Quite a year in Ohio and Kentucky politics, wasn't it?
It's time we put 2022 in the rear-view mirror with a look at some of the year's top political stories in Ohio and Kentucky. Read 'em and weep. Or applaud, depending on your point of view.
Mayor Aftab and the power of the Democratic slate card
In early January, on a bitterly cold but sunny morning in Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park, a crowd of Cincinnatians bundled in parkas and wearing stocking caps watched as then-39-year-old Aftab Pureval — the son of immigrants from India and Tibet — took the oath of office as Cincinnati's new mayor.
Pureval made a short acceptance speech and hustled off the stage so that the nine members of Cincinnati City Council — the top nine vote-getters in a historically large field of 35 council candidates in the Nov. 2021 election — could be sworn in one by one.
It was a remarkable election. It was impressive enough that Pureval, then Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, won over fellow Democrat David Mann, whose political career stretched back to the 1970s, with 66% of the vote. But the strength of the Democratic Party in Cincinnati politics was never more apparent than in that election, where eight of the nine council candidates endorsed by the Cincinnati Democratic Committee were elected.
It was, in fact, as if Pureval had won two elections in Nov. 2021 — the mayoral race and the City Council election. No Cincinnati mayor in the era of direct election of the mayor has had a friendlier council to work with.
Landsman ends the Chabot era
Going into the 2022 election cycle, Steve Chabot, the Republican from Westwood, had held Ohio's 1st Congressional District for all but two of the past 28 years.
But Chabot, as hard-headed a conservative as there is, had to know that he was in big trouble this time around.
RELATED: Analysis: Steve Chabot lost a race he shouldn't have run in the first place
The only time Chabot lost his grip on Ohio-1 was in 2008, when Steve Driehaus, a Democratic state representative from Price Hill, rode the Barack Obama wave into the House seat.
But in 2010 — a mid-term election when Obama was not on the ballot — Chabot took on Driehaus and won it back.
He had held the seat ever since, with a little help from his GOP friends in the Ohio Statehouse, who gave him heavily Republican Warren County after the 2010 Census.
This year, though, a federal lawsuit meant that the district map would be one that was previously rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court. It included all of deep blue Cincinnati and went from being a district that gave Donald Trump a 3 percentage point margin in 2020 to one that gave Joe Biden a 9 percentage point margin.
That was enough to result in Chabot's long career being chucked to the side of the road. He lost in a big way to Cincinnati councilman Greg Landsman, following a brutal campaign in which $14 million was spent.
Even Warren County was not enough to save Chabot this time.
Kentucky's verdict on abortion ban was a shocker
A state constitutional amendment on the November ballot to ban abortion in Kentucky grabbed the attention of people on both sides of the abortion debate all over the country.
The Republican majority in the legislature put the constitutional amendment on the ballot, no doubt thinking their deeply conservative constituents would come out on November 8 and pass it with ease.
They were shocked by the results: 52% of the Kentuckians who cast ballots voted against the abortion ban. It seemed almost counter-intuitive in a deeply red state, but there it was.
It got the attention of activists on both sides in states all over the nation — especially across the river in Ohio, where Republican legislators were mulling over just such a constitutional amendment and abortion rights groups were in the early stages of planning a ballot issue to codify Roe v. Wade in the Ohio constitution.
Ohio GOP runs out the clock on redistricting
The job of drawing new districts for state legislative and congressional seats wasn't supposed to be this difficult. The whole process was spelled out in constitutional amendments passed overwhelmingly by Ohio voters in 2015 and 2018.
But Ohio Republican elected officials, whose job it was to create maps that would pass constitutional muster before the Ohio Supreme Court, kept kicking the can down the road until, at the end of 2022, they are on the verge of getting exactly what they wanted all along — maps that lock down their authority over the process.
They gamed the system — with a little help in November from Ohio voters, who gave the GOP an Ohio Supreme Court which will give them whatever maps they want.
