© 2022 Cincinnati Public Radio
Connecting You to a World of Ideas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Click here to see the latest school, business and worship closings and delays.
Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Commentary: If 2021 bummed you out as much as 2020 did, here are some bright spots to watch in 2022

2021 year in review
Clockwise from top left
John Minchillo, AP; Gerald Herbert, AP; Jason Whitman, WVXU; Brittainy Newman, AP; Jae C. Hong, AP.
2021 was one for the books, from the January insurrection to the Kentucky tornadoes, the ongoing pandemic and various protests in Ohio and across the nation.

This is a just a message for a friend. And for anyone else who needs a dose of encouragement in uncertain times. It's a message I'd like you to carry into the new year:

No matter how bleak things look today – whether it is the global pandemic and the sorry state of politics in Ohio, one thing is certain: This too shall pass. Always has, always will.

In March 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the oath of office as president in the middle of the Great Depression, an economic disaster so deep, so profound, so pervasive, that Americans of today can scarcely imagine the damage it did to the national psyche.

Roosevelt, in an inaugural address as relevant today as it was when it was first delivered, spoke 10 words that helped lift the spirits of a brow-beaten nation and gave the American people hope: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Those words were spoken by a man who spent most of his adult life in a wheelchair because of paralysis from the scourge of polio.

Polio, a disease that was totally eradicated by 1979.

How was it eradicated?

By vaccinations. By grown-ups and little children like me being vaccinated in the 1950s.

My friend - the one this column is for - sent me this list of worries for 2022. If you share her concerns, I hope you find some comfort in this, too.

Will this pandemic ever end?

Judy Shavers administers a coronavirus vaccine at the drive-thru clinic Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete
Judy Shavers administers a coronavirus vaccine at the drive-thru clinic Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.

The answer is, yes, but not any time soon.

Most virologists believe that eventually it will evolve into an endemic – a disease that is always present in a certain population or region, but not universal.

But, for the foreseeable future, our society's greatest source of anxiety as we head into the new year is the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge in cases that have hospital ICU units over capacity and, in Ohio, resulted in the deployment of National Guard troops to help overwhelmed health care workers.

We all know people who have pretty much given up trying to avoid COVID-19, overwhelmed by the situation and ready to chuck all the precautions such as mask-wearing and vaccinations and leave it all to fate.

This is not the response we need.

Hamilton County's health commissioner, Greg Kesterman, told WVXU's Bill Rinehart the precautions work. In 2020, when people were masked up and stayed home when they were sick, hospitalizations due to the flu dropped to almost zero.

"We know we are in this for the long haul," Kesterman said. "We are going to have to learn how to live with COVID moving into the future. So, we are really continuing the message of the need for each individual to do their part to help keep our community safe."

If you have a friend or relative who refuses to be vaccinated, saying they were born free in America and can't be ordered about by mandates, please remind them of this: There are no mandates. You are free to choose. Maybe, just maybe, you should choose to be vaccinated – to protect yourself, to protect your loved ones and to protect people you have never even met.

Just because it is the right thing to do.

Messages like this one from the Hamilton County Republican Party this week on Twitter are of no help whatsoever:

"The people fighting mandates and pushing against government control are quintessentially American. The debate is important to freedom and liberty. Our country was founded on the idea that we can live free. We are not anti-science or anti-vax. We are pro-freedom."

Well, bully for you.

You might, though, want to consider the example of the greatest of America's founders, George Washington, who actually did fight for freedom, as opposed to just talking about it.

Gen. Washington, during the Revolutionary War, was alarmed by the spread of smallpox through the Continental Army. His solution was to inoculate the troops who had not yet contracted the disease through a pre-vaccine procedure called variolation – a rather crude but effective way of protecting the soldiers.

By the end of 1777, about 40,000 troops had been inoculated against smallpox.

You can follow the example of George Washington or the advice of the Hamilton County Republican Party.

Your choice.

Choose wisely.

While it is a fact that COVID-19 will never completely go away, it can be controlled. It takes the will of the people, who, I believe will, in the end, make the right decisions.

And then our COVID-19 vaccinations will become as routine as our annual flu shots.

Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?

Anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability.
Jose Luis Magana
Anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. An expected decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming year to severely restrict abortion rights or overturn Roe v. Wade entirely is setting off a renewed round of abortion battles in state legislatures.

This is a question that concerns my friend very much – along with countless millions of Americans, particularly women.

I thought she put it very well in a note to me – she said that "My body, my choice" is the rallying cry of the anti-vaxxers. But it apparently doesn’t apply to women when it comes to reproductive rights.

This is a tough one to find a glimmer of hope for people like my friend.

A Trumpized Supreme Court may well have the votes to overturn the landmark 1973 decision, which assured all women of access to abortion.

This has been the law of the land for nearly half a century now and it would be extraordinary for this Supreme Court – or any Supreme Court – to throw out what is now established law.

The only real hope for abortion rights advocates – at least in the short term – is that Chief Justice John Roberts somehow cobbles together a majority for a decision that overturns some aspects of the law and leaves others intact.

