Battleground Voices: Cincinnati Councilman Chris Seelbach on the Fight for Equality

 

Seelbach headshot

When I moved to Ohio from Kentucky in 1998 to attend college, I never imagined the possibility of marriage equality in all 50 states in my lifetime.

As a kid, I’d often dreamt about a wedding ceremony with my future partner, surrounded by friends and family and legally sanctioned by our government.  I wondered who would be my “best man,” who my husband might be and, embarrassing enough, what colors we’d pick for our reception!  But it felt like just a childhood dream.  That it just wasn’t possible in my lifetime.  Not as a gay man.

And then it started.  In the spring of 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts constitution to allow only opposite-sex couples to marry.  The ruling started a conversation.  For the first time for so many, people began to talk about gay and lesbian equality, marriage and what it means to be treated fairly under the law.

The road wasn’t smooth.  Later that year 13 states, including Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky passed constitutional amendments, barring marriage equality in their respective states. Others followed, including Tennessee.  While the conversation had started, we were on the defense, fighting constitutional amendments across the country.

And then the strangest thing happened: more and more people began coming out.  Nurses, firefighters, moms, and dads.  Regular folks.  And people realized marriage equality wasn’t some legal idea or theory.  It wasn’t just a political talking point meant to divide us.  It wasn’t going to “destroy the sanctity of marriage,” or hurt families, but was about celebrating people we know (Our friends, family, co-workers, neighbors) and their love and commitment for one another.

We began to see a monumental shift in public opinion. The first African American President of the United States came out in support of marriage equality.  Then, more and more judges, appointed by both Republican and Democratic Presidents, issued opinions in support marriage equality.

And the tide officially turned.  With marriage equality legal in almost 40 of our 50 states, we are on the verge of a historic decision from the United States Supreme Court.  Today, I am proud to stand with almost 200 elected official from across the 6th Circuit, gay and straight, in support of full marriage equality, nationwide.

But it is important to understand that our work doesn’t end today and doesn’t end after the court issues a ruling in June.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, but racism, sexism and bias towards people of different religions and national origins exist every day.  The Americans with Disability Act passed in 1990, yet access to buildings is still difficult for people with different abilities.

Our fight for true equality does not stop with laws being passed, judges issuing rulings or politicians getting elected.  It will not end until all people are truly treated equally and fairly.

But, given that I will celebrate my 10th year anniversary with my partner Craig on June 12 (several weeks before the Supreme Court’s ruling), I have started thinking about who my best man might be…and what colors we’ll have at our reception.

Chris Seelbach serves on the Cincinnati City Council.

While Marching in Selma, Portman Reaffirms Reluctance to Stand Up For Voting Rights

Last weekend, our nation commemorated the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, where brave men and women were attacked for marching in support of voting rights.

One hundred members of Congress joined yesterday’s march, and in one of the most powerful moments of his speech, President Obama challenged them to not simply march there, but to restore the Voting Rights Act back in Washington:

“One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.”

Unfortunately, while Ohio Senator Rob Portman was marching, he was not listening.

Think Progress reported, while in Selma, Sen. Portman was asked if he planned to support the proposed fix to the Voting Rights Act that is required due to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Section 4 of the Act.

His response? “I haven’t looked at it. Is there a Senate version?”

Yes, Senator, there is. But it has no Republican sponsors.

“This day is about more than just tweaks to the Voting Rights Act. This is about ensuring equal justice and learning from the lessons of the past,” Portman continued to Think Process.

ODP Chair of Party Engagement Nina Turner took objection when learning of Sen. Portman’s remarks:

“Actions speak louder than political rhetoric. If Sen. Portman truly believes in equal access to the ballot box, he can take immediate action by pledging to support the VRA Amendment that has been introduced by his Democratic colleagues in both chambers of the U.S. Congress.”

“Unfortunately, research shows a continued increase in voting restrictions across the country, and more often than not they impact America’s minority and low-income populations.”

