2016 will be, of course, a year that will have its share of consequential political developments. After all, we’ll be choosing our next president! And, as always, Ohio will play an important role in determining who that person will be.
But before everyone’s attention turns to the New Year, I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of the most important political happenings of the past 365 days right here in the Buckeye State.
So here’s my list of the ten most significant political events impacting politics in Ohio in 2015. Just so we’re clear, this is about events impacting politics in Ohio – not national politics or politics “Inside the Beltway.” (Which is why you won’t see Donald Trump’s name on this list, even though he has arguably “Trumped” any other political development of the past year.)
This is just my list; you may agree or disagree with then ten I’ve chosen. Also, they’re listed basically in chronological order, not in order of significance. Read on, and then Tweet me @probizpolitics what you think I’ve nailed correctly or perhaps overlooked. Happy New Year!
- Big City Mayors Changing of the Guard
On Feb. 6, just a few days after suffering cardiac arrest while driving, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins died. He was immediately succeeded in office by City Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson, who was subsequently elected in November to complete the remaining two years to the four-year term to which Collins had been elected in 2013. Three months after Collins’ death, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who became mayor in 1987 and was the city’s longest-serving mayor, unexpectedly announced that he would not only not seek re-election to another term, but would also resign at the end of May. Summit County Clerk of Courts and former Akron councilman Dan Horrigan won the November election as Plusquellic’s permanent successor. The changes in Toledo and Akron came on the heels of four-term Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s November 2014 announcement that he wouldn’t seek a fifth term in 2015. Finally, in November, Canton Mayor Jamie Healy lost his bid for a third term by 233 votes. He was defeated by Stark County Commissioner Tom Bernabei. Taken together, the results mean three of Ohio’s five largest cities, and four of its largest eight, will have new mayors beginning in 2016. All of the outgoing and incoming mayors are Democrats, though long-time Democrat Bernabei officially ran as an independent.
- Ted Strickland’s Challenge to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman
On Feb. 25, former six-term U.S. Rep. and former Gov. Ted Strickland made it official: he would mount a bid to unseat freshman GOP Sen. Rob Portman. Portman captured the open Senate seat in 2010, the same year Strickland lost his gubernatorial re-election bid to John Kasich. Portman defeated Strickland’s lieutenant governor, Lee Fisher, 57% to 39%, that year to win the battle to replace outgoing Sen. George Voinovich. Strickland’s decision immediately catapulted Ohio to at or near the top of the list of races that could determine majority control of the U.S. Senate in 2016. A close, expensive race with plenty of involvement by third-party groups is anticipated. Early polling shows the race is a dead heat. Wild card: the 74-year-old Strickland faces a Democratic primary challenge from 31-year-old Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
- John Kasich’s Presidential Candidacy
Almost as soon as he was re-elected to a second term as governor in November 2014, Gov. John Kasich began taking steps towards seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. In December, he visited Arizona and then traveled to six other states in January to build support for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This effort took him to South Carolina – an early primary state – in February and, ultimately, to New Hampshire – site of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary – in March. In April, the pro-Kasich Super-PAC New Day for America was established. Finally, on July 21, the governor made it official, declaring that he would, in fact, be a candidate for president. Gov. Kasich is the first sitting Ohio governor to run for president since then-Gov. James Cox was the Democratic nominee in 1920.
- Steve Kraus’ Felony Conviction
Not quite seven months into his first term, freshman GOP Rep. Steve Kraus was convicted on July 27 of felony theft for taking items from a home that he claims the homeowner’s realtor had asked him to take in order to inventory for auction. The incident occurred before Kraus, an auctioneer, was elected to the Ohio House. He pulled off the surprise upset of the 2014 elections, ousting incumbent Rep. and then-Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern. Due to his felony conviction, which he is appealing, Kraus was automatically removed office. Side note: Kraus filed earlier this month as one of three Republicans seeking to run against Democratic Cong. Marcy Kaptur.
