A familiar face elected as Ohio’s new governor and a payday lending scandal that resulted in the resignation and investigation of the House speaker were the top stories in Ohio politics this year.
Ohioans were engaged in politics this year. With President Donald Trump facing his first midterm congressional election and competitive races in Ohio, more than 4.4 million Ohioans voted in the November election, setting a record for a non-presidential election year. The turnout was just more than 50 percent of the state’s voting population.
Here’s a look at what made news in the world of politics in Ohio this year:
1) Mike DeWine elected governor
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine defeated Democrat Richard Cordray in the most expensive governor race in state history. Nearly $44 million was spent just by the two candidates, not counting money from outside groups.
DeWine’s win marked the first time in 100 years that a Miami Valley resident won the governor race. The last Dayton-area governor was James M. Cox.
Adding to the Dayton-area influence, DeWine’s running mate, Secretary of State Jon Husted, has strong local ties having graduating from the University of Dayton, working for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and representing the area at the Statehouse.
2) Payday lending scandal forces Ohio speaker from office
The news broke in April that the FBI was investigating Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville. Not long after, Rosenberger, a Wright State University graduate, resigned, ending the career of one of the state’s rising political stars.
A Dayton Daily News investigation revealed that a representative of a payday lender, Advance America, made three international trips with Rosenberger. At the time, Advance America was opposing a payday lending reform measure that was stalled in the Ohio House. Payday lenders also helped underwrite Rosenberger’s visits to China, France and England.
Rosenberger says his activities were ethical and lawful, and no charges have been filed.
3) Sen. Brown wins big, starts buzz about presidential run
Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was the only Democrat to win a nonjudicial statewide office on Election Day.
Brown, who won his election by about six percentage points, said he’s hearing “sort of a crescendo” of interest in him seeking the White House. “We’re hearing it increase, so we’re thinking about it as a result,” he said.
Brown doesn’t have long to make a decision as the Democratic Party has set the first debate for July, just seven months away.
Brown is seeking a meeting with former President Barack Obama before making any decision on a run, POLITICO reported this week.
4) Gov. Kasich shifts stance on guns after school shootings
In a sharp departure from the views which won him the National Rifle Association’s endorsement in 2014, Ohio Gov. John Kasich came out in support of new gun restrictions such as universal background checks and perhaps a ban on the sale of some semi-automatic assault weapons.
During an interview on CNN’s State-of-the-Union just after 17 students were killed at a Florida high school, Kasich expressed support not only for background checks for people trying to buy guns, but also banning what are known as bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic weapon to be converted into an automatic weapon.
Kasich’s stance led to a showdown with Ohio lawmakers this month. The General Assembly passed a bill that shifts the burden of proof in self-defense shooting cases from the defendant to the prosecutor, and allows individuals or groups to sue local jurisdictions that try to enact and enforce their own gun control measures.
Kasich vetoed the bill, but lawmakers in a rare move returned to Columbus during Christmas break and voted to override Kasich’s veto.
Kasich is considering another run for president in 2020.
5) Blue wave doesn’t hit Ohio: Does it mean Ohio’s red?
Democrats did well on Election Day in many parts of the country and won back the U.S. House of Representatives. But in Ohio, Republicans dominated on Election Day, raising the question of the state’s future as a swing state.
Early in the election cycle, Democrats were optimistic in some of Ohio’s races for Congress early on in the year. Danny O’Connor came within a fraction of a point in August to defeating Republican Troy Balderson in a Columbus-area special election, Democrat Aftab Pureval led or was close in the polls for most of the year in the Cincinnati-area district represented by Steve Chabot. And in the Dayton area, Democrat Theresa Gasper seemed competitive after outraising Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who has held the seat since 2003.
All lost, as did every other Democratic challenger taking on an incumbent. Republicans continue to hold a 12-4 edge in the state’s congressional districts.
In a commentary that ran in the New York Times after the election, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley argued that Ohio is still a swing state. She called the legislative maps “absurd” and took comfort in the fact that DeWine outspent his opponent and had a huge advantage in name recognition, yet his vote total was barely over 50 percent.
“Ohio is not a red state,” she wrote. “But if national progressives write us off and Ohio Democrats fail to respond to the needs of working people in all corners of our state, it will be.”
Jessica Wehrman, Jack Torry and Will Garbe contributed to this report