“We have learned many important lessons from the past; the question is, does Sen. Portman have the courage to stand up and protect our right to vote in the present,” stated Turner.

Along with not supporting the current fix to the Voting Rights Act, Senator Portman has not supported legislation to increase participation in elections including the Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly known as the Motor-Voter legislation.

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Paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party, David Pepper, Chairman, 340 East Fulton Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215

Standing up for our values and rights – ODP leads effort to file brief with United States Supreme Court

As a Democrat, I’m a firm believer that we need to be a party that stands up for our values, and for the rights of the citizens of our state.

And when we stand up, I want to do so in a way that shows we are both serious and deeply passionate about the issues we care about.

Along those lines, I am proud to let you know that today, the Ohio Democratic Party today filed an Amicus Brief at the United States Supreme Court urging the court to reverse the unfortunate Sixth Circuit ruling upholding Ohio’s ban on marriage equality. Moreover, I am thrilled that in putting this brief together—working hand in hand with the Michigan Democratic Party—we have united hundreds of officials from all four states of the Sixth Circuit (Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio) to speak up in one voice for the rights of those who these “bans” have unconstitutionally targeted for a decade.

We are especially called upon to play this role because Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, among others, has been all too eager to defend these bans at every level. Our aim is to not simply criticize him from afar for doing so, but to go to the highest court in the land and forcefully rebut his deeply flawed legal reasoning.

You can read the Amicus Brief by clicking here. As a lawyer who has been involved in many appellate briefs (and as a former law clerk who reviewed many), I can say that it is one of the most well-argued legal documents I’ve encountered—thanks to a team of nationally respected attorneys who worked on the project.

Finally, this will not be an isolated action. It has become crystal clear that as in this case, Attorney General DeWine seems far too eager to go to court on behalf of his political party or ideology while too often ignoring the rights and interests of the Ohioans who pay his salary. So we have created a new Advocacy Committee at the Ohio Democratic Party, guided by respected lawyers from around Ohio, and we will file more such briefs whenever courts need to be reminded that Attorney General DeWine is failing to represent Ohio, and failing to understand the law.

We will keep you posted on future cases.

David Pepper
Chairman, Ohio Democratic Party

BATTLEGROUND VOICES: Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga

Put American workers at the table in trade deals and keep them off the menu

By Tim Burga  Burga_Headshot_web

As Congress begins debate on whether to give President Obama unilateral authority to negotiate a new round of international trade agreements (“Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority), Ohioans would be well served to look at the catastrophic results of recent such arrangements. Between 2000 and 2014, American manufacturing employment dropped by 4 million jobs.  Fast Track authority and flawed trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), along with the inclusion of China in Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), have blown up our import/export deficit and have led to the loss of over 300,000 Ohio manufacturing jobs and numerous additional losses in feeder and supply related work.

Fast Track circumvents Congressional oversight, limits transparency and has resulted in trade agreements that have benefitted global corporations at the expense of workers and their families.  Fast Track needs to be replaced with a new process for negotiating and approving trade agreements that increases Congressional and public oversight so that we can harvest the benefits of expanded trade without undermining the basic tenants of American democracy.

America’s working families cannot afford more flawed trade agreements that hollow out our industrial base, drive down wages, increase inequality, and add to our unsustainable trade deficit.  Congress should reject any legislation that allows trade negotiations to be done in secret which prevent federal, state and local elected officials or the public from being able to meaningfully participate in trade policy making.   Our most recent trade negotiating practices have hurt our economy in profound ways and we simply cannot afford to keep making those same mistakes.

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America’s workers understand that global trade is a necessary part of economic growth. They also understand that the evidence is overwhelming that a new U.S. trade model is desperately needed- a new “gold standard” model that prioritizes raising wages and shared prosperity for workers.  ”Buy American” should be much more than just a slogan- it should be the centerpiece of every decision that Congress and the President make.

Sign the petition and tell Congress that America needs jobs, not bad trade policy. Put the brakes on the “fast track” bill.

