COLUMBUS, Ohio — Foes of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine are bringing the heat, and they’re mostly members of his own party.
This week state Rep. John Becker made a move to impeach DeWine because of the way the governor has handled the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the second time in four months Becker has done such.
Becker, who represents Clermont County east of Cincinnati, filed a dozen articles of impeachment on Monday alleging that DeWine has broken the law and violated the state and federal constitutions with his health orders that mandate face masks, set curfews for businesses and weaponize the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to “bully and harass businesses and the people” to wear masks.
That’s just the latest.
Statehouse Republicans pushed forward a series of bills in November that seek to limit a governor’s authority to issue orders in response to a pandemic. They also sent a letter to DeWine criticizing him for telling businesses to act as “mask police.”
On top of that, a group of anti-abortion organizations announced they no longer had confidence in DeWine because of his choices to lead the state’s health department. It was another surprising turn against a governor who last year signed one of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation.
The in-party attacks come against one of the most successful Republican politicians in Ohio history. DeWine has been elected to almost every position in the state during a political career that dates back to 1980. During those 40 years he has won 19 of 21 elections. Yet, GOP dissatisfaction with the governor is leading to plenty of talk about who might run against him in a 2022 Republican primary.
One name being brought up is U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan. He has the name recognition and fundraising capability needed for a statewide run. He’s also popular in the many rural counties that Donald Trump used to easily carry Ohio in the November election. The speculation about Jordan’s possible interest has been fueled by his social media posts that took a jab at DeWine’s mask and curfew orders.
Jordan has tweeted, “Starting Thursday in Ohio: Walk your dog at 9:59 p.m.? Covid free! Walk your dog at 10:01 p.m.? 90 days in jail.”
In another tweet, the congressman who represents Allen County stated:
“Want to get married in Ohio? Here are the new rules:
-You can drive your friends to the wedding, but don’t sit with them at the reception.
-You can throw the bouquet, but don’t leave your seat to catch it.
-You can have a drink while sitting, but not standing.
What a joke.”
Jordan, however, has not directly said he has any interest in running for governor. Attempts by The Lima News to reach him were unsuccessful.
Another Republican who may be considering a run at DeWine is former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who ran a failed U.S. Senate campaign two years ago. He is no fan of DeWine, writing that the state is “committing economic suicide” with its handling of the pandemic.
For his part, DeWine said during his Monday press conference that he’s “not spending much time thinking about politics at this point. We have a pandemic to deal with.”
But when pressed about the impeachment effort, the 73-year-old governor fired back. He said instead of wasting time on this, his foes should talk to frontline nurses and families who have experienced the loss of a loved one.
“I’d like for them to go in and talk to some nurses who are frontline nurses who are dealing with people who are dying. At some point this foolishness needs to stop,” DeWine said.
According to the Ohio State Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment, but a majority of its 99 members must concur. The State Senate tries the impeachment, with a two-thirds vote needed to convict a governor of impeachment.
For now, Becker is joined by just three House members: state Reps. Candice Keller, R-Middletown; Nino Vitale, R-Urbana; and Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason. In a written release, Becker claimed DeWine “continues to have callous disregard for the fact that his isolation policies have led to a shockingly high number of suicides, alarming rates of drug abuse, persistently high unemployment, and the forced abandonment of the elderly by their loved ones.”
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney told the Springfield News-Sun he had yet to see the latest articles of impeachment but noted that Becker’s last impeachment attempt was “patently absurd.”
Becker, Vitale and Zeltwanger first filed articles of impeachment against DeWine in August.
The “same guy”
Polling still shows DeWine has strong and broad support in Ohio despite the frustration and unhappiness stemming from the pandemic.
DeWine maintains his politics have not changed, including his views on abortion.
“The Mike DeWine that you see today is the same Mike DeWine that got elected,” he said in November, a day after ordering a statewide curfew. “I am pro-life — I’m completely pro-life. And that means I worry about the child before it’s born, and I worry about the 80-year-old who’s in a nursing home who might get COVID.”
Early during the coronavirus outbreak, DeWine won praise for his aggressive steps to slow the spread, but since then he has encountered criticism from those who think he went too far with business shutdowns and believe he backed down from protecting the public.
“A lot of people around here enjoy their liberties and feel he’s infringing on them in a big way,” Richard Delzeith, the GOP chair in rural Mercer County, told the Associated Press. DeWine won Mercer County with 80% of the vote two years ago. The mood has changed.
“People have lost their businesses to the shutdown. They will definitely remember this,” Delzeith said. “People tell me they will never vote for DeWine ever again. That’s pretty strong wording.”
Allen County Republican Chairman Keith Cheney gave a more measured response when asked about DeWine’s policies by praising the governor’s efforts to keep Ohioans safe and businesses open. As for the calls for impeachment, he said he doesn’t think DeWine’s actions — undertaken for public health concerns — are a cause for removal.
At the same time, he commended the General Assembly’s efforts to limit the governor’s power during the pandemic.
“They are looking at some legislation that would limit the powers of the health commissioner and thus that of the governor and put it back in the hands of duly-elected representatives in both the House and Senate,” Cheney said.
The bill passed the legislature in late November. DeWine has already promised to veto it.
The party’s leaders in a handful of other rural counties said it’s too early to know whether the frustration out there now will last.
Lacie Sims, who owns the Village Family Restaurant in Waynesville, a village in southwestern Ohio, said DeWine “doesn’t have many supporters here.”
She voted for him in 2018 but soured on him after he shut down indoor dining last winter before many counties, including hers, had any confirmed cases. Her restaurant has lost $250,000 since then, she said.
Sims, who wanted it known that she takes the virus seriously, said she would welcome a Republican primary for governor in 2022.
“I would be very hard pressed not to support someone who believes in small government,” Sims said. “If that candidate is out there, I hope they run. They’ll have my support.”
The Associated Press, the Springfield News-Sun and Tribune Media contributed to this report.