Cleveland Plain Dealer. July 3, 2022.
Editorial: Celebrate your right to vote by being ready to cast your Aug. 2 primary ballot
Our nation rests on a democracy revolutionary in its conception, that the people’s voice matters, that “We the People” are the supreme authorities, and that the national bonds, trust and shared purpose that derived from such a democracy would lift us across the centuries. As it has, even as We the People perfected our founding documents to make them more genuinely equitable and inclusive.
Upon one key right much of our democracy rests — the right to vote. And right after Independence Day this year comes the July 5 deadline for Ohioans to register to vote in Aug. 2 state legislative primaries. And on July 6, early voting begins — even though many Ohioans may not even know what their Ohio House and Senate districts are, since the legislative maps were imposed by order of a federal judicial panel after Ohio’s redistricting process failed to produce constitutional maps in time.
Yet even with all the ensuing confusion over candidate filings and all the other unsatisfactory aspects of a failed redistricting process, this is a moment to stride into the polling place and make a choice, to not let the process defeat the purpose. The Ohio secretary of state’s office has“find my district” features and maps here: https://www.ohiosos.gov/elections/ohio-candidates/district-maps/.
So find your districts. Look up the candidates on your local county board of elections website. Make sure your registration is up-to-date Tuesday. And vote, starting Wednesday. It’s a right our Glorious Fourth wrought. It’s a right worth exercising.
Toledo Blade. July 2, 2022.
Editorial: Ohio’s public pension funds need scrutiny
It’s time for an independent examination of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio and the state’s other public-employee pension funds.
The fees and expenses charged by professionals paid by the funds require vetting. That examination must include a determination of the values of investment funds and the direct investments made on behalf of the pension funds.
Why? The answer is Panda Power. That investment lost $525 million. A big zero remained from the initial investment. The right person to oversee that investigation is the state auditor. The independence of the auditor’s office to dig into the numbers is the only way taxpayers and contributors to the pension fund can know they’re not being shafted.
For their part, STRS is moving fast to implement the key recommendation in a recent fiduciary audit. The near $100 billion retirement fund is seeking outside professional aid to validate fees, expenses, and profit shares on 430 investment funds and 50 direct investments. That’s a start. More, though, remains to be done.
The verification of asset values in the $21 billion STRS alternative portfolio, also called for in the fiduciary audit, is not included in the retirement fund’s request for bids. Alternative investments contrast with the usual investments in stocks and bonds. They might include hedge funds, private firms, real estate, and infrastructure, according to the CFA Institute, an organization of financial analysts.
Together, the five Ohio pensions have about 20 percent of their $266 billion portfolio in alternative investments where returns on those investments are in the hands of outside fund managers. The pension fund-investment staffs picking the outside funds have a financial interest in the highest possible valuations.
They receive performance bonuses based on the results. Those bonuses typically outpace their salaries.
It’s a conflict of interest when consultants paid by the funds provide performance reports on investments. Those reports often paint a rosy picture of the reality. The S&P 500 just turned in the worst first half performance since 1970. With market indexes down nearly 12 percent for the June 30 fiscal year, the value of much less liquid alternative investments are subject to big losses. That’s why it’s essential to get the true value of the investments right.
Ohio law gives the state auditor the power to compel documents and witnesses tied to any public funds. An outside vendor working with the auditor has more authority to acquire investment data and far more credibility than individuals paid by the funds. So far, the auditor doesn’t want any part of it.
“This type of activity goes well beyond the nature of an audit. The gathering of this information and data would involve a daily accounting service plus validation, which requires a full-time accounting staff. This activity is a function for management of the pension system with oversight by the Ohio Retirement Study Council,” Auditor Keith Faber said.
Ohio law gives the auditor sole authority to set up the “standards, guidelines, and procedures,” used for the financial examination. The expense is paid by the audited agency. STRS is planning to pay for private investment-expense verification. The rest of the pension plans must do the same. The best possible way to oversee those checks is for the auditor to hire and oversee independent vendors to examine the fees and investment returns charged to Ohio’s pension plans.
Youngstown Vindicator. July 1, 2022.
Editorial: Poll workers delivered 99.9% vote accuracy
Election security and accuracy are a hot topic these days. But here in Ohio, Secretary of State Frank LaRose has announced we have nothing about which to worry when it comes to the job done by our county elections officials.
Upon completion of the county boards of elections’ post May 3 audits, the accuracy rate for the primary has been determined to be 99.9 percent. Certainly voters can be confident their voice is being heard.
