Mailbag: What’s the most effective way to get my lawmaker’s attention?

Demonstrators at the Ohio Statehouse. Photo by Tyler Buchanan.

Welcome to another installment of the Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag, the 33rd most popular political column in the 33rd most popular state. Let’s get started:

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

What, in your opinion, is the most effective way to engage with or influence one’s state representative/senator?

– Elizabeth S., via email

Answer: That depends. How much money do you have?

I’m kidding. (Sort of.) There are in fact a lot of ways for Ohioans to engage with their state lawmakers and try to influence the goings-on at the Ohio Statehouse.

For insight on this subject, I reached out to Catherine Turcer. She is the executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a good-government group active in state politics.

“I always encourage voters to call their legislators or to write letters,” Turcer told me. “It’s important for our elected officials to hear from us so that they know what we are concerned about.”

Each state representative and state senator has an official mailing address, phone number and email address to hear from constituents. You can find the contact information on their office web page. 

If there is a particular piece of legislation you care a lot about, you can submit testimony (written or in-person) giving your opinions on the bill.

A less formal alternative would be to engage with your lawmaker on social media. (Not all lawmakers have an active social media presence, though an increasing number do.)

“But of course,” Turcer continued, “it is hard for any single individual to have a big impact. The best way to influence policy making is power in numbers. There are groups around Ohio that are working hard on all sorts of issues and it makes sense to join forces.”

Another avenue for change, Turcer noted, is to band together and get a proposed statute on the ballot for a public vote. It’s a multi-step process requiring a well-coordinated organizing effort, but remains an option afforded to the public.

Besides all that, the ultimate way of influencing your legislative representation is to vote.

Any update on Gov. Mike DeWine’s approval rating since the start of the pandemic? How will that impact the next gubernatorial election?

– @trevin_flick, on Twitter.

Gov. Mike DeWine is seen at a March 2021 press conference. Screenshot courtesy The Ohio Channel.

Answer: The governor remained popular throughout the duration of 2020, though it’s unclear exactly how the electorate will view him a year from now.

Polling firms were active in Ohio last year, both because of the pandemic and due to the presidential election. Looking through the Ohio poll tracker on RealClearPolitics.com, I located eight polls in 2020 which asked residents about their views on DeWine.

Some of these polls asked respondents if they generally approved or disapproved of DeWine’s job as governor. Others specifically asked if they approved or disapproved of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How one assessed DeWine’s COVID-19 response more or less correlated with their overall view of him as governor. A Quinnipiac poll in June 2020 asked both questions, and the results were nearly identical. This is perhaps not surprising, given the extent to which the pandemic enveloped both Ohioans’ lives and the governor’s efforts. 

I tried to chart out these approval rating polls here:

As you might remember, DeWine received high marks for his aggressive early response — 80% of Ohioans approved of his work on COVID-19 last March.

Throughout the spring and summer, DeWine polled well among every single demographic: Men and women, Democrats and Republicans, young voters and old, rural residents and urban. 

The governor’s approval rating cooled off somewhat as the year went on, with DeWine shouldering blame for the health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the final poll of 2020 (conducted right before the November election) found that 66% of Ohioans still approved of DeWine’s job performance.

Much has happened since then, from the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to the legislature overriding his veto of a bill targeting the authority of the Ohio Department of Health. 

Close to 19,000 people in Ohio have died from the virus and many businesses are still facing hardships as they continue to navigate their way beyond a very difficult year.

However, 4.2 million Ohioans have received at least their first vaccine, representing more than one-third of the overall population. Tens of thousands of Ohioans are getting vaccinated every day.

A mass COVID-19 vaccination site in Columbus, Ohio. Source: Columbus Public Health

More and more, places are returning to some semblance of normal. Fans are allowed back at Progressive Field and Nationwide Arena. High schools are expecting to hold graduation ceremonies later this spring. 

I don’t know exactly where the governor’s approval rating stands as of this moment. But I do know it remained fairly high to close out 2020, and it seems plausible that Ohioans will view him favorably if the vaccination effort goes smoothly and things get back to normal by 2022.

Then again, a lot can change in the next 12 to 18 months. Remember, we hadn’t even heard of coronavirus 18 months ago. 

Is the Ohio governor and lieutenant governor comparable to the president of the United States and vice president? For example, if Mike DeWine or any governor of Ohio resigns does the lieutenant governor become governor?

– @StevenHamric1

Answer: That’s correct.

Per the Ohio Constitution, if the governor dies, resigns or is otherwise removed from office, the lieutenant governor becomes the governor. 

It’s not a very common occurrence. The resignation of Gov. George Voinovich in December 1998 (upon being elected to the U.S. Senate) allowed Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister to ascend to the governorship. Hollister served as governor for 12 days to finish out Voinovich’s term and is still the only female governor in Ohio history.

The lieutenant governor can also temporarily take over if the governor “is unable to discharge the duties of office by reason of disability … until the Governor’s disability terminates.”

Ohio actually has a line of succession: Lieutenant governor, president of the Ohio Senate and speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.

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

Reading list

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

Bill would prevent ‘discrimination’ against unvaccinated people – Ohio Republicans want to establish legal protections for those who decline the vaccine, Jake Zuckerman reports.

Proposals call for expanded passenger rail service in Ohio – Could Ohio once again see passenger rail service connecting Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati? My story notes this is a possibility if the Biden administration’s plan for increased transportation funding is successful.

Three Ohio energy giants haven’t paid income taxes in three years – Some of the most profitable companies doing business in Ohio haven’t paid a dime in income taxes, Marty Schladen reports.

Janitors, security guard ask for minimum wage increase – The push for a $15 minimum wage continues, reporter Susan Tebben notes.

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