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Democrats likely to struggle next year

The House Bill 6 bribery scheme to provide a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout of two failed nuclear power plants in exchange for an alleged $60 million bribe has tentacles that could touch many prominent Ohio Republicans.

With 2022 statewide elections approaching, an important political question is: Can Democrats capitalize on it as they did with Coingate in 2006?

In July 2020, Larry Householder, then the Ohio House speaker, and four other Republicans — including former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges — were indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges by federal authorities related to HB 6.

Two pleaded guilty to participating in a racketeering conspiracy in late October 2020; a third killed himself in March.

Borges and Householder have pleaded not guilty. The Ohio House stripped the latter of his speaker position and then kicked him out of office in June.

With the indictments and two guilty pleas fresh on people’s minds, elections for the state Legislature were held in November 2020.

The end result? Republicans actually picked up seats. They added three more Republicans in the Ohio House — including Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, and Sandra O’Brien, R-Lenox, whose district includes Trumbull County.

The scandal has gotten progressively worse.

FirstEnergy Corp. agreed in July to a deferred prosecution of a felony count of conspiring honest service wire fraud, which could lead to a potential dismissal of the charge, but agreed to pay a $230 million penalty.

A subsidiary of FirstEnergy operated the nuclear power plants and the company “admits it conspired with public officials and other individuals and entities to pay millions of dollars to public officials in exchange for specific official action for FirstEnergy Corp.’s benefit,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Those public officials are most certainly all Republicans.

FirstEnergy has admitted to paying about $4.3 million to Sam Randazzo, the former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Mike DeWine. Randazzo has yet to be charged.

Meanwhile, Mike Dowling and Chuck Jones were fired in October 2020 from their high-level positions at FirstEnergy and face a shareholders’ lawsuit.

Numerous government officials they’ve subpoenaed include DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who are up for re-election next year, as well as former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken and two men with close ties to ex-state Treasurer Josh Mandel. Mandel and Timken are running next year for the open U.S. Senate seat.

Husted has denied any involvement, and DeWine and Timken have done the same through a spokesman.

With these issues allegedly involving Republicans, you’d think Democrats would be jumping at the chance to run statewide.

But that’s not necessarily been the case. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley are seeking to get the Democratic nomination for governor and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Morgan Harper, an attorney and consumer organizer, are running for the U.S. Senate seat.

Democrats finally have their Ohio Supreme Court candidates lined up with Justice Jennifer Brunner running for chief justice, Marilyn Zayas of the 1st District Court of Appeals (Hamilton County) and Terri Jamison of the 10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County) seeking the two justice positions. The latter two just recently announced.

As for the rest of the slate, Chelsea Clark, a Forest Park city councilwoman since 2018, is running for secretary of state. Forest Park is a small city in Hamilton County.

Also, state Rep. Jeffrey Crossman, D-Parma, declared Thursday for attorney general. Crossman said his campaign will be focused on Republican corruption and that new information has come to light since the 2020 election.

No Democrats have announced yet plans to run for treasurer and auditor.

The filing deadline is Feb. 2.

It’s exceptionally difficult to beat statewide incumbents in Ohio. The last time that happened was in 2010 during a Republican wave year that took down every statewide Democrat.

Next year doesn’t look like a strong one for Ohio Democrats, even if they had all their candidates in place.

Ohio has voted for Republicans statewide for the better part of three decades, except in 2006 and a special AG election in 2008.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, was soundly defeated in the last election in the state by Republican Donald Trump.

And despite the HB 6 scandal and a blatant power grab during the state legislative and congressional redistricting process, Republicans look have an advantage in next year’s statewide elections.

Skolnick is a staff member of the Youngstown Vindictor and the Warren Tribune Chronicle, members of the Ogden Newspapers Group along with the Columbiana County newspapers. His email is dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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