By The Associated Press
Cleveland Plain Dealer. June 29, 2023.
Editorial: Householder: Broken Government – racketeering sentencings underscore why Issue 1 to stifle citizens’ anti-corruption powers has to fail
Former House Speaker Larry Householder, once among Ohio’s most powerful politicians, could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison tomorrow for his central role in the FirstEnergy/House Bill 6 bribery and racketeering scandal. It’s the largest instance of public corruption in 220 years of Ohio statehood.
Given Householder’s age — he’s 64 — a 20-year sentence could amount to life imprisonment. But in tempering justice with mercy, the sentence U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black metes out should send a clear and unmistakable message that public corruption in Ohio, from the Statehouse on down, must stop. Now.
Still, the sentencing of Householder and of co-conspirator Matt Borges, former head of the Ohio Republican Party, who will be sentenced Friday — and who also faces up to 20 years, although prosecutors have asked for five to eight — is not all that’s at stake in this case.
Not by a long shot.
If not for the federal investigation, the vast HB 6 skein of interlocked political conspiracies, bribes, dirty tricks and dark-money groups would likely never have been uncovered — or the hidden sources of more than $60 million in dark-money bribes.
In a four-step scheme, Householder first got Republican allies elected to the Ohio House; got them to elect him speaker, then got HB 6 passed — those last two, be it noted, with the help of votes from Ohio House and state Senate Democrats — then warded off a bid by voter-petitioners to overturn HB 6 in a statewide referendum. All with the covert help of Akron-based FirstEnergy and dark money.
The apparent ease with which all that was done has to change. Our editorial series looking at the exposed, overlapping flaws in Ohio utility regulations, campaign laws, lobbying disclosure requirements, and dark money loopholes is titled, “Householder: Broken Government.” Transparency in government equates to empowerment of the people.
Yet, also empowering Ohioans are constitutional provisions adopted more than a century ago to ensure that citizens themselves can act as a brake on Statehouse corruption.
That 1912 Constitution gives Ohio citizens the power to initiate and adopt constitutional amendments by reasonable signature-gathering rules and a simple majority vote. The aim then: to thwart the legislative inbreeding, pay-to-play cabals and disdain for what the public wants or needs that has today been at the root of the Householder/FirstEnergy/HB 6 scandal.
It is truly ironic that, a month and a half after Householder and Borges are to be sentenced, Ohioans will go to the polls for an Aug. 8 special election greased by political insiders who seek to degrade that very citizen-initiated constitutional amendment power.
Misleading and biased ballot language tries to hide Issue 1’s true purpose. But make no mistake: There is a straight line from a Statehouse where the HB 6 dodges that allowed special-interest money to prevail are still at play to Issue 1 on the Aug. 8 ballot, seeking to stifle citizens’ ability to counter a corrupt General Assembly.
Any fair-minded assessment of what Householder, Borges and their co-conspirators wrought must take note of the many involved individuals never charged in the case, many of them still holding positions of power. As cleveland.com’s Jake Zuckerman noted in a recent overview, Householder and Borges were found guilty of racketeering conspiracy for taking bribes that no one was indicted for paying.
Three other men and the dark-money group Generation Now also were indicted in the case; two men pleaded guilty and have yet to be sentenced; a third died by suicide. Generation Now also pleaded guilty.
At this stage, none of the utility officials who apparently authorized FirstEnergy’s funding of the HB 6 scandal has been charged with any wrongdoing. In a deferred prosecution agreement, as part of which it agreed to pay a $230 million penalty, FirstEnergy admitted bribing the onetime chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Sam Randazzo. Randazzo, appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine, denies wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged with any.
It appears that the federal investigation is continuing, and it should — root and branch. Federal investigators need to follow the trail wherever it leads, inside or outside the Statehouse.
