July 24, 2023: This week’s editorials from Ohio newspapers


By The Associated Press

Toledo Blade. July 19, 2023

Editorial: Finish the job

Regarding the nuke bailout bribery scheme at the Statehouse, the U.S. Department of Justice has only done half the job and if left to stand will serve as evidence of a divisive double standard in America.

Exactly two years ago (“FirstEnergy to pay $230 million in bribery probe,” July 22, 2021) prosecutors announced a deferred prosecution agreement with FirstEnergy. The giant utility admitted participation in the conspiracy to bail out two financially failing nuclear plants, lock in rates at the highest possible point, and abolish a required rate renewal in 2024.

The $61 million bribery scheme, concealed by use of a political nonprofit 501(c)4, produced legislation worth $1.3 billion to FirstEnergy. Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and ex-state GOP Chairman Matt Borges were recently convicted and sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy.

Householder is appealing his 20-year prison sentence and Borges is appealing his five-year sentence. Both men portrayed their activities for FirstEnergy as “business as usual” at the Capitol and each asked how bribe takers could be charged if no one was accused of paying the bribes.

FirstEnergy’s agreement with the government admitting the payments brought a $230 million fine, punishing the shareholders. The agreement also made clear the First Energy executives who authorized the bribes were not protected from prosecution.

And yet, three years after the initial arrests and two years after the corporate plea agreement, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker has brought no charges against former FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones or Executive Vice President Michael Dowling, the executives who authorized the conspiracy.

Nor has former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo been charged despite the two-year-old admission from FirstEnergy of a $4.3 million payment for assistance as PUCO Chairman for all of the conspiracy’s economic goals.

Mr. Randazzo, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Dowling all say they have done nothing wrong but if that’s true, the $230 million fine paid by FirstEnergy, for Mr. Jones and Mr. Dowling’s activities, was just a Justice Department shakedown.


Columbus Dispatch. July 24, 2023.

Editorial: OSU president scandal, unnamed city police show disregard of public accountability

Columbus Dispatch journalists reported about the power struggle between Kristina Johnson and Les Wexner — Ohio’s richest resident — that led to Johnson’s decision to step down as president of this state’s largest university.

Clues were dropped, but details about why Johnson resigned from her post as Ohio State University’s president were never fully disclosed by the players intimately involved.

We now know why no one talked thanks to diligent young journalists from OSU’s student-run newspaper and public records.

Johnson signed an agreement that she would lose $927,000 in compensation if she spoke ill about the university.

Members of Ohio State’s Board of Trustees agreed not to disparage Johnson at the risk of lawsuit.

How The Lantern and public records let in the light

More than seven months after Johnson announced her resignation, Jessica Langer — an Ohio State graduate and former editor-in-chief of The Lantern — successfully beat a legal challenge in which OSU cited attorney-client privilege in its denial of releasing public documents between Ohio State, its board of trustees and Johnson related to her departure.

Like many Columbus-area journalists, including those from the Dispatch, Langer sought and was at first denied “any contract, memorandum of understanding, non-disclosure agreement or other signed document.”

But she persisted to shine the light.

“I felt like this was right for the public to know. As a public university, transparency should be at its core,” Langer told Dispatch higher education reporter Sheridan Hendrix.

The university’s attempt to keep the agreement from the pubic is alarming, but not at all surprising.

It is yet another example of attempts — many of them slick and shameful — to keep the public’s records from the public.

As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, wrote in 1914, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

That is as true now as it was in Brandeis’ day, but there is always a fight to keep the light shining.

Two recent controversies show setbacks in the fight for transparency.

$440 million in public opioid settlement money

It is now far harder for the public to track how the money awarded to Ohio from three major drug distributors Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued for their part in the opioid crisis that has claimed far too many lives.

A provision in the newly passed state budget made OneOhio Recovery Foundation a private agency exempt from public records and meetings laws even though our attorney general will still represent it.

The change came on the heels of a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court ruling that said the then-public agency charged with distributing $440 million in public opioid settlement money must make its records available to the public.

Police officers shielded under law meant to protect crime victims

Even more disturbing, the Columbus Division of Police and Columbus City Attorney’s Office used the recently enacted Marsy’s Law to justify why they will not disclose the names of eight police officers involved in a highway shootout that left one suspect dead and a Columbus police officer injured.

In a statement, the division claims the officers are victims and they have no other choice but to conceal the officers’ identities under the law.

“We want to be clear: this was not a choice made by the Columbus Division of Police. It is a state law by which we (and all other agencies) are required to abide and uphold. In fact, this was a concern CPD raised with state lawmakers,” the division says in a recent statement.

“A ‘victim’ is any person against whom a criminal offense is committed or who is directly and proximately harmed by the commission of the offense. ‘Criminal offense’ means an alleged act or omission committed by a person that is punishable by incarceration and is not eligible to be disposed of by the traffic violations bureau. There is nothing in the Ohio Constitution, or the ORC/Marsy’s Law, that excludes a police officer crime victim from the definition of ‘victim.’”

Columbus is not the only municipality where this is playing out.

