Older white man with glasses

Mike DeWine

To your surprise, perhaps, my answer is an emphatic, unqualified NO. In this Busting Myths column, I will be schematic, but I am prepared to expand my understanding of both city and state in response to readers’ questions. For background, I refer you to my essays on DeWine, the state, and Ohio Republicans published in Columbus Free Press since September 2021, available on the website.

Is Mike DeWine actually a governor?

By “actually a governor,” I mean the following: Does the occupant of the Office of the Governor fulfill the duties of the elected senior administrator the State of Ohio? My answer is emphatically NO. Clues leap off the pages of his second State of the State Address on Mar. 22, in his fourth year in office. Supposedly the pandemic prevented 2020 and 2021 speeches, but it didn’t stop almost daily news conferences for most of the first year, or the State Legislature from meeting. (See Anna Staver and Mary Jane Sanese, “Police funding, mental health among Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s focus in State of the State.”)

What DeWine addresses and what he did not are revealing. His formulaic and self-promoting salutes to Ohio’s present and aspirational future—“The sun is coming up in Ohio. The wind is at our back, and together, we have the power to change the course of Ohio’s history”—are empty words. They ring as hollowly as his rhetorical support of the rights and welfare of Ukrainians but not of Ohioans.

Seeking praise for his proposed—but unapproved by the State Legislature—funding for police training runs into the wall of death built by DeWine’s signing expanded “stand-your-ground” laws and the permitless, no-training, open-carry bill. Both far exceed the text and the case law of the Second Amendment. Their approval, spurred by right-wing Republicans and the bankrupt NRA, fuels the already rising flames of Ohio’s levels of gun violence and homicide. Tragically, DeWine claims that his proposals represent “doubling down on our support of the police,” when his endorsement of guns flies in the face of the opposition of law enforcement (including the Fraternal Order of Police) and the judiciary.

Not surprisingly, DeWine devotes considerable time to praising his secret bidding and commitment of at least $2 billion for Intel’s proposed—but unplanned, unscheduled, and unbudgeted—aspirations to build between two and seven “fabs” for computer chip manufacturing in Licking County without environmental review or local buy-in. This nontransparent bidding is central to DeWine’s re-election campaign against two farther-right-wing primary opponents. The Columbus Dispatch observed, “DeWine used the project to bolster his image as a jobs-creating governor who should be elected again.” In his own words, “It’s a game-changer for our state and will have positive economic ripple effects across Ohio.” The known quantities and qualities of “Silicon Valley Heartland” do not accord with that campaign braggadocio. The remainder of DeWine’s campaign rhetoric is no more than icing on an unbaked cake.

Equally revealing is the Governor’s silence on the colossal failure of state governmental election redistricting. So far three (going on four) maps accepted by the Republican-dominated Redistricting Commission were ruled blatantly unconstitutional—that is, in violation of the laws that these politicians drafted and approved—by the State Supreme Court. DeWine sits on the commission and voted for the illegal maps each time (as his Supreme Court Justice son refused to recuse himself from ruling on his father’s actions). The fate of primary elections scheduled for early May is highly uncertain. DeWine’s silence echoes loudly.

Despite speaking in this forum for the first time since 2019, DeWine mentioned Covid only twice in one hour. Thanking doctors, nurses, retail workers, teachers, and “so many, many others,” DeWine never mentions the near total collapse of the state’s initially strong response after Dr. Amy Acton resigned under great duress in June 2020.

The state’s poor showing absolutely and relative to other states in all indicators, from cases to hospitalizations, deaths, vaccination rates—and the Department of Public Health’s poor record on data, testing, messaging, compromised precautionary mandates, and failure to counter very high rates of resistance within the Legislature and the public —all cried out for comment. They received none.

The underlying causes of both—the state legislature majority of right-wing (not conservative) ideologues and anti-constitutional, statewide elected officials—go unmentioned. Along with his primary challengers, this obstructionism and threats to override a gubernatorial veto pushed DeWine quietly into the corner from which he has never emerged.

Nor does DeWine mention the never-ending flow of exposures of confirmed and alleged corruption not only in the State Legislature but throughout state departments.

Finally, expectedly, and confirmingly, in his outpouring of state and personal hype, Governor DeWine does not mention Ohio’s low and declining rankings in almost all indicators among the states across the nation. Nor does he mention still-unfulfilled 2018 campaign and 2019 State of the State promises, including racial disparities in infant mortality and life expectancy, and gun safety.

All of these indicate a refusal to govern the state of Ohio.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History and Ohio Eminent Scholar at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history. His Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies is forthcoming. His essays appear in Inside Higher Education, Times Higher Education, Washington Monthly, Academe, Publishers Weekly, Columbus Free Press, and other outlets.