely to immunizethemselves from public accountability. It’s how they can attempt to gut Issue 2, the statute voters overwhelmingly passed last month to legalize weed in the state. It’s how they can push an Orwellian higher ed bill based on a fanatical right-wing campaign to constrain “leftist indoctrination” on Ohio college campuses.

The Republican stooge who proposed Ohio Senate Bill 83, passed by the Senate and just voted out of an Ohio House committee, called it “an urgent course correction to protect Ohio students and the integrity of our universities and colleges.” But everybody outside the right-wing bubble, lining up to loudly protest SB 83, sees it for what it is — state-sponsored control to police free speech, silence debate, and limit the autonomy of public education institutions in Ohio.

The absurdly titled “Higher Education Enhancement Act” is a vehicle for autocratic destruction of academic freedom, tenure, shared governance, and university independence. It’s a great way to devalue state schools and send students/faculty fleeing. It’s also a House floor vote away from advancing to the governor’s desk.

Other bizarro bills are moving forward, too, including gun absolutist measures that put law enforcement on edge. Ohio House Bill 272, passed by the House last week and sent to the Senate, would green light concealed carry of guns in municipal buildings with courtrooms — provided court isn’t in session and people packing heat are somehow aware (which, besides being broadly insane and rightly opposed by judges and court workers, is enforceable how?)

Another gem, House Bill 51, is modeled on a Missouri law already struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional. It would ban state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal firearm laws or cooperating with federal law enforcement partners. Despite strong objections from prosecutors and police chiefs that the bill would hamstring local criminal investigations and make communities less safe, Republicans voted it out of committee, and it’s expected to pass the House.

“Ohio. The Heart Of It All.” It really does capture the centrality and quantity of bad faith Ohio actors betraying the public trust to benefit themselves. The slogan fits our democratic decay.

To be clear, most Ohioans are not clamoring for any of the above, or the slew of cruel anti-trans bills attacking vulnerable kids, or the closed primaries legislation that would add unwarranted voting hurdles and exclude voters for no good reason. But the extremists calling the shots in the state legislature are not working for you. They’ve hitched their star to a nihilistic movement led by a deranged would-be dictator who gets more menacing and authoritarian by the day.

State Republicans promoting awful legislation, the public is dead set against, are intoxicated with power and willing to throw principle to the wind. The same debasement is evident in the Ohio Republican Party, the first state party in the nation to endorse Trump for president in 2024 dismissing his seditious conspiracy to overthrow the last presidential election.

But who needs a primary anyway (sorry, Ohio Republican voters) when the state GOP chairman has handed a criminally indicted defendant a coronation and get-out-of-jail-free-card. Go home obnoxious asterisk Vivek Ramaswamy. The abject capitulation of self-serving Trumpian Republicans in state politics is replicated by Ohio’s rivaling Trump flunkies in Congress.

The performances of Ohio’s junior U.S. Senator J.D. Vance and gerrymandered-for-life Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan place them among the most Machiavellian of MAGA bootlickers in their respective chambers. Vance is obviously auditioning for a seat near the throne of the sociopath vowing ruthless dictatorship on Day One.

His latest stunt to charm his Mar-a-Lago audience of one was to fire off a preposterous letter to the Departments of Justice and State facetiously raising questions about a Washington Post journalist’s essay that warned of the collapse of democracy under a despotic second Trump term. Vance’s disingenuous missive suggested the opinion column warranted the same kind of prosecutorial scrutiny given a notorious criminal defendant accused of attempting to overturn an election he knew he lost, defrauding the government, and fomenting an insurrection.

The soulless opportunist succeeded in grabbing a few headlines with his ploy even though it effectively affirmed the writer’s sobering conclusion. The point of the power drunk is not to engage in reasoned debate, it’s to get noticed. Jordan has perfected the art in lieu of thoughtful, productive policymaking.

He can’t wait to launch more fury signifying nothing in his impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden based on zilch. The Jordan shows are pathetic jokes (see his “weaponization” of government bust) but they are the Ohioan’s ticket to fame and fortune in MAGA world and its depraved leader appreciates the distraction between court appearances.

“Ohio. The Heart Of It All.” It really does capture the centrality and quantity of bad faith Ohio actors betraying the public trust to benefit themselves. The slogan fits our democratic decay.

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.

The Ohio Capital Journal is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to connecting Ohioans to their state government and its impact on their lives. The Capital Journal combines Ohio state government coverage with incisive investigative journalism, reporting on the consequences of policy, political insight and principled commentary.

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