The scandal now roiling Columbus comes at a really, really bad time for the Ohio Republican Party.
Ohio Republicans could not gain more control of state politics if they wanted to; they control every lever of power in the state capital — in the courts, the executive branch, and the legislature.
The consequences of one-party rule are showing themselves this year, at a time when they hope this year to stave off losses in what is widely expected to be a Democratic surge year.
The race for governor of Ohio is within reach for Democrats. And none of the Republican candidates seeking secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, or auditor is an incumbent, meaning all the statewide offices are wide open. So if Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is the state’s top law enforcement official, wins the Republican nomination for governor and then gets tarnished with any of the slime oozing out of the Ohio General Assembly these days, there could be a negative impact on him and all the way down the ballot.
Republicans were already expecting to be battered over the scandal of campaign contributions and benign neglect of underperforming charter schools.
That subject played out in the exaggerated attendance claims by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, whose founder and chief contractor Bill Lager also was a lavish contributor to Republican lawmakers. ECOT is a statewide online charter school, which happens to be sponsored here in Toledo by the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West (an elected school board comprised mostly of Democrats).
After years of taking no action to audit ECOT’s attendance records — arguably because that’s what the state law dictated — state Auditor Dave Yost and the Ohio Department of Education in 2016 audited ECOT’s books and concluded it had overstated attendance by 40 percent. They demanded $80 million in reimbursements.
Now that all these agencies are acting, ECOT was suspended from operation in January and some 12,000 students were forced to make alternative schooling arrangements for the rest of the year.
The latest allegations stem from the Speaker of the House’s reported interest in lavish living and lavish traveling.
Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville), who has been speaker for the last three years, lived in an expensive Columbus condo owned by a Republican contributor.
He has traveled all over the world and the country, including some trips that may have been funded by payday lending firms that had business before the legislature.
One trip under scrutiny was in August to London, paid for by GOPAC, a Republican-led group that backs state legislative candidates. Two lobbyists for the payday lending firm LoanMax joined the trip, according to reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer.
And really, isn’t it vitally important that the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives travel all over the world on the tab of lobbyists or his campaign contributors?
While proclaiming his innocence, Mr. Rosenberger announced this week he would resign as of May 1. Republicans running for office would love to keep some of this dirty laundry out of sight, but the Republicans in office keep throwing back the curtains.
Mr. DeWine and his opponent for the Republican nomination, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and Mr. Yost, the Republican candidate for attorney general, have called on Mr. Rosenberger to step down immediately.
Richard Cordray, one of four Democratic candidates for governor, and Ms. Taylor on Wednesday also aimed some of their verbal fire at Mr. DeWine, saying his act of calling up Mr. Rosenberger that suggesting that he resign should be investigated as having a political motive.
Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Dennis Kucinich, called state politics in Columbus a “cesspool.”
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This all comes about as a bill to reform the payday lending industry is making its way through the House. Supposedly the payday lenders were trying to get Mr. Rosenberger to slip in a substitute bill to gut the existing House Bill 123 aimed at restricting the lending practices of payday lenders.
State Rep. Michael Ashford (D., Toledo) is the co-sponsor of the payday lending reform bill, along with state Rep. Kyle Koehler (R., Springfield). Up until last week, it looked like the bill might move ahead. There was supposed to be a committee vote on Wednesday, followed by a vote of the full House.
It didn’t happen. Instead, it went back into the hopper, and possibly will die there.
If the Republican leadership of the House is in tighter with the big-spending lobbyists of the payday lending industry than they are with the people who sometimes out of desperation turn to payday lenders, that is a problem for the Republican Party in November.
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