Politics written on a chalkboard

On Columbus City Council 

I’ve chosen not to follow the mini-election next week very closely. On the one hand, none of the candidates are compelling to me. None are on the level of the present leading councilors like Shayla Favor and Elizabeth Brown, for example. 

But, on the other hand, I try not to follow such “elections” because of the fundamentally undemocratic foundations of Columbus’ City Council and the disorganization and opaqueness of Columbus’ city government in general. A full explanation would require a lengthy essay in itself.  

For reasons that remain unclear and undiscussed, Columbus retains an at-large, openly elected City Council. This denies all citizens of their democratic and constitutional right to direct representation. The recent shift to one councilor in a specified geographic district is manifestly negated by the maintenance of at large elections. It is little more than a shell-game. 

The only explanation I have heard is that the city has avoided wards and direct representation because of the falsehood that wards promote corruption. That allegation dates from the 1870s and 1880s. It was not only wrong then but it was a xenophobic attack on urban immigrant populations, European whites (but often Catholics) at that time. 

Columbus City Council’s foundations are almost 150 years out of date, exceeding its zoning codes only 70 years out of date. 

And then there is the inexplicable and dishonest Issue 7 falsely seeking City and taxpayer support for supposed “green energy.” No one seems to know how it gained a place on the ballot. In Columbus in 2021? Voters must say NO! 

On the absence, silence, and partisan politics within the Ohio State Democratic Party 

The question raised for me concerns the State Democratic Party’s secretive decision to engage in joint fund-raising for one Democratic candidate—long-time party presence Tim Ryan—in the U.S. senatorial primary and general election campaign, and not the other, Morgan Harper. To my mind, Harper is better informed and more articulate than U.S. Representative Ryan. 

On hearing of the Party’s action, I immediately emailed the Democratic Party of Ohio the following (Tues., 10/19/2021, 6:39 PM, as yet unanswered: 

I challenge you to respond. Neither the Party nor any of your endorsed candidates has ever responded to my outreach, except Sherrod Brown, not Ryan, Whaley, Russo, others 

You are silent, disorganized and undemocratic. Most recently, you have established joint fund-raising with only one of two viable candidates for the open Ohio US Senate seat. You are supporting without any input from Democratic voters, a party regular. Ryan has no policy positions and is not a compelling speaker. 

In favoring Ryan before the primary, you are not only playing partisan politics within the party but discriminating against a highly qualified and respected black woman. 

Who is making these undemocratic decisions with no input from the rank and file? 

Do you have the sense and courage to answer me? I will support individual Democratic candidates but NOT this party. 

Up to press time, I had received neither acknowledgement nor response. I expect neither. 

Not quite two months ago, I published this letter to the editor in the Toledo Blade, Aug. 29, 2021 

Where is the Ohio Democratic Party? 

Where is the Ohio Democratic Party? Commentators like me address Ohio’s unusual severe gerrymandering and the outpouring of partisan, often dark-money and questionably legal campaign contributions for the right-wing Republican dominance in the state. This is certainly true. 

But there is another reason: the seldom discussed absence of the state Democratic Party. To speak for myself first: I am literally bombarded with emails and postal mailings (despite the failings of USPS) for the national Democratic Party (in many different forms), progressive advocacy groups (MoveOn and CommonCause, for example), and more traditional groups like the ACLU. I have never heard from the Democratic Party of Ohio. I receive mailings, including personal notes, from only one elected Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown. 

I have attempted to contact the state party and reached out to candidates ranging from Tim Ryan and Nan Whaley to District 15’s Allison Russo. I have never received a response. 

Where is the Ohio Democratic Party? 

You also ask me about what I see as MAGA influence in Ohio state government. A full response would require a book. Let me begin to identify some of the direct and indirect connections.

Gov.  Mike DeWine—refuses to acknowledge Ohio’s poor performance in responding to the pandemic. Because of his obvious fears of being vetoed by his own Republican Party and fear of his primary challenger, he refuses to support state vaccination and mask mandates—ignoring reputable public health advice. Contradictorily, he urges other bodies in the state to mandate them! He gleefully indulges in grandstanding PR stunts like VAX-A-MILLION and VAX-A-STUDENT, and dishonestly claims with no actual evidence that his lotteries have an effect. And most recently, he contradictorily supports the right-wing dominated state Republican legislators’ unconstitutional campaign against teaching document inclusive history about race. 

On DeWine and AG Dave Yost, I sent this so far unpublished letter to the editor to several Ohio newspapers about two weeks ago. 

DeWine, Yost trip badly over race in Ohio schools 

Dear Gov. DeWine and AG Yost: 

Open your eyes and pull your heads out of Lake Erie. Learn before you speak, and familiarize yourselves with the law. 

Your recent statements regarding teaching about race in Ohio schools are unacceptable and ill serve your constituents. First, you ignorantly follow the right-wing’s national campaign to confuse ordinary teaching about race, racial relationships, and slavery in history and civics classes with the legal studies field and law school courses in critical race theory. They are not the same

Second, critical race theory is not taught in K-12 schools, anywhere. 

