February 22, 2024

Jan Resseger: Ohio’s Gerrymandered, Supermajority Republican Senate Wields Intimidation to Impose Its Will

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Ohio’s GOP has gerrymandered its way to a supermajority whose latest initiative is to stamp out DEI initiatives in higher education. Jan Resseger has the story. Reposted with permission

Ohio’s powerful state senate president, Matt Huffman defined how gerrymandering works in Ohio’s supermajority GOP legislature: “We can kind of do what we want.”

The easy part is being able to amass enough votes to pass Huffman’s priority legislation—such as the gigantic new school voucher expansion that favors middle and upper income children already enrolled in private and parochial schools.

He also has taken to manipulating his political enemies through intimidation. Who is going to risk trying to hold him accountable?

Last spring, during the state budget negotiations. The Statehouse News‘ Karen Kasler reported: “Republicans in the Ohio Senate have asked the state auditor to find out how much money public school districts have put toward a lawsuit over taxpayer-paid private school vouchers. The inquiry.. a ‘public resources survey,’ came from Republican Auditor Keith Faber’s office at the request of the Ohio Senate’s chief counsel, and was sent to fiscal officers with public schools…. It asks them to disclose by June 2 how much money they’ve provided over the last two years to support the lawsuit over the EdChoice voucher program.”

The implication: if schools were contributing to the lawsuit to overturn the voucher program, the legislature would find a way to reduce their state aid.  And the threat worked.  Several of the plaintiff school districts pulled out of the lawsuit even though it doesn’t appear that any school districts ever lost state funding.

Now the Ohio Senate has launched another intimidation scheme.  This time, state senators are pressuring the state’s colleges and universities to abandon all efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Plain Dealer‘s Laura Hancock reports: “The leaders of Ohio’s 14 universities are being summoned to the Ohio Senate to account for their budget requests—as well as to detail spending on diversity, equity and inclusion—in a bill that pays for state government building construction and local projects… The capital budget is normally assembled behind the scenes and revealed to the public about a week before it is passed. But this year, state Sen. Jerry Cirino… chairman of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, sent a letter Jan. 11 to the state’s 14 public universities, saying there will be hearings in which they need to discuss their building requests, as well as costs associated with the employee headcount, annual count of faculty, administration and employees and their benefits; ‘a complete accounting of all spending on diversity, equity, and inclusion or related subjects’; and other expenses.”

Sara Kilpatrick, executive director of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, called out Senator Cirino for the blatant attempt to intimidate: “Obviously they’re being asked for much more than the capital budget requests.”

Senator Cirino is not only the chair of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, but he is also the sponsor of Senate Bill 83, a bill that has undergone months of hearings but is stalled in the Ohio House. Hancock reports that Cirino plans to hold hearings on the capital budget for a month, between April 9 and May 8, plenty of time to grill college presidents and provosts about any professors whose classes are tainted with a liberal bias and to expose any programs to make students from different cultures feel welcome. Maybe they’ll be denied funding for breaking ground for a new science building or a new dorm if their university is too diverse, too equal, or too inclusive.

So… what is Ohio Senate Bill 83 and why is it so important that the Ohio Senate has folded some of its principles into a test for funding from the state’s capital construction budget? Last summer for the Plain DealerLaura Hancock traced much of SB 83 to model bills written by far-right think tanks and subsequently distributed across the 50 state legislatures: “Tucked into SB 83 are parts of seven ‘model’ or suggested bills that the conservative Manhattan Institute, Goldwater Institute, and Civics Alliance wrote for lawmakers across the country to use in their states. Parts of two bills that originated in Florida also made it into SB 83, seeking to limit the influence of the Chinese government on higher education, although Ohio’s language diverges from Florida’s… College diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are under attack in 22 states, where 40 bills have been introduced to ban DEI offices or staff; ban DEI training; prohibit diversity statements in hiring or promotion; and halt using race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in admissions or employment, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.”

Hancock examines what has now grown into a 93-page bill and she compares the ideas the bill promotes and sometimes even specific wording in Ohio SB 83 to model bills which have been distributed nationwide to the state legislatures. While she discovers some direct copying, most of what she finds is the adoption of the ideas in the model bills in slightly modified language. She explores the work, for example, of the Civics Alliance, “started in 2021 by the New York-based National Association of Scholars, an older education reform-minded nonprofit that pushes back against political correctness, affirmative action, climate change… and other topics important to conservative academics. The Civics Alliance’s initial signatories included scholars from… institutions on the right—such as the American Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Hillsdale College, the American Family Association and the Eagle Forum, (which) don’t endorse the Civics Alliance per se; but their organizations appear alongside the founders’ names for identification purposes.”

After Ohio state Senator Cirino proposed SB 83, the Civics Alliance released the following statement: “We are delighted and we are proud, because SB 83 takes some of its language and its concerns from different bills in the Civics Alliance’s Model Higher Education Code, drafted by the National Association of Scholars. We intended for these bills to inspire state legislators to craft their own legislation, adapted to meet their political circumstances. It is an honor that Senator Cirino has considered that our model language could be useful for Ohio.”  Hancock continues by exploring the influence of the Manhattan Institute and the Goldwater Institute on Cirino’s bill.

I haven’t heard of many parents paying tuition for their students to attend the Ohio State University or Kent State, or Bowling Green, for example, who worry about “woke” pedagogy or a college culture that is too welcoming of students whose backgrounds differ from the dominant culture.

A lot of Ohio citizens are deeply concerned, however, about a state legislature gerrymandered so far to the right that it takes its cues from right-wing think tanks and invents public hearings on the Ohio capital construction budget in order to fish for so-called “woke” ideas and to intimidate the leaders of our public universities who might be too open to a diverse student population, equal opportunity, and an authentically welcoming collegiate culture for all the students enrolled.

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