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Behind the Cynical Stunt to Impeach Ohio’s Governor

Another data point in the “Burn It Down” debate: GOP state reps are drawing up articles of impeachment for Mike DeWine.
August 25, 2020
Behind the Cynical Stunt to Impeach Ohio’s Governor
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine gives his victory speech after winning the Ohio gubernatorial race at the Sheraton Capitol Square on November 6, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

John Becker, a Republican state representative in Ohio, introduced articles of impeachment Monday against the state’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine. The articles have two other cosponsors, state representatives Paul Zeltwanger and Nino Vitale. The three have launched a website that will both track other Ohio House members’ support of the articles and serve as a one-stop shop to mobilize support from citizens.

The three have drawn up 10 specific articles of impeachment; the most absurd and dangerous is Article IX. Here is just a short excerpt:

WHEREAS, Richard Michael DeWine’s face covering mandate promotes fear, turns neighbors against neighbors, and contracts the economy by making people fearful to leave their homes, to the detriment of every Ohioan; and

WHEREAS, Healthcare professionals have stated that, for the general population wearing face coverings, people are more likely to infect themselves with COVID-19 because they will touch their face more often to adjust the covering, and that face coverings retain moisture, bacteria, and other viruses, in addition to re-breathing carbon dioxide, making them potentially dangerous for the general public to wear. . . .

Other articles claim that DeWine restricted the civil liberties of Ohioans by issuing a “stay-at-home” order, impeded their First Amendment rights by forcing worshipers to wear facemasks, and has shown “incompetence by providing wildly inaccurate forecasts and repeatedly misleading COVID-19 data; and committed misfeasance and malfeasance with his policy prescriptions, which have proven to be far worse than the virus itself.”

No other member of the Ohio House (so far) has signaled support for the impeachment effort, so it is likely to go nowhere. But it raises a sadly common question: How did Ohio get here and what does this mean for the future of the Republican party?

At the beginning of the pandemic, Governor DeWine received praise for his early action to help prevent the spread of the virus in the Buckeye State. His daily news conferences led to “Wine with DeWine,” a social-media movement that even spawned its own merchandise. Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio health department, became a household name for her frequent appearances alongside the governor.

DeWine’s swift actions helped Ohio control COVID’s spread in the beginning of the pandemic but he was not the only government official Ohioans were watching every day. President Trump was also giving daily briefings from the White House, often shortly after DeWine’s ended. The contrast between the two leaders was, and remains, overwhelming. While DeWine used his airtime to enact and explain strict guidelines meant to save lives, Donald Trump did the exact opposite, showing disdain for governors like DeWine whom he deemed too strict in their shutdown policies.

A mixture of lockdown fatigue and the president’s rhetoric has contributed to Ohio’s own culture war. Dr. Acton—Ohio’s equivalent of Dr. Fauci, who found herself under fire from Rep. Zeltwagner, one of the house members calling for DeWine’s impeachment—stepped down from her position following attacks on her efforts to contain the virus. Yard signs like this are not far off in tone or content from the Facebook posts of many disgruntled Ohioans:

There are two possible reasons that could explain the move to impeach DeWine: Either the three representatives truly believe the accusations they have raised—meaning they are vastly unfit for office—or they believe that accusing Gov. DeWine of these charges will be politically and professionally advantageous.

Either premise is damning for the “save the GOP” crowd. If the former is correct, this means that the party establishment in Ohio is filled with those who cannot comprehend the simple medical fact that wearing a mask reduces the chances of transmission of the virus, ignorance that should disqualify them from holding office. If the second is correct, this means that the Republican rank and file they’re appealing to have abandoned all reason.

A confusing hodgepodge of “all of the above” is most likely the answer.

While I cannot speak to the true beliefs of Representatives Becker, Zeltwanger, and Vitale, what is abundantly clear is this does seem to be a political move on behalf of the three—that is, an effort to curry favor with voters by rejecting commonsense safeguards designed to slow the spread of this disease.

The complexities of dealing with a health crisis will always lead to tough decisions that will upset some people. But any rational person operating outside of pure nihilistic self-interest can see that Gov. DeWine’s actions do not warrant impeachment, but rather, praise.

But, to be fair, these state Republicans learned it from higher-ups in their party. Many GOP elites, including Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Brian Kemp of Georgia, have continued to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 to appeal to their constituencies. And beyond just the current pandemic, the last four years have shown that the GOP establishment (with rare exceptions like Mitt Romney) will let Donald Trump get away with anything and everything out of fear of electoral consequence.

A Biden victory does not automatically remedy the problems of governance that the coronavirus has exposed or the problems of political judgment that this cynical Ohio impeachment ploy exposes. Even after removing Trump from the equation, there will still be state representatives like John Becker who either have no understanding of science or are willing to ignore it for political gain. And Trump’s defeat would do nothing to address the Republican voters themselves: voters who will support politicians in favor of removing a governor from their own party because he made them wear a piece of cloth over their face to try and save lives. There will not be a sudden mindset shift the second Biden takes his oath. These voters will look back on Donald Trump the way so many previously viewed Ronald Reagan. Whether that’s pushing for Donald Trump Jr. to run (or, God help us, Donald Trump again), or electing other candidates who mirror Trump’s policies, the GOP has been exposed as rotten to its core.

John Conway

John Conway is from Cleveland, Ohio and currently attends Kenyon College.