Mailbag: Answering readers’ questions about the election and DeWine

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

It’s a testament to the craziness of 2020 that we aren’t talking more about Kanye West.

It was only a week ago we learned the Kanye West presidential campaign (it’s weird even typing those words) filed petitions with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office to appear on the 2020 ballot as an independent. 

In a normal year, that would be big (albeit strange) news. But it is 2020, so of course it got lost in a blur of successive bombshell headlines. 

President Trump visited northern Ohio the next morning. Gov. Mike DeWine tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of greeting the president. Then a second, more reliable test came back negative. 

Kanye who?

Elections officials have spent the past week reviewing the petitions to determine their validity. The deadline for certifying them is Aug. 17, so we should know in a few days whether the rapper will indeed appear on the ballot. Strange times. 

Now on to the mailbag …

Got a question about Ohio politics? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

“The President continues to say how untrustworthy mail-in ballots are. Has Frank LaRose (addressed) this? Will he address this and correct the record on the issue?” – @TSquare87 on Twitter. 

Answer: Yes, he has.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose oversees the elections system in Ohio. It was going to be a busy, hectic presidential year regardless, but the pandemic has made ballot access and voting safety even bigger issues in 2020.

Trump has a history of questioning the integrity of American elections, both before and after being elected as president. A review of just his Twitter activity shows he has alleged fraud involving six different election cycles since 2012. He’s made specific accusations of fraud occurring in at least nine states, and has accused both Democrats and Republicans alike of having cheated in order to win.

Many states already allowed mail-in voting before the pandemic. A handful of states have for years conducted elections entirely by mail, while others like Ohio allow voters to cast ballots either in-person or through the mail system. The pandemic has accelerated efforts in other states to give citizens a chance to vote without needing to stand in long, crowded lines this November.

Trump has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that absentee voting through the mail will lead to fraudulent, inaccurate results. Here is just one example:

LaRose responded to that claim by defending Ohio’s election system:

Later in June, he called out Trump by name in condemning both he and Democratic nominee Joe Biden for questioning “the integrity of our elections recently without citing evidence.” LaRose said “they both need to stop it.”

LaRose’s office has continued to emphasize the availability of absentee voting this fall, including at a press conference held Wednesday

Voting rights advocates believe he could still be doing more to make voting more accessible.  

“How was @GovMikeDeWine completely in the dark regarding his own party’s (yes, with some dems sprinkled in) state legislature caught in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal and what is he doing to prevent it from happening again?” – @thegoldenfetter on Twitter.

Answer: Gov. DeWine says his administration was unaware of the criminal activity alleged by the FBI. 

We answered a similar question regarding DeWine’s connections to the scandal in the last mailbag column

Former Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder is alleged to have led a criminal enterprise determined to get a nuclear bailout package enacted to benefit the company FirstEnergy Solutions.  Among the allegations are that Householder conspired with secretive “dark-money” groups to funnel millions of dollars from FirstEnergy toward influencing a number of elections. This electoral success led to Householder becoming speaker and then ramming through the $1.3 billion bailout bill.

The legislature officially approved the bill on July 23, 2019. DeWine wasted no time in signing the bill, doing so later that day. 

At a press conference on July 21 of this year announcing the arrests of Householder and four others, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said there was no evidence to implicate the DeWine administration in the Householder plot. 

DeWine has insisted he did not know of any illegal activity surrounding the effort to get HB 6 passed. He has said no one from his administration was contacted by investigators prior to the Householder arrest and release of the criminal complaint. 

One area of scrutiny involves the governor’s legislative affairs director, Dan McCarthy, who essentially serves as the top lobbyist for the administration. As Ohio Capital Journal reporter Marty Schladen has reported, McCarthy is a former lobbyist for FirstEnergy. 

McCarthy also led one of the dark-money groups accused of funneling money to another group tied to Householder, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported

Schladen asked DeWine at a recent press conference about McCarthy’s role in the administration. Here was the governor’s defense of McCarthy and insistence that no illegal activity took place:

“Whatever happened to Josh Mandel?” – @winzigpedia on Twitter.

Answer: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mandel, a Cleveland Republican, served two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives before being elected as state treasurer in 2010. He served two full terms before leaving Ohio government in 2019 and has more or less flown under the radar since then.

Mandel was also a candidate for U.S. Senate against Democrat Sherrod Brown. Mandel lost a close-ish race in 2012 and made plans to challenge Brown again in 2018. 

He dropped out of the race suddenly in early 2018, cleveland.com reported, citing “an unspecified health issue with his wife, Ilana, as the primary reason.”

Congressman Jim Renacci, who had planned to run for governor, instead jumped in the Senate race in Mandel’s absence. He won the Republican primary but lost to Brown that November.

As for Mandel, we’re not sure. He has stayed out of the spotlight since his tenure as treasurer ended 1 1/2 years ago. His modest website was updated to mention he “recently completed two terms as Treasurer,” but his inactive social media pages still identify him as being the current treasurer. Mandel’s Facebook page hasn’t made a public post in years; his Twitter page is set to private.

Mandel has mostly stayed out of the headlines in 2019 and 2020. There were some brief references to Mandel’s work as treasurer last month, when the treasurer’s office and governor’s office merged their respective budget websites to produce OhioCheckbook.gov. Mandel had initiated the “Ohio Checkbook” program while in office as an effort to provide transparency in government spending.

As for Mandel’s future in politics: Interestingly, his campaign committee reported in mid-2019 having a little over $5,000 of cash on hand. The committee spent nearly all of it at the end of 2019 to receive “compliance consulting” from a Columbus firm. There have been no contributions or expenditures reported in 2020, though he still has $111.01 on hand.

There are no indications Mandel is planning a return to politics. If he does, there is $111 ready to use. 

Got a question about Ohio politics? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Reading material

Here are some important Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed: 

Ohio State to launch mandatory COVID-19 testing program for students – Ohio State University students began moving back into their dorms on Wednesday. The university has rolled out an “ambitious COVID-19 surveillance plan,” Jake Zuckerman reports, which involves testing 300 randomly selected students every weekday. The goal is to track the extent of virus spread on campus during the fall semester. 

DeWine says state doesn’t have money to supplement unemployment, but silent on more federal dollars to states. – Marty Schladen reports the latest updates on a plan by the Trump administration to continue unemployment insurance payments going despite a snag in Congressional negotiations. 

Should anyone be surprised by Householder’s downfall? – Former newspaper editor Terry Smith recounts his publication’s coverage of Larry Householder as a state representative and speaker of the house over the past few decades. A fascinating look-back at Householder’s controversial career in politics.

Householder remains on the 2020 ballot past key deadline – Speaking of Householder, he continues to run unopposed for reelection this fall despite his recent arrest.

The Rev. William Barber to Ohio politicians: Refocus policy to address racism, poverty – The civil rights leader recently spoke to leaders of the States Newsroom network (of which the Ohio Capital Journal is a member) about the issues of racism, justice and poverty in America. Reporter Susan Tebben highlights the calls to action from the co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign.