Mailbag: It’s political jockeying season in Ohio

By: - February 25, 2021 12:40 am

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

One election cycle you’re proud allies, the next you’re Twitter enemies. That’s politics, 2021 style. Welcome back to another installment of the Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag: 

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

What can we expect timeline-wise between GOP jockeying for governor primary vs senate primary?

– Gambier Mayor Leeman Kessler, on Twitter.

Answer: Truth be told, Mr. Mayor, there’s jockeying within both parties right now. But we should have a better sense of the 2022 line-ups by the late spring.

I’d suggest the more noteworthy jockeying situation involves Ohio Democrats and the multitude of statewide campaigns to field candidates for, rather than the Ohio Republicans and the governor vs. U.S. Senate primary. 

Let’s set the scene for both parties as Ohio heads into 2022. 

Democrats: The party has to field challenger candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer and U.S. Senate. Typically you might see contested primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, with a slate of other candidates getting slotted in those other statewide contests. The jockeying at hand involves figuring out who wants to compete for office, and determining which candidate fits best for each race. 

Republicans: Things look a lot different for a party already holding these political offices. Had it not been for Sen. Rob Portman’s retirement announcement, there wouldn’t be any jockeying at all. (Assuming each incumbent runs for reelection, which at this moment seems likely.)

The primary election is scheduled for May 3, 2022. 

Former state treasurer Josh Mandel and former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken have already announced campaigns for Portman’s seat. It is clear both are vying for the “Trump lane.” This leaves open the possibility of one or more other candidates filing with a more moderate, Portman-esque strategy in mind. I don’t think anyone who fits the latter description would be a likely primary contender against DeWine.

The announcement by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) of not running for reelection has led a number of potential Republican candidates to consider their options. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

There may be hardline conservatives, however, who initially pondered a run against DeWine and have shifted their focus to Portman’s seat following his January announcement.  

Let’s presume DeWine runs for reelection. I think it’s safe to say any primary against him would boil down to being a referendum on the governor’s COVID-19 response. A Republican challenger could point to the suffering businesses, the struggling school children, the perceived loss of freedoms. 

But … the primary is still 14 months away. We hadn’t even heard of COVID-19 as of 14 months ago. Is the anti-DeWine faction of the GOP electorate going to have enough fervor a year from now to vote him out?

Most schools are already back in session (at least on a hybrid schedule). Most businesses have reopened. 

What happens politically if the vaccine rollout goes relatively smoothly from here on out and in May 2022 you have Ohioans back to school, back to work and back enjoying Reds games at Great American Ballpark? Is a primary contender really going to find hundreds of thousands of anti-DeWine voters in that scenario?

Then again, imagine if a coronavirus variant sweeps through Ohio and we descend back into shutdowns, health orders, remote learning …

A lot could change between now and then. The prolonged discord between the governor’s office and the GOP-controlled legislature all but ensures the heat will stay on DeWine for at least the rest of 2021. 

DeWine spent tens of millions of dollars to win his first gubernatorial race. His campaign committee already has millions of dollars on hand in preparation for next year.

Likewise, a candidate has to raise a considerable amount of money to be competitive in a U.S. Senate primary, much less a general election. This helps explain why Mandel and Timken jumped in so early, and is why you’d think any other potential candidates will not wait very long either. 

I predict Ohioans will have a clear sense of the 2022 electoral landscape by late spring 2021. There are just too many organizational and financial hurdles in play these days for a candidate to wait much longer than that.

If DeWine opts not to run for a second term, go ahead and print out the above words, crumble them up and toss ‘em in the nearest recycling bin.  

The city of Columbus is working to implement its electric aggregation program approved by voters last November. Photo from Getty Images.

What happened with Issue 1 in Columbus? It passed and I’ve heard nothing about it since. 

– Mark Barga, by email. 

Answer: Things might seem quiet on the Issue 1 front, but there is actually a lot going on behind-the-scenes to implement this program, a local official told me. 

Columbus voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 1 on the November 2020 ballot to create an electric aggregation program in the capital city. 

The entire population of residents will be automatically enrolled in the aggregation plan, with individuals having the right to opt out if they wish. The idea is to have the city buy electricity at a bulk rate with a goal of saving residents money. 

The city of Columbus pitched electric aggregation as also being a way of meeting a local benchmark of providing “100% clean, renewable energy to power residents and small businesses by 2022.”

I reached out to Columbus City Councilman Rob Dorans to hear about where the process stands of implementing the aggregation program. Dorans was among those pushing for the passage of Issue 1 last year.

“(Energy) is a highly regulated area which means things do not happen quickly,” Dorans told me. 

The city has already received necessary clearance from the Public Utilities Commission Of Ohio to be an aggregating entity. Next, Columbus has to approve an agreement with the chosen supplier (AEP Energy) to iron out a timeline, a price and the plan for making the aggregation program fully fueled by Ohio-based renewable energy. Doran expects the agreement to be finalized in the coming months.

In Ohio, voters must approve an aggregation program at the ballot box in order for it to be an “opt out” plan.

A Republican state senator wants to change the law to prohibit any aggregation program from featuring automatic enrollment — even if voters give the thumbs up. State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, proposed this change last term and is trying again this term

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

Reading material

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

Bill would remove business penalties for violating COVID-19 health orders – I recently wrote about a Republican proposal calling for expunging any penalties and returning any fines incurred by businesses for violating coronavirus public health orders over the past year.

Half a million deaths later, Ohio gov says nobody could have foreseen magnitude of pandemic – Reporter Marty Schladen asked Gov. Mike DeWine if, given the benefit of hindsight, if there’s anything he wishes he could’ve done differently in regard to his COVID-19 response. This story outlines the governor’s answer.

She’s a public health professor by day, a COVID-19 truther by night – Where does academic freedom end, reporter Jake Zuckerman asks, and counter-factualism begin? A professor at Case Western Reserve University has spent the past year downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A complete abortion ban isn’t law in Ohio, but some Ohioans still think abortion is illegal – Reporter Susan Tebben highlights what Ohioans know, and don’t know, about abortion law in this state.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.

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