The Florida Supreme Court is considering an argument between Tallahassee and the union representing its police officers. The union argues that the identities of officers who killed suspects should be kept secret under that state’s version of Marsy’s Law.

The law is in honor of Marsalee “Marsy” Ann Nicholas, a Cincinnati-born, California college student who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend on Nov. 30, 1983.

The Ohio General Assembly could and should have clarified matters to protect the public’s right to know.

Ohio’s version of the law was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2017 as a constitutional amendment.

Marsy’s Law aims to ensure crime victims be notified of important hearings and given certain privacy. The Ohio General Assembly passed, revised and codified the law that went into effect in April 2023. Before lawmakers changed the law in May, crime victims had to “opt in.”

Despite what the General Assembly did or did not do, it is clear this law was meant to protect crime victims not conceal the names of police officers charged with the critical duty of upholding our laws.

The city’s application of the law disregards the public’s right to know.

By refusing to release the people’s records, Columbus civil rights attorney Sean Walton Jr. says the city is undercutting transparency and police accountability.

“It is not quite logical how they are applying it,” he told a member of this editorial board. “They are using it conveniently to shield information from the public.”

Suspect names are still released.

Walton says it will be harder for journalists, lawyers and other members of the public to track officer behavior and spot bad actors.

Police officers do not have the same risks of exposure or have the anonymity a crime victim might.

They are re public servants whose identities are known to the public.

There are already laws on the books that rightly protect police officers’ home addresses and other personal information.

The only protection the city stance adds is that officers be kept from public scrutiny.

These recent developments should concern all truth-seeking Ohioans who believe the sunshine of public scrutiny is our best disinfectant when it comes to corruption, misconduct and other abuses of power.

There is a reason dirty deeds are done in the dark and so many are so eager to turn out the lights.


Cleveland Plain Dealer. July 23, 2023.

Editorial: General Assembly’s move to keep OneOhio Recovery Foundation’s actions private was both slapdash and suspect

On May 11, Ohio’s often split Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that Ohio’s public records (“sunshine”) law applies to the OneOhio Recovery Foundation that, in time, will distribute as much as $1 billion in public money to promote treatment for and recovery from drug abuse.

Then, on June 30 — in words state senators had tucked into a 6,196-page budget bill — the General Assembly overruled the court, saying the public records law didn’t apply.

And not just the public records laws, the Columbus Dispatch reported: The budget’s wording, according to the newspaper, “says OneOhio Foundation and its 19 regional boards aren’t public entities under Ohio’s ethics, bribery or open records statutes.”

The foundation’s job is to distribute legal settlements Ohio has won or will win by suing manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs. According to Ohio’s Health Department, “(Overdoses are) now the leading cause of death for individuals under 50 … (Ohio) ranks third on the list of states with the highest rates of opioid deaths.”

In defending the legislature’s exemption of OneOhio from the public records act and allied laws, Sen. Rob McColley, a Napoleon Republican, a legislative member of OneOhio’s board, told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “It (OneOhio) was never intended to be a public agency.”

Maybe so, but a memorandum of agreement between Gov, Mike DeWine and Attorney General David Yost, both Republicans, says the “Foundation … and any … entities under (its) supervision shall operate in a transparent manner. Meetings shall be open, and documents shall be public to the same extent they would be if the Foundation was a public entity.”

Yet despite that agreement, DeWine chose not to veto the exemption the legislature stuck in the budget bill when he had the chance to do so.

And based on the board’s duties, the Supreme Court said in May that “the state and local governments have delegated to the Foundation the task of spending public money … The Foundation is the functional equivalent of a public office and subjecting it to the requirements of the Public Records Act is consistent with the act’s policy of governmental openness.”

Of the OneOhio board’s 29 members, 10 are chosen by state officials and 19 are chosen by local governments. Board members receive no salaries but may be reimbursed for travel expenses.

The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case was Granville-based Harm Reduction Ohio, “a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that supports drug policies based on science, health, compassion, and human rights. (and is) the largest distributor of naloxone in Ohio.” Naloxone is a drug that reverses drug overdoses.

Sparking the lawsuit was OneOhio’s 2022 refusal to let Dennis Cauchon, a former reporter who is the founder and president of Harm Reduction, attend OneOhio’s first board meeting. He subsequently filed a request with OneOhio for certain records. Harm Reduction alleged OneOhio didn’t respond.

Any limitations that the General Assembly places on the public records act are automatically suspect, given Ohio’s less-than-stellar reputation for good government. And the legislature’s rush to judgment hardly suggests any real thought was given to the budget amendment other than by those who crafted it.

Underlying the legislative frenzy to, in effect, privatize OneOhio may be some Statehouse history. In 1998, Ohio won a huge settlement from tobacco companies for the Medicaid costs of tobacco-related illnesses.

But in 2008, during the administration of Democratic then-Gov. Ted Strickland, the General Assembly took $230 million of the tobacco money to spend on a so-called “jobs” program and dissolved the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation that had controlled the funds.

The Prevention and Control foundation had been created by the legislature, and its board members and director were required to file state ethics statements. (OneOhio was created by articles of incorporation filed with the secretary of state.)