Tim Burga is President of the Ohio AFL-CIO.

BATTLEGROUND VOICES: ODP Chairman David Pepper

Tuesday, Governor Kasich delivered his annual State of the State address in Wilmington, Ohio.

I was deeply appreciative of his honoring of Cincinnati’s Lauren Hill, who has inspired so many across the country, along with other Ohioans who showed tremendous courage over the past year.

And I agree with the Governor on our state’s many great strengths.

But for many Ohio families, the state of Ohio and its economy—as they are directly experiencing it—is not nearly strong enough. Indeed, a poll last week found that despite several years of a robust national recovery, more than half of Ohioans still do not feel like their own financial situation has improved. Almost a third said it’s gotten worse over the past year!

When you look at budget decisions in the state over the past several years—as well as the Governor’s most recent tax proposal—it’s clear why the majority feel that way.

Unfortunately, the formula since 2010 has been clear: 1) trickle-down tax shifts that ask more of families who are struggling economically, but give generous tax breaks to those who are doing the best; 2) budget gimmicks that have transferred dollars from our local governments and schools to state coffers, leading to higher local taxes combined with layoffs of hard working public servants.

The latest tax proposal is more of the same. Ohioans making an income of $58,000 or below will actually see a tax INCREASE, and those making less than $89,000 will have no change at all. In Wilmington, where the Governor touted his plan, the average family is looking at an overall tax increase of $122.

Where have years of this trickle down philosophy gotten Ohio? Not far. Ohio’s recovery lags other states, ranking 37th in the country for job growth. Wages remain stagnant, and our median income is less than the national average. We’re still 80,000 jobs under where we were before the recession. No wonder so many working families continue to struggle.

As Leaders Schiavoni and Strahorn have made clear, the path to prosperity in Ohio requires the opposite approach. Focus on middle class prosperity—increasing wages, improving schools, investing in infrastucture, respecting working families, restoring the commitment to communities—and then the state of the state will ultimately be strong.

Democrats across the state, at all levels, will continue pushing for policies that return to these priorities.

For more analysis on the impacts of the state budget, visit Innovation Ohio at www.innovationohio.org.

BATTLEGROUND VOICES: House and Senate Leaders Discuss Gov. Kasich’s Budget

I am excited to announce that we will begin utilizing the ODP’s blog to regularly feature thoughts and opinions from leaders around Ohio. Our goal is to keep Ohio Democrats informed on the critical issues in our state and its communities, as well as introduce those Ohioans who are making a difference on these issues every day, at all levels.

Our first submission is from Senate Minority Leader Schiavoni and House Minority Leader Strahorn, explaining the deep problems with Governor Kasich’s budget proposal.

-David Pepper


 

Governor Kasich calls his budget a Blueprint for a New Ohio, but it’s really more of the same. The Governor continues his quest to lower the state income tax by raising taxes that disproportionately impact lower and middle income Ohioans.

Kasich has proposed increasing the state sales tax for the second consecutive budget—this time by 0.5% to 6.25%–and he wants to broaden it to include other services. So, if you think your cable TV bill is too high, it would go even higher and the next time you take a vacation that might cost more too. That’s because cable television subscriptions and travel packages and tours would be taxed.

The tax increases don’t end there. The Governor’s budget calls for raising the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products by $1.00 per pack. While there are public health benefits to reducing smoking, this increase impacts poor Ohioans more than other groups. Increases to the tobacco tax should go to smoking cessation programs not to further income tax cuts.

Even businesses and some senior citizens would not be spared. Larger businesses would be hit with a $691 million increase in the Commercial Activities Tax and senior citizens would have to pay $318 million more because of new means testing for the Social Security deduction and other tax credits.

All of this is being done so people in the top tax brackets can reap the largest benefits from another income tax cut. Democrats in the General Assembly have been calling this misguided policy a “tax shift”. Fortunately, more and more people across the state are waking up to this reality and the negative impact it is having on Ohioans.