Meanwhile, voters should prioritize voting “no” on the Aug. 8 ballot, to defend their 111-year-old citizen constitutional amendment powers. And the General Assembly needs to show the courage to toughen Ohio’s lobbying-disclosure and campaign-finance laws. Otherwise, there could well be another affair like HB 6, and another, and another, to further trash Ohio’s reputation and embarrass its people.
Toledo Blade. June 30, 2023.
Editorial: OSU’s legal loss
The Ohio State University and Federal District Judge Michael Watson got whacked hard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
The nation’s top court refused to hear Ohio State’s argument that the statute of limitations had expired for hundreds of victims of sexual abuse at the hands of former OSU doctor Richard Strauss.
Strauss was a staff physician at OSU from 1978 to 1998. The abuse allegations principally center on mandatory physicals for Ohio State athletes conducted by the doctor who took his own life in 2005.
As early as the late 1970s, complaints of sexualized physicals were known to OSU, but the university took no action. In 2018, Ohio State finally investigated the claims, found fault with administrative response, and paid $60 million to settle claims with nearly 300 victims.
But, hundreds of other victims were shut-out of the settlement when Judge Watson ruled in favor of the university’s contention that the statute of limitations had expired and the Strauss victims no longer had standing to sue Ohio State.
Judge Watson’s ruling was overturned by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the statute of limitations started in 2018 when Ohio State finally stopped covering up the abuse and revealed what had happened.
Rather than accept the appeals court ruling that smacked down Judge Watson, Ohio State chose to take their case to the Supreme Court, which ignored their request and upholds the 6th Circuit ruling that Ohio State is vulnerable to lawsuits over Strauss.
It’s hard to tell whether Ohio State or Judge Watson is revealed to have the worst judgment. The university was foolish to think a dubious decision from a highly conflicted federal judge would pass muster with the Supreme Court.
Judge Watson was reckless to stay on the Ohio State case, despite a business relationship between his wife and the university and his own status as an OSU alumnus.
Ohio State got a sweetheart decision in Columbus from a political attorney put into a federal judicial post by patrons expecting exactly the sort of hometown ruling he delivered.
Judge Watson tarnished his professional reputation and Ohio State was unwise to expect the nation’s top court to sanction a ruling that would encourage cover-ups of illegality to run out the clock and avoid damages.
Now Ohio State will join the ranks of Michigan State, Michigan, USC, and UCLA, Big Ten universities who’ve paid nearly $2.7 billion to settle sexual abuse claims based on institutional negligence.
Ohio State is not special in the eyes of the law, except in a conflicted federal courtroom in Columbus. The Supreme Court got it exactly right.
Youngstown Vindicator. June 29, 2023.
Editorial: Maturity cannot be lacking in new police officers
Industries across the state are facing labor shortages that have led some to come up with creative solutions. One idea for law enforcement agencies may be a little too creative.
Senate Bill 53 is now being considered by the Ohio House of Representatives, and would lower the minimum hiring age for police officers from 21 to 18 years old. State Sens. Michele Reynolds, R-Canal Winchester, and Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, co-sponsored the bill.
It does not require all law enforcement agencies to lower the standard, but it gives them the option. Home rule already allows some municipalities to hire younger, according to a report by WCMH. The Columbus Division of Police can hire those as young as 20, and the Akron Police Department minimum age is 20.5.
Each of those agencies has decided it is comfortable hiring those a year younger than the statewide minimum age. But 18? That could open some dangerous doors. Ohio’s Fraternal Order of Police is opposed to the measure, according to WCMH. State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, is, too. He is a veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department and is worried about handing an 18-year-old a gun — and all the responsibility that comes with it.
“We do not believe a teenager can be a police officer,” said the FOP’s director of government affairs Mike Weinman. “We fear these officers, who can’t purchase a beer, will be left to fend for themselves to handle challenging calls that could expose them to second-guessing and trauma.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And perhaps an 18-year-old is old enough to begin training to become an officer in a few years. But think about the 18-year-olds in your life. They may be willing, but are they ready for the burden that comes with serving and protecting the rest of us?
