It’s the extremist regressive politics, not a lack of PR, that makes people not want to move to Ohio

February 10, 2021 12:20 am

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Ohio could be a helluva bargain for out-of-staters looking to relocate. Plenty of sweet move-in offers they can’t refuse. Cost of living, for one. Quaint Midwestern farm towns, for another. Urban centers that boast world class cultural attractions, if not winning sports teams. Good places to raise a family. Premier medical institutions and universities. Treasured state parks. Been to them all. What’s not to love?

Gov. Mike DeWine is feeling the vibe. His recent budget proposal carved out $50 million to market Ohio as a welcoming, affordable nirvana — especially for people paying a fortune to live and work on the East and West Coast. It’s not a bad idea. No doubt the dollar goes a lot further in Ohio than in Los Angeles or New York. What buys you a cramped apartment in Manhattan might well buy you a mansion in the Buckeye State. And Lord knows our declining population could use a healthy infusion of newcomers.

DeWine envisions positioning Ohio “as the place to be” with a slick public relations campaign that dovetails nicely with a slick reelection campaign. But the governor’s fanciful plan ignores the elephant in the room that positioned the state as a place to avoid. Ohio’s red meat politics make it a hard pass for outsiders who prefer reasonable to regressive government. That’s what we have under myopic one-party rule in Ohio. The Republican majority largely adheres to a far-right playbook on everything from gun legislation to voter suppression, clean energy, LGBT discrimination and abortion rights. But DeWine wants to sell Ohio as “a progressive state?” Who is he kidding?

Given the choice between embracing open-minded, forward-thinking public policy or lurching backward with an extreme agenda overwhelmingly opposed by most residents, Ohio Republicans choose the latter. Consistently. And bad politics is a tough sell when competing for new taxpayers. Other states can dangle lower taxes and real estate costs as a marketing tool to entice new arrivals and seal the deal with a history of evolved, enlightened, effective politics. If liberal forbearance in state government is a quality-of-life consideration for young people assessing a return to Ohio, or coastal families exploring less expensive digs, why come to a state known for its alt-right oppressive politics? 

Just saying. And I’m a born and bred Ohioan.

Ohio routinely ranks among the top ten in a national list of most moved-from states. People leave for jobs they can’t find in Ohio. There are loads of minimum wage jobs to be had in the state, but Ohio lawmakers refuse to make them livable wages for thousands of service sector workers in the state. Before the pandemic, those same politicians summarily dismissed the higher wages and stable employment offered by a booming renewable energy industry in the state. Clean energy jobs in Ohio employed over 112,000 Ohioans in 2019 — third most in the Midwest and eighth in the country. The state was poised to become an economic leader in renewable energy. 

But Statehouse Republicans nixed all that and rewarded powerful utility friends with deep donor pockets. House Bill 6 scrapped the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and put ratepayers on the hook to subsidize four uncompetitive power plants. Gone was any incentive to invest in more job-creating clean energy projects. The shady machinations (under ongoing criminal investigation) behind passage of HB 6 were described by a federal prosecutor as “likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.” But the law remains on the books and the indicted kingpin who allegedly spearheaded the bail-out scandal is still in the Ohio House.   

Maybe the marketing ads can gloss over the Statehouse corruption and political disinterest in curbing climate change with innovation that puts people to work. Maybe we gloss over the gun obsession among ruling Republicans, too. Commonsense policy to reduce gun violence in Ohio is a nonstarter in the Ohio legislature. Lawmakers wouldn’t even adopt a watered-down gun reform measure in the wake of a mass shooting in Dayton. Instead, party members drafted bills to further expand Ohio’s gun laws. An especially egregious one, signed into law by DeWine, eliminates Ohioans’ duty to retreat before using deadly force. It arguably invites, not deters, gun violence by allowing people to shoot first on the mere perception of a threat. 

Welcome to the Wild West of Ohio where freedom to sling a gun anywhere, anyhow, matters more than life itself. Feel safe to move here. 

The governor says, “We have a great story to tell and we intend to tell it.” But the real narrative in Ohio is anything but great if you’re a woman who wants to make her own medical decisions without draconian dictates from men in political power. It is anything but great if you’re living hand-to-mouth with low or no wages, if you’re a Black Ohioan suffering disproportionate ravages of the pandemic, if you’re an economically disadvantaged student falling hopelessly behind in school, if you’re a registered voter purged of your franchise or denied easy access to a ballot, or if you’re freezing in February.

If DeWine and fellow Republicans want to market Ohio as a great place to live, they should make it one. For all of us. Start by reallocating the PR money to working families.



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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.