Strange doings in Ohio politics

Republicans have a lock on all statewide elected positions in Ohio and have comfortable majorities in both legislative bodies, with the exception of the US senate where Sherrod Brown is one of the senators. So they can do pretty much what they like and one of the things they like to do is restrict women’s health options by passing legislation that “defund Planned Parenthood, block grants to rape crisis centers that refer women to abortion clinics, and prevent abortion clinics from transferring patients to public hospitals in the case of severe complications.”

But the governor John Kasich and the legislature are not in lockstep on all issues. He has been thwarted in his attempts to accept the federal government’s offer to fully fund for at least three years the Medicaid expansion program that will benefit those who are currently too poor to qualify for the subsidized health insurance offered under the Affordable Care Act but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. This expansion program raises the level of income for Medicaid eligibility. As readers will recall, the US Supreme Court ruled that while the ACA was constitutional, the federal government could not require states to accept this expansion as part of getting any Medicaid funding at all.

The Republican legislature, strong in the belief that any element of the ACA is Satan’s spawn, has rejected the governor’s pleas to authorize the program. Now Kasich is being reported as planning to circumvent the legislature by using a body known as the State Controlling Board to push the measure through, provoking howls of outrage by his fellow Republicans, who argue that this would be an improper use of that body.

“Expanding Medicaid is the wrong policy decision for Ohio — one which provides poor health outcomes for participants, drives down workforce participation, and will cost Ohioans billions of dollars,” Robert Alt, president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative think tank, said in a released statement. “To circumvent the legislature to ram through this bad policy is what we have grown to expect from the dysfunction in Washington, but Ohioans expect and deserve better from their state officeholders.”

Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County Tea Party, added in a released statement, “We are disappointed that the governor has chosen to take this course of action. He is going against the wishes of his own state party, 75 percent of registered Republicans in Ohio who do not want it. Worst of all it is a betrayal of the 66 percent of Ohioans who voted for the Ohio Health Care Amendment.”

The SCB has six members (four Republicans and two Democrats) and will take up the measure on October 21. It requires four votes to pass.

Meanwhile Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who lost his US Senate race to Sherrod Brown in 2012, sinks deeper into a scandal regarding a quid pro quo arrangement that he seems to have had with a campaign donor who has been indicted in California.

Mandel took the extraordinary step of threatening to sue, as Ohio State Treasurer, local district attorneys in California if they pursued charges against his donor. The California Attorney General dismissed his letter. Ohio’s Attorney General, who would be the person who would actually have to bring the suit, was not contacted before the letter was sent.

The letter, which asked [California State Treasurer Bill] Lockyer to rein in potential lawsuits against Suarez’s Canton-based direct-marketing company or risk a possible lawsuit by Ohio, “read like a letter from an ill-informed constituent,” Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar said in a telephone interview.

“It is pretty amazing coming from a state treasurer,” Dresslar said. “He should know better.”

Mandel now says he does not remember sending the letter nor a similar one to a Ohio member of Congress.

Mandel is a young and highly ambitious politician, a nasty piece of work but much loved by the Tea Party types here because he has that mix of sneering arrogance layered over self-righteous right wing rhetoric that appeals to them. I hope this scandal sinks his re-election campaign and his political career for good.

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