Surely the leaders of individual law enforcement agencies would do their best to choose only those young candidates they believe are ready for the job. But they would be taking a tremendous risk in doing so. Lawmakers must ask themselves: Is the filling of a few vacancies worth that risk?
Chronicle-Telegram. June 29, 2023.
Editorial: Redistricting questions remain despite court ruling
Democracy dodged a bullet this week.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision handed down Tuesday, wisely rejected the fringe “independent state legislature theory,” which argues that only state legislatures have the power to oversee federal elections, including drawing congressional districts.
Had the court blessed the idea, it essentially would have allowed state legislatures to gerrymander congressional districts at will and barred state courts from interfering.
The case centered on congressional districts drawn by Republican state lawmakers in North Carolina. Naturally those maps overly benefited the GOP. The state’s Supreme Court, at the time controlled by Democrats, struck down the maps as unconstitutional.
A similar dispute has played out in Ohio, where voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that required state lawmakers to draw a congressional map that represented the political breakdown of Ohio voters.
If the General Assembly couldn’t reach an agreement on a map, the job of drawing it fell to the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which, like the Ohio House and Senate, is dominated by Republicans. The commission also was tasked with drawing state legislative maps reflecting Ohio’s political makeup under a separate amendment to the Ohio Constitution that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2015.
Republicans ignored both amendments and drew up maps for congressional and state legislative districts that overly favored their party. A bipartisan majority of justices on the Ohio Supreme Court repeatedly ruled those maps unconstitutional, and Republicans essentially ignored the court’s orders to comply with the Constitution.
The result was that last year’s elections were held using unconstitutional maps. Not surprisingly, they left the GOP in overwhelming control of the Statehouse and Ohio’s congressional delegation.
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and then-Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, took the case dealing with the congressional map to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their argument was the independent state legislature theory.
Given that the U.S. Supreme Court’s North Carolina decision dealt with very similar issues, it’s a pretty good bet that Ohio’s case will be dismissed, as it should be.
Nevertheless, potential problems remain.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, concluded that the Constitution’s Elections Clause “does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of judicial review.”
However, as several legal scholars have pointed out, the decision leaves open the possibility that state courts could be blocked from intervening, but under exactly what circumstances it didn’t specify. As a result, the limits of state courts’ power almost certainly will be tested routinely in gerrymandering and other cases dealing with how elections are run.
The more immediate problem for Ohio is that the Supreme Court decision doesn’t change all that much on the ground here.
Whether or not Huffman and Cupp bought into the independent state legislature theory, it wasn’t the only reason they appealed the Ohio Supreme Court decision invalidating their congressional district map.
They were trying to wait out then-Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, whose age prevented her from seeking another term on the court. O’Connor, a Republican, had joined with the seven-member court’s three Democrats in declaring unconstitutional the various congressional and state legislative maps.
O’Connor is now off the court. Her replacement as chief justice is Sharon Kennedy, a Republican, who, as a justice on the court, ruled that the Republican-drawn maps were valid. Joe Deters was named to Kennedy’s old seat by Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who had a hand in approving the unconstitutional legislative and congressional maps.
The three Democrats remain, but they’ll be outnumbered by Kennedy, Deters and fellow Republican Justices Pat Fischer and Pat DeWine, who also voted to upheld the gerrymandered maps. (It’s also worth remembering that Pat DeWine is the governor’s son and has refused to recuse himself from the redistricting cases despite his father’s involvement.)
It would come as no surprise if the GOP foursome approved whatever gerrymandered maps Republicans send their way.
There’s also the question of whether Republicans will even bother trying to draw new maps in time for the next round of congressional and state legislative elections in 2024. (Republicans are pushing a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would make future amendments harder to pass. They’re worried in part about future amendments that would curtail gerrymandering.)
Whatever happens, the maps used next year will most likely be overly tilted to favor Republican candidates.
That’s not what Ohio voters wanted, but thanks to the GOP’s lock on state power, what voters want isn’t something Republicans need to worry much about.