Now, even Republicans are beginning to question the Governor’s policies. At a recent media briefing that we attended with reporters from the Associated Press, both the Senate President and the Speaker of the House spoke out against tax shifting. That’s progress, but we have much more work to do.

We urge the citizens of Ohio to get involved and speak out against this continuing tax shift. Call, write or email your elected officials and let them know how you feel. The state budget should reflect priorities that benefit all Ohioans, not just a fortunate few. You can count on Democrats in the general Assembly to stand up for your interests as the budget is debated over the coming months.

 

Senator Joe Schiavoni, Ohio Senate Minority Leader

Representative Fred Strahorn, Ohio House Minority Leader

Higher Unemployment, 12,400 Jobs Lost in July Under John Kasich’s Failed Policies

As Ohio loses jobs, labor market continues to shrink

COLUMBUS – This morning, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services released the July jobs report and revised June figures for Ohio. After losing nearly 3,000 jobs in May, the revised June job creation figure was reduced by almost a third.  July’s report showed Ohio lost 12,400 jobs overall with 2,900 jobs lost in manufacturing.  Ohio’s unemployment rate increased by .2% even though 6,000 Ohioans dropped out of the labor market—the 5th consecutive month Ohio’s labor market has shrunk.  In July, Ohio’s labor participation rate fell below the national rate.   This is third straight month that the number of employed Ohioans has shrunk.

In response to this month’s economic data, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern released the following statement:

“Under John Kasich, Ohio’s job growth continues to drag behind the rest of the nation, and more people give up on finding a job in our state each month. These numbers reveal a frightening reality about Ohioans struggling in a weak economy. Kasich’s policies have failed to create the jobs Ohioans need, all while shifting the tax burden onto middle class families.”

WHAT OTHERS HAVE BEEN SAYING ABOUT OHIO’S LAGGING ECONOMY:

Once again, Ohio had a subpar gain to that of the United States for 20 consecutive months,” he said. “What this means is that more than 100,000 Ohio workers can’t find a job because our recovery is too slow.” – Economic Research Analyst George Zeller. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer (7/18/2014), “Ohio’s unemployment rate 5.5%; state gained 12,700 jobs in June.”]

“Ohio hasn’t had the big rebound like other states.”—Michael Wolf, an economist with Wells Fargo & Co. [Source: Columbus Dispatch (6/21/2014), “Ohio’s jobless rate of 5.5% lowest since April 2007.”]

BACKGROUND

For the 20th straight month, Ohio’s job creation rate has been lower than the national average.  In reaction to the June jobs report, economic research analyst George Zeller noted, “Ohio had a subpar gain to that of the United States for 20 consecutive months.” [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer (7/18/2014), “Ohio’s unemployment rate 5.5%; state gained 12,700 jobs in June.”]

Job creation under John Kasich in Ohio has lagged U.S. job growth.  In fact, at least 8 other governor’s terms since 1959 have seen stronger job growth than Ohio has seen so far under John Kasich.  [Source:  Cleveland Plain Dealer (8/5/2014), “Ohio lags U.S. jobs growth, as it has under a half-century of governors from John Kasich to Michael DiSalle.”]

When Kasich was elected Governor, Ohio’s job creation rate was nearly twice that of the national rate.  Now, Ohio’s ranked 38th in job creation.  In November 2010, Ohio’s job creation rate was 1.02% compared to the national average of  .54%.  Now, Ohio is ranked 38th in the nation with a job growth rate  (.83%) lower than it was in 2010. [Source: Arizona State University, W.P. Carey School of Business, “Job Growth USA” website (accessed 6/23/2014)]

In 2010, Ohio created over 55,000 new jobs — more than it did in 2013 under Kasich.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ohio created 55,100 jobs in 2010, a year before Kasich took office, while only creating 50,400 jobs last year.  [Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, CES Survey, seasonally adjusted (accessed 5/8/2014)].