“The remarkable heavy lifting that Ohio’s county boards of elections have done over the past two years should never be taken for granted,” LaRose said. “Amid uncertainties brought on by COVID, lockdowns and the shifting tides of redistricting litigation, Ohio’s boards of elections continue to rise to any occasion and deliver excellence to Ohio voters.”
With 88 county boards, there always is the chance someone could make a mistake — or worse. But that has not been the case, and the transparency and integrity with which these officials do their jobs is commendable.
“Ohioans should thank the friends and neighbors among them who serve as precinct officials for their patriotic service to our state and democracy,” LaRose added.
Indeed, it is because so many take seriously the responsibilities that come with our voting privileges that we can be assured our elections are carried out with the utmost attention to security and accuracy. Because they run such a tight ship, we also can be confident as we head to the polls next time.
Conspiracy theories aside, the men and women who make our democratic republic work have taken away any excuse to which potential voters might be clinging, to avoid the polls.
Elyria Chronicle. June 26, 2022.
Editorial: After the fall
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost didn’t waste any time moving to quash reproductive freedom in the Buckeye State.
Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade on Friday, Yost, a Republican, asked a federal court to dissolve a preliminary injunction on Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill,” which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
That’s usually around five or six weeks, often before many women even know they’re pregnant.
By Friday evening, the injunction was lifted and Yost was crowing on Twitter: “The Heartbeat Bill is now the law.”
It was a harbinger of things to come.
The Ohio General Assembly is dominated by Republicans, many of whom have been itching to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, recognized in a statewide address Friday that there were “people of goodwill” on both sides of the abortion debate and called for a civil discussion on the issue.
Fine words, but, as DeWine made clear, he is pro-life. He’s previously indicated an openness to a statewide abortion ban.
The reality is that Ohio Republicans have the numbers and hold the key positions necessary to impose exactly that.
The only real questions left are just how far they will go and when they’ll do it. The legislature is in recess until November, but it’s possible its members could rush back to Columbus.
Or perhaps they’ll wait until after Election Day for fear of bolstering support for pro-choice Democrats.
A poll released by Suffolk University and The Cincinnati Enquirer this month showed that 53 percent of likely Ohio voters polled wanted to protect abortion rights. Only 39 percent wanted restrictions.
The situation in other states where Republicans rule is even worse. Some had “trigger laws” in place that made abortion illegal as soon as Roe fell. Others will move to ban abortion in the near future. Some have even explored making it illegal to go to another state to obtain an abortion, an option that many women don’t even have because of the expense involved.
Meanwhile, some Republicans were already calling for a nationwide ban on abortion.
All of this was largely predictable after a leak of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s draft opinion last month. It, like Friday’s decision, insisted that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, another seminal abortion rights case, had been wrongly decided.
It was a highly partisan decision, and with it the conservative justices left no doubt that they are activists to the core. It also cut deeply against the long-held legal principal of respect for precedent.
While some truly egregious Supreme Court decisions have rightfully been overturned during the court’s long history, Roe wasn’t one that deserved such treatment. The 1973 decision was grounded in the Due Process Clause and the right to privacy, which has formed the basis for many of the freedoms Americans enjoy today.
While Alito and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing separately, went to pains to insist that their decision was limited to the question of abortion, it is fair to worry what other rights might be imperiled.
One has only to read Justice Clarence Thomas’ terrifying concurring opinion to see the potential legal avalanche hanging over the country.
“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote.
All three are landmark decisions that established constitutional protections for important rights.
In its 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision, the court granted married couples the right to use contraception. In its 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, the court said states could not make consensual same-sex intimate relations illegal. In its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the court legalized same-sex marriage.
Thomas has essentially extended an invitation to red states to pass laws outlawing what most Americans have rightly come to see as essential freedoms thanks to what has long been settled law. It’s probably only a matter of time before some conservative lawmaker somewhere goes after them.
Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the same-sex marriage decision, who is now running as a Democrat for the Ohio House, rightly condemned Thomas for the direction he wants to take the law and the country.
“Clarence Thomas is a Supreme Court justice appointed by humans, he is not the Supreme Deity,” Obergefell said Friday. “The millions of loving couples who have the right to marriage equality to form their own families do not need Clarence Thomas imposing his individual twisted morality upon them.”
But impose it he will if he can persuade four other conservative justices to join his crusade to strip Americans of the right to make some of the most intimate decisions in their lives. (Thomas did write: “After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee” those rights. Another question: How hard would he look?)
Even those who would relish a return to government intrusion into Americans’ private lives should be worried.
Sooner or later, Thomas might go after a freedom they do care about.