Protesters gathered outside GOP Senate President Larry Obhof’s personal home Sunday seeking to pressure him to override a gubernatorial veto of legislation to weaken the health department.
Although Senate Bill 311 passed with a veto-proof majority, the activists accused Obhof of stalling an effort to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of the bill. The legislation passed with support at every turn from Ohio’s anti-vaccine groups and opposition from the medical and public health community.
The crowd at Obhof’s was a conservative potpourri. Judi Phelps, who wore bright pink snowpants with a pistol holstered at her leg, said she organized the protest. Anti-vaccine advocates came, as did the Proud Boys, a far-right organization that was involved in a Washington D.C. brawl in which four people were stabbed after the “Million MAGA March” this month.
“No testing, tracing [or] vaccines. We will not comply,” one woman’s sign at the protest stated.
Similar protests, organized within the same networks, have occurred at the personal homes of DeWine, Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud, and former ODH Director Dr. Amy Acton.
In videos of the Obhof protest posted on social media, people can be seen meandering about, waving flags for President Donald Trump, and engaging in sometimes-heated conversations with residents in the upscale neighborhood.
“Who knows if he’s actually here?” said Jeanine Mardis, who posted a 127-minute stream of the demonstration.
“We don’t know, but we’re here at his house. The neighbors sure have noticed. The cops were just getting here when I showed up.”
Mardis did not respond to a Facebook message and subsequently blocked a reporter. A spokeswoman with the Montville Township Police Department said officers observed about 40 people outside the house and that no charges of any kind were filed.
In a statement emailed through a spokesman, Obhof said it’s “wildly inappropriate” to stage protests outside people’s residences.
“The purpose of this ‘protest’ was to harass and intimidate,” he said. “That was certainly its effect. They scared my neighbors, made their children cry.”
Obhof said he was targeted in part because he defended Acton against their criticism.
While Obhof has advanced legislation that ODH as an institution opposes like SB 311, he told the Columbus Dispatch in May that Acton had been “unfairly maligned by an awful lot people.” He has also criticized House lawmakers for spreading “misinformation” as it relates to COVID-19.
Before her resignation in June, Acton faced similar protests outside her home, with guns and an anti-Semitic sign in the mix (Acton is Jewish).
Sunday’s protest comes as Obhof calculates the path forward for SB 311, which DeWine vetoed last month.
The bill would block the Ohio Department of Health from issuing quarantine or isolation orders to people who have not been diagnosed with or exposed to an infectious disease — legal experts say this means ODH would not be able to issue stay-at-home orders as they did in March.
It would also allow lawmakers to vote down health orders without needing DeWine’s approval.
The bill passed the Senate with a veto-proof 20 votes. However, there are no guarantees all members make the same decision when weighing overriding the veto of a fellow Republican governor. Four Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to oppose the legislation.
Also, the House passed the bill with 58 votes — two shy of the override threshold. While three likely yes votes were absent at the time, an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak among House lawmakers further scuttles calculations.
All this comes as COVID-19 pandemic kills Ohioans in record numbers. Since March 1, COVID-19 has killed 8,122 Ohioans. That makes it the fourth leading killer of Ohioans when compared to 2019 mortality data. Nearly 630,000 state residents have been infected, 35,000 of whom were hospitalized.
All the politicking behind the scenes meant little to protesters, who insisted Obhof was stalling on the bill until the clock runs out at year’s end. At that point, any unfinished legislation would need to restart the entire lawmaking process.
“311! 311! 311!” the crowd chanted.
At least two protesters at the scene carried holstered pistols. One man wore a tactical-style vest with “BULL” taped across the back and “F**k Antifa” stickered on his helmet.
In an interview, Phelps said the “scamdemic” and “fudged death certificates” of people who died from COVID-19 have been used to usurp the rights and liberties of citizens. She said they came to Obhof’s home because he ignored their calls and requests to speak with him.
“If lardass Larry is pissed off because we came to his house, then f**k him,” she said.
If kids were scared of the protesters or guns, Phelps said the parents are to blame for not teaching the children that the activists were “freedom fighters.”
“We are not gonna give up,” she said. “No matter what neighborhoods are impacted because they don’t like patriots coming in … that’s tough nuts, because my Constitution overrides their inconvenience.”