Job gains under Kasich are in lower paying industries than the jobs lost in the recession.  “Weekly hourly earnings in the industries that showed employment gains since the recession in Ohio range from $12 to about $25 per hour,” [Veronica Kalich, an economics professor at Baldwin Wallace University] said, adding that professional and business services came in a little higher. “Employment has not recovered in the higher paying jobs.”  [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, (7/7/2014), “Ohio has not recovered 120,000 jobs lost since the recession: some say number higher.”]

Unemployment rate drop has been fueled by people leaving the workforce, not job creation.  Since Kasich took office, Ohioans labor market has shrunk by 91,000.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statics, 91,000 Ohioans have dropped out of the labor market since Kasich took office. In 2014 so far alone, over 43,000 Ohioans dropped out of the labor market. [Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, LAUS Survey, seasonally adjusted (accessed 8/15/2014)]

Nationally, the country now has more jobs than it did at its pre-recession level.  With today’s national jobs report for May, the country now has more jobs than it did before the 2008 recession.  [Source: New York Times (6/6/2014), “In Jobs Report, Two Milestones.”]

Yost Boasts Of Finding Misspending By Already Closed Charter School

Misspending Already Documented Years Ago

COLUMBUS –On Tuesday, Dave Yost released three audits regarding Elite Academy of the Arts, which was closed by the Ohio Department of Education in 2012, concerning spending from 2009 until it closed, Ohio Democratic Deputy Communications Director Brian Hester released the following statement:

“Yost should explain how the public is served when his office’s obvious backlog prevents relevant information about how tax money is being misspent from being uncovered in a timely manner.  If this is the best Yost can do, he’s proven to be a poor watchdog for Ohio taxpayers.  Because of Yost’s inability to timely release these audits, wrongdoers have years of a head start to avoid apprehension by law enforcement.”

Questions raised by Yost’s delayed release of these audits:

  1. Why was Elite Academy never audited by the State when it was open?
  2. Why did it take Yost’s office two more years to complete the audit of an already closed school over spending that occurred nearly five years ago?
  3. Why did Yost’s office not make it a priority to complete these audits once it was announced that the school was being closed due to poor academic performance?
  4. What became of Yost’s referral to the Ohio Ethics Commission in 2012 over this failed closed charter?
  5. What steps has Yost’s office taken to avoid further delays in completing audits of poor performing or closing charter schools?

BACKGROUND

The Ohio Department of Education ordered Elite Academy of the Arts closed before the State Auditor’s Office had ever audited it.  In 2011, the Ohio Department of Education ordered the Elite Academy of the Arts charter school to close in FY 2012. [Source: Ohio Department of Education.]

Prior to its closure, the Auditor’s Office apparently had never audited the charter school, but months after it closed released two audits concerning its activities in 2007-2009.  [Source: Ohio Auditor’s website.]

The first audit of the charter school Yost released in 2012 already showed the charter school had allegedly misspent money in buying alcohol on multiple occasions,  had poor support to justify cash withdraws,  and had poor financial reporting and recording safeguards.  The 2012 audits also alleged that the superintendent had an unlawful interest in the district’s contract with its operator since he was also the operator’s owner.  These are virtually the same findings Yost made in the audits he released on Tuesday.  [Source: State Auditor’s Audits for Elite Academy of the Arts released on 8/21/2012 and 4/1/2014 (five audits in total.)]

RNC Leader Reince Priebus Visits Ohio

Expected to Make Another Flawed Prediction About GOP Ground Game

SALEM, OHIO– Tonight, Friday, April 4th, 2014, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will fly into Ohio to headline the Columbiana County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner. In advance of the RNC Chairman’s speech, Ohio Democratic Party Communications Director Meredith Tucker released the following statement:

“Tonight, we’re sure to hear a lot of bravado about the Republicans’ plans for a new ground game in Ohio. So while they start from scratch, we’re building on our successful, already-proven Get Out The Vote strategy. Reince was wrong on Ohio then, and he’s wrong on Ohio now.”

