Ohio religious lobby welcomes former VP Pence at gala, protesters stand against policy messages
Former Vice President Mike Pence. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former Vice President Mike Pence addressed some of Ohio’s most prominent conservatives at a recent gala in the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, organized by religious lobby The Center for Christian Virtue.
Pence’s speech, for which tickets ranged from $1,500 to an “exclusive pre-VIP roundtable with keynote speaker” for $25,000, and the Q&A with Center for Christian Virtue president Aaron Baer, were convivial, covering topics such as religion, the Trump presidency and abortion rights.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the record of the Trump/Pence administration,” Pence said. “It didn’t end well.”
Pence previously called it a “privilege,” to “be vice president in the administration that appointed three of the justices that overturned Roe v. Wade.”
Warm sentiments for the speaker weren’t shared by everyone at the event. Joseph Trauth, Jr. is the Center for Christian Virtue’s Vice Chairman, and a Senior Partner at Cincinnati law firm Keating, Muething and Klekamp. Asked about Pence, Trauth was unenthusiastic.
“He’s just a speaker,” Trauth said, and neither he, nor his wife, Barbara, openly stated an interest in endorsing him.
“Depends on the other candidates,” Joseph and Barbara responded together, without elaborating further.
Both said their primary reason for supporting CCV was its emphasis on family values.
“We support all the family issues,” Joseph Trauth said, naming “anti-abortion,” and “equal treatment for women,” as examples.
Likewise, pastor and businessman Benjamin Nwankwo was equally supportive of CCV’s belief system.
“I believe in what God says,” Nwankwo said, also praising CCV’s influence in the Ohio Statehouse. “Policy shapes society.”
CCV is one of Ohio’s most influential lobbying groups, and have advocated for laws to reflect “ the truth of the gospel.”
Practically, this means supporting legislation that curtails abortion access, regulates voting practices and the LGBTQ community, such as House Bill 68, which seeks to restrict gender-affirming care, and House Bill 6, which seeks to ban trans athletes from participating in the sport pertaining to their gender identity.
CCV lobbyist Nilani Jawahar testified in favor of HB 6.
“Right now, what we are seeing is the product of a society that does not embrace the differences between the sexes,” Jawahar wrote in her proponent testimony for HB 6. “We tout individuality, yet our actions promote conformity.”
CCV’s involvement in lawmaking extends far beyond advocacy. Reporting shows laws like House Bill 454 – banning gender affirming care for trans youth – were CCV’s conception, with Jawahar emailing staff of Representative Jennifer Gross, calling 454 “an important piece of legislation CCV plans to introduce soon.”
Representative Sarah Fowler Arthur, sponsor of “divisive concepts” bill HB 327, submitted a draft of the law to a CCV lobbyist, writing in an email: “If you’ve got time to look at this draft I’d be interested in your feedback.”
CCV even involves Washington D.C think tanks, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation in the state’s lawmaking process, utilizing advice from both to rework HB 290, otherwise known as the “Backpack Bill.”
Jay Collins, a longtime supporter of CCV, referenced their prowess when discussing his admiration of the group.
Not everyone in Ohio agrees with CCV’s values, or admires the policy positions they take. Outside of the Duke Energy Convention Center, a smattering of protesters were making themselves known, chanting “No Pence, No KKK, No Fascist USA,” as guests arrived and the night’s festivities began.
Waving their placards, the group stood behind the windowpane where Pence was conducting his interview with NBC News, with convention center security and law enforcement eventually standing between the glass and the organizers. The rallygoers were largely members of Cincinnati socialist groups, including DSA Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati Socialists, and the University of Cincinnati Young Democratic Socialists of America.
To them, the future envisioned by organizations like CCV is an extraordinarily dangerous one, with the infusion of religious doctrine and governmental policy.
Rey Hicks, a trans, bisexual computer science major and member of UC YDSA, said their attendance of the rally was a necessity.
Hicks said they believed policies supported by CCV “can get people killed,” by “restricting access to healthcare,” specifically trans rights and abortion access.
A study conducted by UCLA’s School of Law Williams Institute found respondents who received surgery or hormone therapy “had lower prevalence of past-year suicide attempts than those who had not received the care they needed (5% vs. 9%).”
Comparatively, “overall death rates for women of reproductive age (15–44) in abortion-restriction states were 34 percent higher than in abortion-access states,” research conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found.
Ethan Osborne comes from a different background. Forty years old, Osborne is a wildland firefighter, and described himself as “fighting for the working class since I became an activist in my youth as a teenager in high school back in the late nineties.”
Osborne condemned CCV, calling them “theocrats,” and fanatics. “They’re pure idealism, they’re pure fantasy. They’re pure superstition.”
Shaun Howard, pastor for Chillicothe First Assembly of God and member of CCV’s Joseph Council, argued that the position he and his colleagues hold is being misconstrued.
“I think it’s easy to live in a soundbite world,” Howard said. “I don’t think we’re as different as we think we are. We’re more alike than different.”
Pence concluded his Q&A as part of the event with a message for attendees.
“I’ll end where I began, I’ll just encourage you to just pray,” Pence said.
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