Childish antics take priority over serious governance in the Ohio Statehouse and U.S. Congress

October 17, 2023 4:30 am
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters as House Republicans hold a caucus meeting at the Longworth House Office Building on Oct. 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters as House Republicans hold a caucus meeting at the Longworth House Office Building on Oct. 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Grow up. Is that too much to ask of a slim Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives or a Republican super majority in the Ohio House? Arrested adolescence is not a preferred trait in vital positions of government leadership but is increasingly standard fare in GOP-controlled legislative branches on the federal and state level. 

In the Republican realm, principled governance has been replaced by annoyingly childish antics in Congress and the Statehouse. We don’t have public servants tackling pressing issues that need urgent resolution. We have politicians stuck in middle school behaving like jerks, throwing temper tantrums, needing tons of attention, acting impulsively and seeking instant gratification.  

In Congress, a rudderless House of Representatives — paralyzed by Republican in-fighting over the next speaker — fiddled while Rome burned, war broke out in Israel, and a government shutdown loomed. Ably conducting the people’s business and addressing unfolding crises was the furthest thing from the minds of juveniles preoccupied with getting their way or having a meltdown if they didn’t. 

At this writing, a Jan. 6 coup-plotter, who schemed to overturn the 2020 presidential election and ignore the will of voters, is twisting arms to secure the speakership for himself. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan is using the endorsement of the coup mastermind (and criminally-indicted ex-president) to intimidate holdouts into caving. The threat of being primaried by MAGA extremists is a persuasive hammer.  

Moral courage is not a hallmark of the GOP congressional caucus. But acting out, like a schoolyard bully or moody teenager slamming doors, is characteristic of the kiddie coalition in the U.S. House blithely careening the country off a cliff. Creating a never-ending soap opera for Fox “News” viewers is what motivates the self-involved children.

Every day, the slim Republican majority in the U.S. House goes out of its way to demonstrate how not to govern responsibly with its melodramatic hissy fits and partisan grandstanding. Gone among the actors is any pretense of problem-solving or serious policy-making. They’re focused on getting noticed and raising money. 

Left to right, state Reps. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Township, Brian Stewart, R-Ashville. (Photo by Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal.)

Meanwhile, their dysfunctional GOP counterparts in the gerrymandered Ohio House supermajority also sport intra-party schisms over a sense of entitlement to (wait for it) the House speakership. Nearly a year of sulking, whining and pouting by the sore loser of that job has escalated to crying in court. Republicans suing Republicans over traditional perks of the post customarily awarded to the duly elected speaker. 

Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens won the top leadership role in January on a bipartisan vote that relied on Democratic support. The surprise victory infuriated Rep. Derek Merrin, of Monclova, who thought he had the gavel in the bag. Merrin was hardly gracious in defeat.

A week after he lost the speaker’s race, the angry kiddo from northwest Ohio crowned himself the GOP leader of state House Republicans and stomped around like a petulant child who refused to play by the rules. Merrin even vowed to change the rules of the House to lessen the speaker’s power and promised to advance legislation Speaker Stephens opposed. Then he might as well have stuck his tongue out and snapped, “So there!”

The 37-year-old child should have been given a time out for his egocentricity. What followed was a petty censure of Stephens and his GOP supporters by the Ohio Republican Party’s central committee and orchestrated attack ads to upend their re-election. Merrin never let up — or grew up. 

He claimed he was in charge (like a child saying, “You’re not the boss of me!”) of the Republican House caucus and crucially, its fundraising operation. Never mind that the House speaker is the conventional leader of the majority caucus who usually presides over the campaign fund. But Merrin, like a two-year-old, wanted what he wanted so he and his GOP allies sued Speaker Stephens to control the cash and who gets it.

Honestly, is there a bug in the MAGA party ethos that awakens adolescence in members who tear into each other kicking and screaming? Perhaps it’s an inability-to-govern affliction roiling today’s GOP where threatened paybacks and promised retribution are all the rage and  perceived ticket to political dominance. Might MAGA membership be what triggers partisans to devolve into toddlers shrieking on the floor in a tailspin with team members?

Lost to the squabbling GOP adolescents, of course, is any concept of elected duty to serve the best interests of voters they are privileged to represent. Lost on the short-term thinkers engrossed in themselves is any notion of listening and responding to what people actually want, need, and expect of their elected officials. It’s why we’re barreling toward a costly shutdown of the federal government and catastrophe in the Gaza Strip.

It’s why we’re facing a slew of preemptive gun lobby bills in Ohio. Recent polls show Ohioans overwhelmingly want stronger gun safety regulations — including mandatory background checks for gun buyers, training to get concealed carry permits, safe storage requirements and others — largely blocked by Republicans in bed with the gun industry. 

Question is, when will grown-up voters, whose demands continually fall on the deaf ears of childish partisans, insist their elected officials in Columbus and D.C. grow up or get out. It’s not too much to ask. Effective governing isn’t kids play.



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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.