- Ron Gerberry’s Resignation
Veteran Democratic Rep. Ron Gerberry resigned on Aug. 21, the same day he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful compensation of a public official. The resignation was part of a plea agreement in which Gerberry, who was in the middle of his 14th term in the Ohio House, also agreed not to run for elected office for the next seven years. In effect, Gerberry overpaid vendors out of his official campaign account and had the overpayment amounts refunded to him personally. While this is a violation of campaign finance law, it was allegedly done so that he could avoid the pressure put on incumbents to fundraise for the benefit of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus.
- Initial 2018 Campaign Jockeying
We’re barely past the primary deadline for the 2016 election, but the battle to succeed term-limited Gov. Kasich and the other four statewide elected officers (all of whom also face term-limits) is already underway. In particular, three candidates are jockeying for position to be the next GOP gubernatorial nominee: Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Attorney General Mike DeWine, and Secretary of State Jon Husted. In October, Lt. Gov. Taylor officially declared her interest in the race and established a 527 organization called Onward Ohio to support her political ambitions, and Sec. Husted showed he’s clearly thinking of running. Also in October, the results of a Tarrance Group poll, alleged to have been shared by allies of Gen. DeWine, was released that showed DeWine with the support of 45% of registered GOP likely voters, compared to just 13% for Husted and Taylor. Finally, in December, the D.C.-based State Government Leadership Foundation, began running an online advertising campaign highlighting Husted’s “unwavering support for small business and free enterprise.” Don’t fret too much, however, if you’re a Republican but don’t yet know who you support – there are still about 858 days until the May 2018 primary. And if you’re a Democrat, be encouraged, too – there are still about 768 days until the filing deadline for your party to identify a candidate.
- Resignation of Speaker of the House John Boehner
Perhaps the biggest political story of 2015 is one that impacted both national and Ohio politics: the abrupt announcement on Sept. 26 by Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner that he would resign both his speakership and his seat in Congress, effective Oct. 30. After a turbulent five-year run as speaker that regularly had him at odds with the most conservative members of his GOP caucus, and with a threatened challenge to his speakership looming, he decided it would be best just to move on. After a longer-than-anticipated contest to determine his successor, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan was ultimately elected the new speaker. Here in Ohio, no fewer than 19 candidates – including 16 Republicans – filed to run to be his replacement as the representative for Ohio’s 8th congressional district. The special election will occur on June 7, with the primary election scheduled for the same day as the regularly scheduled primary, March 15.
- Passage of State Issue 1
On Nov. 3, Ohio voters passed, by a huge 71%-29% margin, State Issue 1, a constitutional amendment changing how Ohio draws its state legislative district boundaries. While there aren’t really any short-term implications of passing this issue – other than, perhaps, generating more pressure to enact a similar change to how Ohio draws its congressional district boundaries – this change may end up being the most important event on this list over time. But we won’t know for sure until 2022 and beyond, because the first time new maps are drawn under the rules created by Issue 1 won’t be until 2021, after the next U.S. Census is taken in 2020.
- Defeat of State Issue 3
Also on Nov. 3, Ohio voters rejected State Issue 3, the ResponsibleOhio plan to create marijuana monopolies and legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use in Ohio. Despite its proponents spending approximately $21.5 million in an effort to convince Ohioans to vote for it, the issue failed in all 88 counties and was defeated 64%-36% overall. Unfortunately, despite such a resounding defeat, backers have already promised to return in 2016 with another plan designed to get voters to approve marijuana legalization.
- Experienced Candidates Seeking to Return to Ohio House
Ohio has term limits for the offices of state senator and state representative: effectively eight consecutive years in the Senate or the House. But no lifetime limits. You can serve eight years in one chamber and immediately run for the other. Or you can serve eight years, sit out four, and attempt to return. Now nearly 16 years into the term limits era, the House that gets sworn-in in January 2017 may nonetheless have some new members that possess significant legislative experience. That’s in part because no fewer than seven former members – all of whom have already served at least six if not eight years in the House – are attempting to return. These include current Sens. Keith Faber, Jim Hughes, Tom Patton and Bill Seitz, along with former Speaker of the House Larry Householder and former Reps. Courtney Combs and Steve Reinhard. Coincidentally, all seven are Republicans.