Republicans in the Ohio legislature 'fix' an election system that isn't broken
One of the last things the Republican supermajority in the Ohio General Assembly did this month was pass a sweeping bill of "election reforms" that voting rights groups in Ohio say is aimed simply at making voting harder for minorities, seniors and military and overseas voters.
It would require Ohioans to show a photo ID when they vote, such as a driver's license or a state ID card. It does away with the provision that allows those without a photo ID to use an alternate form of identification, such as a utility bill, a bank statement or a paycheck with a home address.
The new law also:
- limits boards of elections to only one drop box for absentee ballots;
- eliminates early in-person voting on the Monday before elections — one of the busiest days of the early voting period;
- moves the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot to seven days before Election Day, compared to the current deadline of three days;
- cuts the grace period for mail-in ballots from 10 days after the election to four days, as long as the ballots are postmarked before Election Day.
RELATED: Ohio GOP legislators fast-track election law changes, despite opposition
Voting rights groups objected to the changes, saying the Republicans are trying to solve a problem that really doesn't exist.
Sittenfeld convicted in bribery trial
In July, a jury found former Cincinnati councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld guilty on one charge of bribery and one charge of attempted extortion. He was found not guilty of both counts of honest services wire fraud and one count each of attempted bribery and extortion.
The jury determined that Sittenfeld was guilty of attempted extortion and bribery charges connected to his dealings with former Cincinnati Bengal turned real estate developer Chinedum Ndukwe.
RELATED: Sittenfeld's conviction closes big chapter in 'culture of corruption' at City Hall
Before the charges were brought against him in an extensive public corruption investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office, Sittenfield was considered the front-runner in the 2021 Cincinnati mayoral race. In fact, he was raising money for his campaign when he met with FBI agents posing as developers.
More than five months later, Sittenfeld has yet to be sentenced. In December, there was a hearing in U.S. District Court to hear arguments from Sittenfeld's attorneys to either vacate the conviction or grant the former councilmember a new trial. Stay tuned early in the new year.
J.D. Vance keeps Ohio Senate seat in GOP hands
The contest between J.D. Vance, an author and venture capitalist from Middletown, and Democrat Tim Ryan for an open seat in the U.S. Senate was one of the most closely watched in the country, in an election cycle where every Senate race could determine which party would gain control.
Vance survived a crowded and noisy GOP primary with the help of a last-minute endorsement from Donald Trump and a quick infusion of campaign cash from billionaire Peter Thiel.
In the general election, Vance tried to put some distance between himself and Trump, running a campaign where he argued that Ryan, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. House, was just a mouthpiece for President Biden and Democratic congressional leaders.
RELATED: Which J.D. Vance will show up in the U.S. Senate?
Ryan went directly after independent voters and Republicans who didn't support Vance in the primary, painting a picture of himself as a candidate who couldn’t be bossed around and Vance as a carpetbagger who had spent most of his adult life in San Francisco or New York.
At least $110 million was spent on this campaign. In the end, Vance won, but it was not enough for the GOP to regain control of the Senate.
DeWine wins re-election by hiding in plain sight
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine capped off his 46-year career in Ohio politics by winning 63% of the vote against a Democrat in former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, who couldn't compete with the incumbent in fundraising, name recognition or the ability to fly around the state in his official capacity passing out money to local governments.
And he did it without once facing Whaley or his Republican primary opponents in face-to-face debate.
Commentary: How Mike DeWine tainted what is likely his final victory
He clearly feared being attacked from the right by GOP opponents like Jim Renacci and Joe Blystone; and he ignored Whaley's repeated calls for even one debate. He was sitting on a lead in the polls and didn't want to give the lesser-known Democrat a chance to hammer at him on abortion, gun control and his part in the redistricting fiasco.
It worked for DeWine. The concern of many, though, was that DeWine's avoidance of his political foes may hasten the end of meaningful debates in Ohio elections.