With supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, control of all five statewide executive offices and a hold on six of seven seats on the Supreme Court, it’s no wonder Ohio Republicans are behaving badly these days.
Influenced by tea party zealots, they are lurching further to the right because, in part, it’s wide open. Democrats are unable to stop them; their only weapon is the referendum, used against Senate Bill 5, an anti-union measure, in 2011.
The other part of the story, being played out in the budget bill and other measures, is that legislators and the governor are abandoning the middle ground because they have to — to curry favor with right-wingers.
John Kasich, assured of his party’s nomination to run for a second term as governor next year, must be cautious; both President Obama and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election in Ohio last year. In contrast, state legislators, who are in safe, gerrymandered districts, must be wary of challengers from the right, a dynamic that affects Kasich indirectly.
All who are up for election next year understand that corporations can spend as much as they want to on a candidate’s behalf.
So, in the budget bill, Republican legislators have rejected a Medicaid expansion (proposed by Kasich) that would, under the dreaded Affordable Care Act, bring care to some 275,000 poor Ohioans, with Washington picking up 100 percent of the cost for the first three years, then scaling down gradually to 90 percent by 2020. The expansion would bring $13 billion into Ohio seven years. (A separate bill to expand Medicaid has been introduced in the Ohio House, but its future is uncertain.)
The legislature is also poised to reconfigure federal funding to make sure Planned Parenthood is way, way down the list, likely to block some 100,000 women from services such as birth control and cancer screenings, all based on ideological arguments against an organization that devotes only about 3 percent of its budget to abortions.
It is also likely that some form of a tax cut will be included in the budget, either a further reduction in personal income tax rates or a tax break for small businesses, despite strong evidence that tax cuts are an ineffective economic stimulus that provides the most benefit to the wealthiest. (Those wealthy Ohioans, do, however, tend to fund conservatives’ political campaigns.)
Meanwhile, the legislature rammed through a bill last week that would prohibit the state auditor from looking at the books of JobsOhio, Kasich’s private, nonprofit economic development agency, even though it is funded with millions in public money, from the state’s liquor profits.
Well, it could be worse.
The Ohio House briefly considered an amendment to the budget bill that would have limited sex education in schools to promoting abstinence, with no references allowed to human sexual activity. Teachers would have been fined up to $5,000.
Republican Reps. Kristina Roegner of Hudson and Ron Maag of Lebanon have revived the fight over Senate Bill 5 by introducing legislation to make Ohio a right-to-work state. Fortunately (for Republicans), wiser heads are prevailing.
Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican and chairman of the House Manufacturing & Workforce Development Committee, held a required hearing, then said no more would be held in his committee.
Schuring said that in over 20 years in the legislature, he has never had a request from the owner of a unionized business for a right-to-work bill, a polite way of saying right to work reflects a political agenda. Meanwhile, Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, has said he, too, has no interest in right to work.
Instead of Republicans behaving badly, Ohio badly needs more balance in its government.
What would help? A constitutional amendment to create more competitive political districts would. So would campaign finance reform.
An end to term limits, which have short-circuited the legislature’s institutional memory and its ability to grasp the benefits of compromise in the long run, would help, too, and so would a better organized Ohio Democratic Party.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.