Congressional redistricting in Ohio

2021 ohio congressional district map
Ohio Senate

Here, there is a bit of hope for those who believe what the Republicans in Columbus have done in drawing a new congressional district map that, on the face of it, appears to be in direct violation of the Ohio Constitution and the new rules that were passed by 7 of every 10 Ohio voters in the 2018 primary.

The hope comes in the form of the Ohio Supreme Court – even though it has a 4-3 Republican majority.

Under the constitutional amendment passed by voters, the Ohio Supreme Court is the arbiter of disputes over the legislative maps; and there are multiple lawsuits filed by voter rights groups challenging both the state legislative district maps and the congressional district map.

Oral arguments in the challenge to congressional district maps were heard by the Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday.

Over the past decade, the vote in congressional elections in Ohio have been about 54% Republican and 46% Democrat. This new map proposed by the Republicans would likely give the GOP 80% of the state's 15 congressional districts.

Sound fair to you?

As I've said before in this column, you need look no further than Hamilton County to see just how horrible this map is. It was drawn by Republicans in the legislature and passed without any Democratic support.

The map cracks Hamilton County into three congressional districts, giving a chunk to Rep. Warren Davidson of Troy, whose district begins in Shelby County and dips down the western edge of the state to take in Butler County. And it keeps a narrow land bridge to Warren County for the benefit of Rep. Steve Chabot, who would not have a snowball's chance in hell of winning if he had to run in Hamilton County alone.

And did we mention that about 30,000 of the Hamilton County voters thrust unwillingly into Davidson's district are Black residents? Well, they are. And if this map stands, they will find themselves swallowed up in a largely white Republican district and their votes, mainly for Democrats, will be rendered meaningless.

Can you say Votings Rights Act violation?

So where is the hope, you ask?

In the Ohio Supreme Court, of all places.

One of the Republican justices, Patrick DeWine, refuses to recuse himself from the state legislative and congressional district lawsuits, even though his father, Gov. Mike DeWine, was a member of the commission that came up with the former and was the one who signed the latter into law.

But it might not matter.

I can't claim to be able to get into the head of Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, but it is pretty clear that she is no fan of gerrymandering. She is a Republican who can't run for re-election in 2022 because of Ohio's age limits on judges, so she doesn't have an election to worry about.

I could see her siding with the three Democrats to form a majority to reject the maps drawn by the statehouse Republicans.

If that happens, Justice DeWine can go pound salt. And the statehouse Republicans can try again and see if they can actually follow the law this time around.

Who replaces Rob Portman?

rob portman
Jacquelyn Martin
In this photo from June 24, 2021, President Joe Biden speaks with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and other senators outside the White House in Washington after Biden invited members of the group of 21 Republican and Democratic senators to discuss an infrastructure plan. Portman, a three-decade Washington veteran plans to retire rather than run next year. He announced in January he would not seek a third term, saying it had become too hard to get things done.

Ohio's junior senator, Rob Portman, has had enough of the partisan bickering in Washington and is heading home after spending most of his adult life in politics – in the White House for both Bush 41 and Bush 43, in the House and in the Senate.

He goes out on a high note, having played a huge role in negotiating with the Democratic leadership in Congress and the Biden administration to produce the massive infrastructure bill.

When there is a companion bridge built next to the overused and aging Brent Spence Bridge, you can thank Rob Portman. It will be part of a good legacy.


Unfortunately, the Republican primary battle to replace him – made up of six significant candidates – has been one of the ugliest, nastiest primary fights in Ohio history. You listen to some of the vitriol and inflammatory rhetoric spewing from the mouths of some of the candidates – particularly former state treasurer Josh Mandel – and it makes you want to immediately run to take a shower.

All of this to curry the favor of Donald Trump, who has yet to endorse a candidate and still holds sway over a lot of Republican primary voters in a state he won in two presidential elections.

I do think Trump will eventually endorse in this primary and I don't really believe it will be Mandel. Ohioans may have voted for Trump twice, but they like their statewide candidates to be a bit more moderate - more like Portman or a George Voinovich, probably the most popular Republican politician of my lifetime.

I'm guessing Trump endorses Jane Timken, the former Ohio Republican Party chair who raised big bucks for Trump's 2016 campaign and has been a loyal foot soldier (for the most part) ever since.

jane timken
Julie Carr Smyth
Then-Ohio Republican Chairwoman Jane Timken files paperwork for President Donald Trump's re-election bid in Ohio at the secretary of state's office in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.

Timken, a Cincinnati native, is more electable. A northeast Ohio Democratic – say, Congressman Tim Ryan - would mop the floor with somebody as far to the right as Mandel; Timken could keep the seat in GOP hands. The GOP wants to win control of the 50-50 Senate and can't afford a loss in Ohio.

Don't like that scenario, my friend?

Well, keep this in mind – Ohio's senior senator, Sherrod Brown, is a fire-breathing, unabashed liberal Democrat and he's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Keep hope alive, my friend.