Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is in trouble. He’s in full reelection mode, and nothing is going as planned. He figured he’d coast to a second term on his brand image as a “moderate” Republican ably leading the state. But the curtain has dropped on that façade. Sure, DeWine may still fool some in the national media with his cultivated political persona, but not Ohio voters. We just see an increasingly feckless politician firmly aligned with the partisan extremists in his party running the state into the ground.
We’re still waiting for DeWine to “do something” about the explosion of COVID cases in the state overwhelming our hospitals. But as the delta variant rips through Ohio — still ranked near the bottom nationwide in COVID vaccinations — and infected children fill up intensive care units, the governor sits on his hands. As radical Republican lawmakers, in an alternate universe oblivious to the delta surge, battle against mandates for life-saving (and pandemic-ending) vaccinations, indisputably in the common good, the state’s leader is silent.
As schools suffer widespread outbreaks among unmasked students, DeWine refuses to step in and do something to protect the vulnerable who cannot yet be vaccinated. It is abundantly clear that the governor wants to get reelected more than he wants lead. Otherwise, he’d be forcefully pushing back on right-wing legislators playing politics while a five-alarm emergency rages in the state. He’d be unequivocal about vetoing anything Statehouse Republicans pass that gives folks new ways to dodge vaccine mandates and infect others.
He’d be out front, countering the lunacy of the minority with leadership for the majority. And we’d cheer. He’d be standing up for all Ohioans, not quietly kowtowing to the few loudest. But the 74-year-old multi-millionaire, with a slew of state and federal elected offices behind him, won’t risk a backlash from the red hats in the base. He won’t mount a fortified offense to the extreme, damaging policies being foisted on Ohio. He won’t do something that compromises his relationship with the far right. Ambition trumps courage.
DeWine didn’t contest or legally challenge a power grab by pandering Republicans to seize his authority over public health decisions — even though he called the infringement on the balance of power unconstitutional and a serious threat to public health and safety. But instead of fighting to protect Ohioans from the obvious health implications of grandstanding politicians second-guessing science during a pandemic, DeWine took a pass.
Now he uses those legislated preemptions on his power to issue mealy-mouthed excuses for not mandating proven public safeguards to slow the spread of a virulent pathogen that has already killed 22,000 Ohioans and counting. People are dying, children are on ventilators, and DeWine won’t do something, insisting he’s not allowed to and besides, it’s not worth fighting it out in court. Why not? Lives are at stake. Whatever goodwill Ohio voters, of all political stripes, were willing to give the governor at the onset of the pandemic is gone.
DeWine picked winning over us. He picked partisan extremism over evenhanded stewardship in the public interest. He chose the same disingenuous posturing he copped on COVID with his vote on gerrymandered legislative districts that give built-in advantage to Republicans. A leader who truly honored the overwhelming will of voters for fair, competitive districts that represent the actual balance of statewide voters, would have rejected the opposite. But DeWine didn’t. All he did was concede that the unfair, uncompetitive, unrepresentative map he approved might be unconstitutional — as if that mitigated his allegiance to party over people.
A “moderate” Republican might balk at signing a bill with an anti-LGBTQ provision slipped in that allows discrimination in health care. But a governor in the extreme camp, like DeWine, was fine with allowing health professionals to refuse service to LGBTQ patients and others. Otherwise, he would have line-item vetoed the discriminatory clause denounced by the Human Rights Campaign as “threatening the medical well-being of more than 380,000 LGBTQ people in the state.” Instead, DeWine insisted that denying care or coverage to a one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the country was “not a problem.” Welcome to Ohio.
California responded to Ohio’s anti-LGBTQ legislation by banning state-funded travel to the state. How many others will also decide against coming to a state that enshrines discrimination in its laws? Not an appealing sell. The hardline extremism, that singled out individuals for prejudicial treatment because of who they are, made a mockery of DeWine’s ad campaign to promote “a progressive state.”
There is nothing progressive about Ohio’s leadership, from the wingnuts running the asylum in Columbus to the governor whose began his term with a regressive gas tax that hit working Ohioans hardest. DeWine ran to the extreme right on abortion, beating Texas to the buzzer with a nearly complete abortion ban (blocked as unconstitutional) and executive orders to require burials/cremations for fetal remains. He remained squarely in the extreme lane when — instead of following through on his promise to “do something” to curb gun violence after Dayton — he signed expanded gun rights laws vigorously opposed as dangerous by law enforcement but supported by (surprise!) the gun lobby.
Speaking of special interests, DeWine is knee-deep in the largest bribery scandal in Ohio history that involved the fleecing of Ohio ratepayers by influential utilities with help from Republican friends in high places. DeWine, in lockstep with party accomplices in the legislature, couldn’t sign HB6 — the bailout bill written for and by First Energy at the heart of the unparalleled corruption case — fast enough. This won’t end well for the governor, whose top lieutenants with close ties to First Energy have already slunk away.
Mike DeWine, unmasked as a moderate fraud unwilling to help the people of Ohio if it gets in the way of his career, is in trouble.
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.
Published with permission from the Ohio Capital Journal. Online www.ohiocapitaljournal.com.