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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: Mike DeWine is stealing Democrats' homework

mike dewine walks on a stage with the seal of ohio in the background
David Richard
FR25496 AP
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine walks on a stage before speaking at a press conference, Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Avon Lake, Ohio.

Every elementary school kid knows that cheating on homework is wrong. Or should know, anyway.

Lifting other people's work and claiming it as your own is not acceptable and should earn the offender an "F" on the assignment.

This is a rule which applies to all grade school students, but apparently not to sitting governors.

Certainly not Ohio's governor, Republican Mike DeWine, a candidate for reelection.

DeWine routinely takes credit for passing out federal dollars from a massive coronavirus economic impact bill that he says he would have voted against if he were still in the U.S. Senate.

In March 2021, the Democrats in Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package. It passed without a single vote from a Republican in the House or Senate and was signed into law by President Biden.

Much of the money went to direct stimulus payments to individuals, but state governments got a share too — $2.9 billion in Ohio.

In June 2021, DeWine, amid much fanfare, signed a bill to spend $2.2 billion of that money. Almost immediately, the governor embarked on a series of press conferences around the state, announcing grants to local governments for a host of public services, mostly centering around law enforcement.

There was funding for the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab in Dayton; the Real Time Crime Center in Cleveland; an allocation of $42 million to the Violent Crime Reduction Grant program, announced in the Columbus suburb of Whitehall; an announcement in Columbus of $85 million to be invested in students who want to go to work in the behavioral sciences field.

And a host of others.

One thread was buried through all the announcements and press events — the fact that every last dime of this money came the federal government through ARPA.

The desired impression was that this was state money, planted and raised right here in Ohio, like fields of corn and soybeans.

And, although all of the events announcing the awarding of grant money were organized by the governor's official office, anyone with a lick of sense could plainly see that this was very good mojo for the DeWine-Husted reelection campaign.

Then, last week, in an act of hubris, the DeWine-Husted campaign unleashed a 30-second TV ad lambasting DeWine's Democratic opponent, former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, for her support of ARPA, claiming the bill is the source of the current inflation, the favorite topic of the GOP in this election cycle.

It begins with unflattering photos of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, joined by a photo of Whaley and a banner that purports to be a quote from the Democratic candidate — "I'm honored … to have helped pass the American Rescue Plan." (Viewers, take note: Watch out for any campaign ad that uses an ellipsis inside an opponent's quote — that usually means a good chunk of context has been left out.)

Then a narrator intones a rhetorical question: "Whaley was honored to have helped saddle America with the worst inflation in 40 years?" Then the ad goes on to make some dubious claims about Whaley's tenure as Dayton's mayor.

There are only two possible explanations for the DeWine-Husted campaign taking this tack of slamming Whaley over ARPA: 1. they have no understanding of the concept of irony; or 2. they understand it, but don't care.

Over the weekend, I tweeted about the DeWine-Husted ad. Almost immediately, Bob Paduchik, the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, tweeted back, defending the DeWine campaign.

Here's what he said:

"Corporate press ignores the concept of holding 2 concepts at once: 1. Opposing Federal inflation causing government spending; 2. Using Federal funds wisely after they've been taken and distributed. It's not like the $ can be returned to taxpayers."

True that. (Well, mostly. My employer, Cincinnati Public Radio, is a nonprofit.)

While he's right that the money can't be returned to the taxpayers, if you are the governor of a state that is benefiting from those federal dollars, is it not too much to expect you to be entirely honest about where those dollars came from?

Courtney Rice, communications director of the Whaley-Stephens campaign, made the point that Whaley was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors when ARPA was making its way through Congress. Not surprisingly, Whaley lobbied hard for its passage.

“If Gov. DeWine wants to remind Ohioans that Nan is responsible for helping to pass legislation that has provided funding for Ohio’s communities to hire more police officers, increase mental health resources, and make our schools safer, then he’s welcome to do so," Rice said.

This attack ad comes at a juncture where the clock is running out on this election cycle. There is a broad assumption in Ohio political circles that DeWine is cruising to an easy win. He won't debate Whaley because he doesn't think he has to. And he doesn't want to have to deal with uncomfortable questions about abortion, redistricting, gun control and the rest.

But, typically, this kind of attack ad rarely comes from a candidate who is sitting in the catbird seat.

Maybe Mike DeWine is hearing footsteps.

But, even so, that's no reason to be stealing someone else's homework.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.