Third, the need to teach an inclusive and complete American history and civics is not debatable. It is one of the foundations for the maturing of the young, and the educated citizenship required for a functioning democracy. 

Fourth, all efforts to “ban” teaching about race—which you support on most days—are an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment free speech rights of both teachers and students. 

Fifth, the alleged fear that inclusive education might lead to “divisiveness,” that you both mention, is baseless and a false issue. For DeWine, your fear of “divisiveness” illogically contradicts your endorsement of teaching the “good and the bad” and leads to endorsing a “ban” on a subject that’s not taught. For Yost, your confusion stops short of that point. To the contrary, recent polling reported by the nonpartisan American Historical Association indicates that 77% of all persons surveyed agree that it’s acceptable to teach “uncomfortable history,” even if that causes “discomfort.” There is surprisingly little difference in these survey results by race, ethnicity, gender, political party, education, or age. 

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted—so often quiet, Husted misunderstanding basic economics. This has been especially glaring with respect to his acceptance of the undocumented and inaccurate argument that extended unemployment benefits contribute directly to shortages of job-seekers and unfilled jobs. This is patently false. To begin, it ignorance the quality, safety, low pay, and lack of benefits for most unfilled jobs, restaurant and shop workers for example; major safety concerns; and lack of child care.  

Husted also continues to refer xenophobically to the “Wuhan virus.” He ignores the clear recommendations of the CDC, the WHO, and almost all reputable health and medical experts, referring only to an off-hand and admittedly unverified comment by former CDC Director Robert Redfield. When asked for an apology by his Asian-American neighbors and constituents, he declined.  

AG Dave Yost—AG Yost, as I argue above, and in other letters to the editor, has a surprisingly casual relationship with the U.S. Constitution, despite having a law degree and holding office as the state AG. 

Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 1, 2021 

Ohio's Attorney General, Dave Yost, has an odd relationship with constitutions. First, Yost declined to counsel Secretary of State Frank LaRose to allow more ballot drop boxes in each county. LaRose refused to do so, supposedly on constitutional grounds, despite court rulings that he has that authority. Second, Yost is now suing the federal government because the American Rescue Plan's policy prohibiting states from using funds to reduce taxes, instead of spending on pandemic-related expenses, is unconstitutional. Nowhere in the Constitution are there statutes that prevent the government from establishing terms for spending allocations to states.   

Yost now sues the U.S. Census Bureau, demanding that it release 2020 data by April. The bureau explained that it cannot provide reliable information before August, because of the pandemic and Donald Trump's illegal efforts to interfere with the Census. Courts have ruled on that. He is demanding flawed data for Ohio's congressional and state redistricting. A federal court has rejected the suit; Yost is appealing.  

Is Yost competing with Texas's AG Ken Paxton? Paxton sued other states' 2020 presidential elections to overturn their results. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his claim as without merit. At least Yost declined to join that unconstitutional lawsuit.  

Cincinnati Enquirer, May 30, 2021 

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is at it again. He won a pseudo-victory in his suit against the U.S. Census Bureau for flawed, unverified 2020 data. A judge ruled that the bureau must release data for redistricting by Aug. 16, which is the date the bureau has stated that it expects to provide it.  

Now he joins 19 Republican state AGs to demand that the U.S. Dept. of Education not authorize the use of the acclaimed 1619 Project (on the place of slavery in American history) or "critical race theory" in school curricula. The latter is not a "theory" per se, but an approach to American history and society that sees race as a central issue—an obvious point.  

Clearly, these AGs have no familiarity with the contents of either the 1619 Project or critical race theory. Their objections miss the main issues and the documentation. They repeat false accusations of "blaming" Americans for slavery and racism and somehow scarring children with the facts of our history. Their objections endorse a willful ignorance and tacit acceptance of racism and slavery.  

The AGs' attack is part of a coordinated effort by far-right conservative activist groups, much like legislation to restrict voting and other rights. 

At a time when the U.S. suffers so profoundly from neglect and distortion of both history and civics education, this effort constitutes a major step backward. Ohioans need the truth. 

Republicans in the State legislaturetheir Trumpian-right-wing (not conservative) influences are on display daily. Begin with my Columbus Free Press essay ”Ohio elected Republicans fail their public” (Oct. 2, 2021, and my documentation of these unoriginal ideologues near-total dependence on ignorantly and recklessly imitating the actions of right-wing Republicans in other states (“GOP lawmakers spin their wheels on ideologically inspired laws, hurting Ohio,”Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 16, 2021 

Republican candidates for Rob Portman’s Senate seat ignorantly, recklessly, and embarrassingly compete on a daily basis to be the most Trumpian candidate, gain his declining number of supporters, and secure his endorsement. The daily newspapers, legitimate (that is, not Fox, Newsmax, or OANN) television news, and legitimate radio news are more than sufficient to make my point. 

I rest my case, and my fingers. 

Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history.