A few things to keep in mind as the national Republican leader comes to Ohio to talk 2014 “strategy”:

FLASHBACK: Priebus wrongly predicted in 2012, “We’re going to crush them in Ohio.”

NewYork Observer // “RNC Chairman Reince Priebus: ‘We’re Going to Crush Them in Ohio’”

That’s the one thing that I think that is a narrative out there that I just think is blatantly uninformed, which is the fact that the Democrats have this great ground game. I think we’re going to crush the Democrats on the ground,” Mr. Priebus said. “I just don’t think they’ve got a very good ground game. I’ve looked through it, I’ve seen it. It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s a lot of talk, but when you go around the neighborhood and you look at who’s getting absentee ballots in the municipal clerks’ offices and you figure out who’s hitting their goals, in our case, we’ve got a sophisticated program around our GOP universe and we check that every single morning with municipal clerks’ offices that are hooked up to our system. And I just know that we’re better than them on the ground, and I think that we’re going to crush them in Ohio.”

REALITY:

The Wire // Romney’s Get Out The Vote Plan Was a Complete Disaster

“As Republicans continue to deconstruct the failure of the Romney campaign, volunteers have revealed that there were serious problems with the candidate’s whiz-bang tech solution for getting people to the polls.”

BUT, SERIOUSLY:

The Boston Globe // ORCA, Mitt Romney’s high-tech get-out-the-vote program Crashed on Election Day

“Mitt Romney’s online voter-turnout operation suffered a meltdown on Election Day, result­ing in a crucial 90-minute “buckling” of the system in Boston […]”

Ohio Democratic Candidates Remember SB 5 Anniversary

Three years ago today, Governor Kasich signed SB 5 into law

COLUMBUS – Today is the third anniversary of Governor Kasich’s signing of SB 5 into law.   As Democratic statewide candidates campaigned throughout the State as part of our “Working Families Tour” today, they issued the following statements in honor of today’s anniversary.

Gubernatorial Candidate Ed FitzGerald:

“Three years ago today, Governor Kasich began an assault on hardworking Ohioans. And while he lost that fight, it is clear that the Governor’s position on the right of workers to bargain for healthcare and a living wage remains unchanged. Just last week, he ‘scoffed’ at the impact of his cuts on firefighters and flew to Vegas to meet with one of the largest anti-union donors in the country. Ohio’s families can’t risk another four years of John Kasich.”

Ohio Attorney General Candidate David Pepper:

“Senate Bill 5 was a betrayal of the first responders, teachers, and other hardworking public employees who dedicate themselves to the people of Ohio. The Attorney General, as the state’s top legal officer, has a special duty to look out for these people and for all hardworking Ohioans. I will never stand silently by while the livelihood and safety of police, teachers, firefighters, or any Ohioans are under attack.”

Secretary of State Candidate Nina Turner:

“Three years ago, Governor Kaisch signed SB 5 into law. The grassroots campaign that followed demonstrated to the nation the power and importance of making every voter matter and every vote count.”

State Auditor Candidate John Patrick Carney:

“Public employees, like firefighters and teachers, provide critical services for all Ohioans. As public servants and pillars of our community, they each deserve fair wages and benefits to make their mortgage, put food on their table, and care for their family.”

State Treasurer Candidate Connie Pillich:

“Today is a reminder of why we must never forget the worker. I was proud to be a part of defeating SB 5 – which would have led to fewer firefighters responding to our emergencies, fewer police officers protecting our neighborhoods, and fewer resources for our schools.  As State Treasurer, I will continue to fight for working families, safeguard Ohioans’ hard earned tax dollars, and help protect and strengthen seniors’ retirement and pension security.”

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Paid for and authorized by the Ohio Democratic Party, not authorized by any federal candidate or campaign committee. David Pepper, Chairman, 340 East Fulton St, Columbus, Ohio 43215.