- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2020

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Sen. Portman must vote for more impeachment witnesses

Akron Beacon Journal

Jan. 27

This is a big week for Rob Portman, Ohio’s Republican U.S. senator.



With the impeachment trial of President Trump continuing in the Senate, at least two major votes are looming that will forever define his service to our state and country.

First, should the Senate allow witnesses to add to the substantial record of evidence still being collected by the U.S. House of Representatives? Or, will Portman forever tarnish himself by assisting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in corruptly using their majority power to complete a sham trial?

Regardless of Trump’s guilt or innocence, his entire defense consists of deflecting blame onto others, denials already proved to be false and brazenly refusing to cooperate with Congress, all facts that should trouble Portman.

The already urgent need for more witnesses grew substantially over the weekend when The New York Times released excerpts of a draft book by former national security adviser John Bolton, the conservative hawk who left the White House last year.

“President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in aid to Ukraine until officials there investigated Democrats including (former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter), according to an unpublished manuscript …” by Bolton, the Times reported.

Bolton’s accusations would present the first-hand account Republicans claim has been missing from Democrats’ case.

Portman also should want to hear directly from Bolton as he’s a credible witness capable of answering his months-old question about why the Trump administration was withholding aid to Ukraine. As co-founder and co-chairman of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Portman pushed for the funding to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

If the party roles were switched right now, we’re confident McConnell, Portman and their Republican colleagues would be calling for witnesses. Portman took the opposite side during the 1998 Clinton impeachment trial when, as a member of the House, he advocated for removing President Clinton for what was arguably less serious misconduct.

That’s hypocrisy at its worst. Selflessly serving our democracy must come well before serving one’s party just to preserve power.

The second question, of course, is whether the Senate should remove the president from office and bar him from running again.

It’s a far more complex and precedent-setting dilemma where we can appreciate any senator’s reluctance to fire a president. Reasonable minds also can disagree on whether Trump’s offenses merit removal from office just months before an election. More facts are needed from Bolton and others.

We don’t always agree with Portman on his votes or agenda. But we’ve always seen him as a good man who’s earned respect by acting with honor and integrity.

That’s been evident at times during this Ukraine scandal. Portman is one of a few Republicans who have been critical of the president and was reported to be a key driving force behind last-minute changes to the trial’s rules. He also regrettably voted against witnesses last week.

If he helps block witnesses and justice again, it’s hard to imagine the damage his reputation will sustain with many voters.

We urge you, Sen. Portman, to put your country before party. You’re better than this.

Online: https://bit.ly/36t6eih

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EdChoice list grows beyond intended fix

The Canton Repository

Jan. 26

Recruiting season is upon us.

Not for athletes, but rather for students who will be enrolled in grades K-12 for the 2020-21 school year.

Nearly 3,000 organized events are scheduled across the state over the next several days as Ohio districts participate in National School Choice Week, which begins today.

Open houses, school fairs and other gatherings will provide information to parents and kids about their educational options, which in Ohio are many: traditional public schools, open enrollment among public districts, charter schools, magnet schools, online academies, private schools and homeschooling.

“We hope National School Choice Week spreads awareness about the educational options available in Ohio and encourages moms and dads to find the learning environment best suited to their child,” Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, said in a news release.

In Ohio, that freedom to choose will come under sharp focus this week, when state lawmakers are expected to revise the list of public school buildings designated as “underperforming.” Students attending these schools would be eligible to participate in the Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Program, which provides a voucher for them to enroll instead in a participating private school.

That list is about to mushroom, from 517 buildings this school year to 1,227 for 2020-21 because of changes - late in the past budget process and with no public input, one opponent accurately has noted - that state lawmakers approved last year.

Some quick history: Ohio’s school voucher system began 25 years ago to give parents in so-called failing public districts (initially limited to Cleveland) a grant to help pay for private education. Later, the program expanded to include Ohio school buildings that received failing grades on at least two specific report card measures.

For the coming school year, the system is adding any school that received a single D or F - even if the rest of its grades were A’s and it earned an overall passing grade. This has opened the door to some students in the state’s top districts - in places like Dublin, Solon and Upper Arlington, and locally in North Canton and Northwest, among others - to receive taxpayer-financed vouchers.

This makes no sense.

Lawmakers agree, but they now face a rush for a quick fix. Enrollment for next school year’s vouchers begins Saturday.

(Stop us if you’ve heard this sequence of events before: A late addition to the massive budget bill. No public testimony. Unintended consequences. A rushed fix.)

State Rep. Phil Robinson, a Democrat from Solon - where the public schools are rated among the best nationally but where a building convolutedly has joined the new list - might have summed it up best.

“The intent of the EdChoice program is a noble one: for lower-income and working-class families to be able to afford education alternatives in struggling school districts. But as we have seen, the original intent has been corrupted with a broken Ohio State Report Card system and an unconstitutional funding system that disadvantages students in rural, urban and suburban districts and exacerbates inequality among all Ohio districts,” he said. “This problem cannot be fixed entirely overnight, but we do need to move quickly to make immediate, short-term improvements before Feb. 1.”

We support most forms of school choice, and we empathize with parents who already are making plans for the next school year. But far too many good schools are included on the new EdChoice list.

Lawmakers need to address this mistake immediately, then revisit the underlying issues that spawned vouchers in the first place: poverty, inequitable funding for public and a flawed grading system in Ohio’s schools.

