Does Ohio’s Black legislative caucus have room for Republicans?
Joshua Williams, a Republican running in Ohio House District 41. Courtesy photo.
On Saturday, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus held a meet-the-candidates event in Toledo, featuring three Democrats running for seats in the Ohio House.
Missing from the program was Joshua Williams, a Black Republican who’s running in the district and says he has been wholly “slighted” by the OLBC. He said the organization never contacted his campaign, never sent him a candidate survey to outline his policy positions as it did for Democratic candidates, and even held an event in his hometown without inviting him.
“If you wanted to know my policy positions, you could have inquired, prior to excluding me from an event,” he said, relaying what he told the organization’s president on a phone call.
The OLBC was founded in 1967, originally known as the Black Elected Democrats of Ohio. Its mission is to promote politics that enrich and improve the lives of Black Ohioans. Today, all its executive officers are Democrats. And all Black members of the Ohio Senate and House are Democrats as well.
OLBC’s president, Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, wouldn’t agree to an interview. In text messages, she said the OLBC didn’t organize the Toledo event, although the organization is listed as a host on a promotional flier. She said Williams never asked for the OLBC’s endorsement, and that “his values don’t line up with OLBC.” She didn’t respond when asked if the OLBC considers Black Republicans for endorsements.
Williams said he’s being passed over because he’s a Republican, and that makes him a threat. Republicans currently control 64 of 99 seats in the House. A Black Republican focused on advancing the interests of Black Ohioans, Williams said, threatens a Democratic monopoly on the issue.
“They’re not interested in giving me the appearance of supporting Black people, because it can pull votes,” he said. “So I’m being intentionally excluded.”
Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, previously served as the OLBC’s president. He said in an interview the OLBC is structured as an affiliate of the Ohio Democratic Party, which pays the salary of the organization’s executive director. (OLBC executive director John Meacham deferred comment to OLBC’s leadership.)
But regardless, the OLBC should be open to at least hearing out Republican candidates, West said, and it’s a subject of ongoing debate.
“Going forward, that’s something we have to consider,” he said. “I want to know what every person running for office thinks about African Americans and the challenges we’re faced with. I’d love to see all candidates get the executive questionnaire.”
However, like Brent, he raised the point that Williams didn’t reach out to the OLBC, which would be a reasonable place to start for someone seeking the endorsement.
Some other Black Republicans running for office weren’t endorsed by the OLBC either. Michelle Reynolds, who is Black, is running for state Senate against OLBC-endorsed Tina Maharath, a Democratic OLBC member and the first Asian-American woman elected to the Ohio Senate. And Landry Simmons Jr., a Black Republican and former police officer, is running against OLBC-endorsed Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat who is white.
Reynolds couldn’t be reached for comment. But Simmons spared no criticism for the OLBC. He said the organization has endorsed a long slate of white Democrats, but wouldn’t even return his phone calls.
“Not to even give a Black candidate a chance?” he said. “To not even give him a chance, that’s insane. That tells you right there, they’re not endorsing Republicans, especially not black Republicans.”
Brent denied that Simmons reached out to the OLBC. After addressing some of Williams’ criticisms, she stopped responding to questions.
“I wish Josh [Williams] would focus on his race,” she said.
Who is Josh Williams?
Williams practices law and teaches it at Adrian College. His path there was extraordinary.
He dropped out of high school at 18-years old, eventually becoming homeless. At 21, working as a railroad subcontractor, he was disabled in a workplace accident, he said in an interview. He underwent a series of spinal surgeries and eventually a weight loss surgery as well. While receiving disability pay, he was accepted to the University of Toledo as an undergrad and eventually the law school program.
Some policy positions he offered fit neatly into a modern Republican fold. He said children are becoming “indoctrinated” in schools by concepts like “critical race theory;” “social and emotional learning;” and other “lifestyle choices.” He said he opposes women’s right to receive an abortion, unless there’s a threat to the mother’s health. He’s a gun owner who will “never waiver” supporting Second Amendment rights.
Others are more nuanced.
His website calls for full transparency in health care billing. In an interview, he said the state should abolish qualified immunity — a legal doctrine used to shield police officers who kill citizens in the line of duty — and replace it with a requirement to carry officers’ malpractice insurance.
He believes in racial equality, not equity. He said he probably agrees with OLBC on the underlying problems of race in America, but disagrees on how to solve it.
“Anyone who says racism doesn’t exist in America is lying or ignorant,” he said.
Williams is running against Nancy Larson, a Democratic social worker running on a platform of women’s reproductive rights, support for organized labor, gun safety reform and others. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.
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