The legislation to, in effect, privatize OneOhio required thorough consideration by the General Assembly, not the slapdash procedure legislators followed.

There’s no evidence of impropriety by OneOhio, and no reason to presume there will be any impropriety among people dedicating themselves to the commendable task of promoting recovery from drug abuse — a true public service.

Still, thanks to the budget amendment, chances are dimmer than otherwise for detecting any questionable actions that might arise. After all, a billion dollars is a billion dollars. And the Statehouse is the Statehouse.


Youngstown Vindicator. July 24, 2023.

Editorial: Vote early or be ready to go to polls Aug. 8

With early voting underway ahead of the Aug. 8 special election to decide Ohio Issue 1, significant voter turnout will be essential to ensuring such an important decision is not made for all of us by a tiny percentage of Buckeye State voters.

County boards of elections have done their best to send out postcards and other reminders to voters if polling place locations have changed. Check your mail, or, call your local board of elections to be certain you know where to vote.

Voters in Trumbull County may check their polling location by visiting boe.co.trumbull.oh.gov/ or calling 330-369-4050.

Mahoning County voters may do the same by going to vote.mahoningcountyoh.gov/ or calling 330-783-2474.

Columbiana County voters may get this information by logging on at columbiana.boe.ohio.gov/ or calling 330-424-1448.


Elyria Chronicle Telegram. July 18, 2023.

Editorial: GOP Senate battle heats up

Ohio Democrats were oddly excited about Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s announcement Monday that he would run for U.S. Senate next year.

“The Republican ‘slugfest’ for Ohio’s Senate seat is shaping up to be another long, contentious battle that will leave whoever emerges damaged in the eyes of Ohio voters,” Reeves Oyster, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said in a statement.

There were similar thoughts last year when J.D. Vance was battling it out with fellow Republicans in the primary over who would be the party’s standard bearer following the retirement of then-U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati.

It was a brutal primary in which most of the GOP candidates fell all over themselves vying for the endorsement of former President Donald Trump while taking potshots at each other.

In the end, Vance, of Cincinnati, won Trump’s endorsement and the primary. Whatever damage Vance sustained in the primary — he also nearly disappeared from the campaign trail for a spell afterward — didn’t appear to have much of a lingering effect.

He beat then-U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, handily in November, in part because national Republicans poured money into his briefly foundering campaign. Vance also benefited from the news coverage of the nastiness of the campaign, which boosted the public’s awareness of him ahead of the general election.

Given the political right turn Ohio voters have made in recent years, even the sustained exposure of Vance’s more extreme views, including his embrace of Trump’s falsehoods about voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, didn’t torpedo his candidacy.

All those dynamics could play out again this year, even if LaRose and his primary rivals, state Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, and Westlake businessman Bernie Moreno, spend the coming months blasting each other to rhetorical pieces.

Vance had hoped to avoid a repeat of the infighting that consumed the 2022 primary by endorsing Moreno back in May, but that didn’t deter LaRose.

Indeed, LaRose entered the race in a better position than Dolan and Moreno.

According to an East Carolina University poll released June 30, LaRose was leading his GOP rivals with 17 percent of Republican voters backing his candidacy. And that was before he had officially entered the race. Dolan had 14 percent support, while Moreno had 7 percent.

Part of that is name recognition. LaRose was a two-term state senator before winning his first statewide race to become secretary of state in 2018. He easily won reelection last year. He’s also been front and center in the campaign to pass Issue 1 in a special election Aug. 8. Issue 1 is a GOP-backed proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would make passing future amendments harder.

LaRose also hasn’t been what one would call subtle about his intention to run for the Senate. He’s been teasing it for months and has gone out his way to cozy up to the conservative and MAGA elements he believes will be key to a winning GOP coalition.

Dolan, too, has a built-in name advantage that Moreno lacks.

In addition to being a sitting state senator and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Dolan ran for U.S. Senate last year and finished third, a decent showing considering he campaigned as a relative moderate and was the only GOP candidate to flat-out reject Trump’s lies. Dolan’s family also owns the Cleveland Guardians.

Moreno, by contrast, entered the 2020 GOP Senate primary, but dropped out after having a conversation with Trump. He might pick up Trump’s endorsement this time around, but that’s not guaranteed.

Nor is it certain that Republican voters would follow a recommendation from Trump, given the poor showing of many Trump-endorsed candidates during last year’s midterms.

It’s also worth noting that both Dolan and Moreno can afford to pour part of their personal fortunes into their campaigns. LaRose isn’t independently wealthy, so he’ll be more reliant on donors.

Meanwhile, the man all the Republicans hope to beat, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, is running unopposed in his party’s primary and was narrowly leading Dolan, LaRose and Moreno in the East Carolina University poll.

That could, of course, change, but Brown remains a formidable politician despite the shifting political ground in Ohio. Most prognosticators have rated the race a toss-up.

But it’s not a long shot to expect the GOP contenders to go after each other.

Moreno’s campaign got the ball rolling Monday with a statement calling LaRose and Brown “career politicians.” The statement also accused LaRose of having “taken his eye of the ball in his attempt to climb the political ladder.”

That was probably tame compared to what’s to come.

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