A peek into Ohio’s political crystal ball: Thomas Suddes

December 30, 2017

A peek into Ohio’s political crystal ball: Thomas Suddes

In 2018, Ohio politics are likely to be more rambunctious than ever. All the statewide executive offices will be up for grabs – as will a crucial office that only 99 people get to vote on: The Ohio House’s speakership. Here are some in-state political prophecies for 2018:

Assuming Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, of Chagrin Falls, files for governor in May’s Democratic primary, don’t underestimate his potential statewide showing. First, parts of O’Neill’s platform have curb appeal – such as legalizing marijuana use by adults, and offering to expand (desperately needed) mental health services.

Second, novelty sells in Ohio, O’Neill’s romantic candor included. After all, in three-way 1982 primary, Ohio Democrats gave 20 percent of their votes to Jerry Springer. And by today’s “standards,” 1982′s Ohio was part of the Victorian era.

O’Neill apologizes after talking up his sex life

When O’Neill resigns from the high court, Republican Gov. John R. Kasich will appoint one of the GOP’s two endorsed Supreme Court candidates to O’Neill’s seat: Judge Mary DeGenaro, of suburban Youngstown, of the Ohio Court of Appeals (7th District), or Judge Craig Baldwin, of Newark, of the Court of Appeals (5th District). Result: Instant incumbency.

In May’s GOP primary, the gubernatorial ticket of Mike DeWine and Jon Husted is the favorite to best Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor’s campaign, and the campaign of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth. (Kasich can’t seek a third consecutive term.) Stumbles do happen, but DeWine and Husted don’t make many.

Besides O’Neill, other Democrats running for governor are former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray; former state Rep. Connie Pillich; state Sen. Joseph Schiavoni; former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton; and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Well, Will Rogers did say he didn’t belong to an organized political party – he was a Democrat. Still, there’s likely to be some shakeout among those six Democrats. Bottom line: Cordray doesn’t tend to set audiences on fire. But if Democrats who can do that come into Ohio to campaign for him – examples: Barack Obama or Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton – advantage Cordray.

Republicans will lose some Ohio House seats, because they now hold a record-setting 66 (of 99); Democrats will win back at least a few.

The contest that really matters to Statehouse lobbyists, and to Ohio’s next governor, whoever that is, is the race between GOP state Reps. Larry Householder, of Perry County, and Ryan Smith, of Gallia County, to become the Ohio House’s next speaker. If Republicans retain a majority, House Republicans elected or re-elected in November will elect the next speaker. No prediction (yet) on this contest – but there’s no overestimating its stakes and intensity.

The fight for the next speaker of the Ohio House

The race drawing national attention will be between Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, of Cleveland, and one of two potential Republican Senate nominees, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who failed to unseat Brown in 2012, or another Greater Cleveland Republican, Mike Gibbons.

Earlier this month, in a stunning development, the Franklin County Republican organization endorsed Gibbons, not Mandel, for the Senate. And Gibbons has been barnstorming Ohio’s counties, big and small. Plus, the Kasich crowd, to put it tactfully, doesn’t belong to Mandel’s fan club. The Mandel-Gibbons primary will be closer than many bystanders expect.

Finally, the Californication of Ohio will accelerate, with more ballot issues, because (a) the General Assembly, rather than address real problems, passes bills on such weighty subjects as commemorative license plates, and (b) promoting ballot issues is a way for political operatives to make even more money – in a state where cash registers and voting machines are both political devices.

Thomas Suddes, a member of the editorial board, writes from Athens.

To reach Thomas Suddes: tsuddes@cleveland.com, 216-999-4689

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