Thursday, July 10, 2014





Column-Joe Hallett: Lawmakers stray far from their constituents


August 24. 2013 7:08AM
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Are we crazy?



Are those of us who view ourselves as mainstream Ohioans — who hover around the political center, who like some aspects of the conservative agenda and some aspects of the liberal agenda but are not hook, line and sinker in either camp — are we deluding ourselves into thinking we are the majority?



Because if you watch what’s happening in the Ohio Legislature, which is supposed to be representative of the state, then you could only conclude that the majority of Ohioans are on the far right and that common sense no longer exists as we thought we knew it.



Forget Congress. It’s already a hopeless bastion of nonsense, as evident by the Senate’s rejection last week of an amendment expanding background checks on gun purchases, a provision supported by 84 percent of Ohio voters, including 80 percent who are gun owners, according to a poll released Friday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.



These days, the Republican-dominated Ohio General Assembly might be unmatched for its production of bad legislation, its devotion to fringe groups and their narrow-minded ideology, and its loyalty to the lobbies that larder legislative campaign accounts.



A void created by weak leadership in the House and Senate has been filled by tea-party bullies and self-serving independent lobbyists with checkered pasts.



Common sense, particularly in the Ohio House, has been supplanted by an irrational suspicion of all things Barack Obama and by a longing for 16th century puritanical mores.



For example, last week we witnessed a nearly successful attempt to amend the state budget to effectively limit high-school sex education to the teaching of abstinence, allowing parents to sue teachers who dared cross an ill-defined line by giving students realistic information. What did succeed was a provision blocking $1.4 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood, imperiling education programs used, in part, to teach women, especially poor women, how to be healthy moms and raise healthy babies.



Disdain for the Obama brand motivated House Republicans to no longer require that money to improve school broadband capacity be connected to new education achievement standards known as Common Core because some national conservative groups view the standards as federally mandated ” Obama core.”



But nothing illustrates the loss of common sense in our state legislature more than the rejection of Republican Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid services and the reluctance to put Internet sweepstake cafes out of business.



House Republicans, again driven by a tea-party hatred of Obamacare, stripped from the budget Kasich’s plan to cover 275,000 low-income Ohioans under Medicaid, ignoring its obvious humanitarian and fiscal benefits. By rejecting the Medicaid expansion, House Republicans turned down $13?billion in federal funding over seven years.



As a result, the House version of the state budget costs Ohio taxpayers $504 million in increased spending and foregone federal revenue. Is that what counts as conservative these days?



House Republicans — and Democrats — should be commended for passing a bill that effectively would put Internet sweepstakes cafes out of business, a no-brainer move to eliminate 794 unregulated and likely illegal gambling establishments with no redeeming social value. They prey on the poor, abet gambling addictions, siphon money from voter-approved and tax-generating casinos and provide no revenue to the state.



And yet, Republican leaders in the Senate who have become cozy with Internet cafe lobbyists are delaying action on the bill, possibly into next year. After GOP senators got caught dining with some of those lobbyists 12 days ago at a swanky Columbus restaurant, a cynic might surmise that the delay is a ploy to raise more campaign cash from multiple interests in the heavily lobbied bill.



If you consider yourself a mainstream Ohioan and are appalled by the actions of our legislature, not to worry, it’s not you who is crazy.



Joe Hallett is senior editor at the Columbus Dispatch. You can email him at jhallett@dispatch.com





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