Online: https://bit.ly/2TYCMOt

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It’s no coincidence if economic issues hit fall ballot in Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch

Jan. 24

The economy usually reigns in presidential elections.

This year in Ohio, that maxim could ring truer than ever - especially if two groups qualify competing economic visions for the Nov. 3 ballot.

In one corner: Ohioans for Raising the Wage, a coalition of community and union organizations to raise the state minimum hourly wage from the current $8.70 to $13 by 2025.

The opposite corner features Republican state lawmakers promoting a measure to make it harder for future lawmakers to raise the state income tax.

The GOP proposal would require a three-fifths vote of the legislature, not the current simple majority, to approve any increase in state income taxes.

The dueling ideas are in the form of proposed changes to the Ohio Constitution, which can be amended only by a statewide vote.

It’s no coincidence the plans are aimed at the presidential ballot. Strategists from left and right are equally skilled at devising ballot issues they believe will motivate their base voters in high-stakes elections.

Ohioans for Raising the Wage is taking the initiative petition route - the only avenue available to progressives, because conservative Republicans control the General Assembly.

The coalition must gather at least 422,958 valid signatures of registered voters by July 1 to make the November ballot.

Legislative Republicans can qualify their anti-income-tax proposal for the ballot simply by getting a three-fifths vote of members in each house of the legislature. They already have supermajorities: 61-39 in the House; 24-9 in the Senate.

Should both amendments qualify, Ohioans will judge a classic progressive-conservative debate over the makings of a good and fair economy.

Progressives will remind voters that Republicans and business chiefs have opposed minimum wage legislation from the outset - since Ohio first adopted a state minimum wage in 1933.

They’ll emphasize the current minimum wage still leaves a full-time worker with a family of three in poverty - $3,000 below the federal poverty line of $21,330.

And they’ll point out the ever-widening gap between those at the top and bottom. Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank, just released a study showing that in 2018 most of Ohio’s largest employers paid their CEOs more than 200 times the pay of typical employees. In 1965, the ratio was 20 to 1.

Ohio conservatives will pump up their base with arguments they’ve been honing for two decades: Income taxes stifle enterprise and make Ohio less competitive among states.

Since 2005, Republicans have led a legislative charge to slash state income taxes by more than a third. Along the way, they’ve eliminated taxes on corporate profits and inheritances.

And, under former Gov. John Kasich, the GOP-controlled legislature allowed owners of limited-liability companies, S corporations and other pass-through entities to pay no income tax on their first $250,000 of income.

If past elections are a guide, conservatives might face a tougher audience in this debate. In November 1983, Ohioans faced twin, GOP-sponsored ballot issues. One would have rescinded an increase in the state income tax; the other would’ve required a three-fifths legislative vote for future tax increases. They failed, 56-44 and 59-41.

More recently, Ohioans voted in 2006 on a minimum wage amendment for the first time. That proposal, to establish a minimum of $6.85, prevailed 57-43.

Online: https://bit.ly/2O3Ojbs

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A victory for sunshine on the people’s business at the Ohio Statehouse

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Jan. 24

Late in 1806, Ohio was only three years into statehood when the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate met in secret sessions, David M. Gold reports in his history of the General Assembly. The aim? To discuss, confidentially, the machinations of ex-Vice President Aaron Burr, who was marshaling men and boats near Marietta, where the Muskingum River meets the Ohio. Burr’s goal, still murky, likely was the creation of an independent southwestern empire he’d rule after conquering Spanish-held Texas or Mexico, or the Louisiana Territory.

Since then, the legislature has seldom, if ever, and certainly not in modern times, met in secret.

Formally, that means every action the legislature takes is done in public – if you’re in a Statehouse gallery or have access to the Ohio Channel.

But in some ways, the legislature’s floor sessions are form without substance. When a bill reaches the Senate or House for a roll-call vote, it’s destined to pass. And passage simply cements whatever the legislature’s workshops – its committees – have already decided. That is, to know how the General Assembly spends the public’s money, or curbs its liberties, committee hearings are where Ohioans need to be.

If you’re rich, you hire lobbyists. But if you’re Jane or John Ohio, you have to attend committees in person. That’s utterly impractical for most people. While some committee hearings have been broadcast, most haven’t.

So three cheers for House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Perry County’s Glenford, and Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, who have ordered the broadcasting of all meetings of every standing legislative committee so anyone, anywhere, can see just how a bill really becomes law.

In wooing Democrats to back him for speaker early last year, Householder promised to begin broadcasting in all ten House committee rooms. He kept that promise in September.

Senate committee rooms were camera-equipped, but the Ohio Channel was said to have insufficient staffing to monitor broadcasts. Then, Ohio’s 2018 construction budget (House Bill 529) authorized spending $80,039 to purchase an additional eight cameras and related gear for committee rooms. And Ohio’s operating budget (House Bill 166), passed last July, granted the Ohio Broadcast Media Commission an additional $675,000, spread over two years, to help fund additional broadcasts of committee hearings.

Human nature being what it is, skullduggery and inside deals will always be facts of political life. Still, it’s about time the public got to see how the sausage is made, at least in the public committee hearings.

We’d like to see more such sunshine on the public’s business in Columbus, including on lobbyists. But Householder’s and Obhof’s decisions — and the funding that made them possible — are a welcome acknowledgement that transparency equals good government. These moves ensure that more Ohioans than ever have the chance to see how their General Assembly members are – or are not – representing them.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RxnrD2

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