Four far-right Ohio lawmakers have announced their plans for impeaching Governor Mike DeWine over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
BY JAMES UNDERWOOD, ’23 AND MIA DORON, ’23.
Ohio House Rep. John Becker of Clermont County announced in late August that he had drafted 10 articles of impeachment against Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. The articles accuse DeWine of “assum[ing] dictatorial powers over the people” and “violat[ing] his oath of office” in his coronavirus response.
Becker, a Republican, says he first conceived the articles on March 16, the day DeWine rescheduled the Ohio primary election. “I said [to then-Speaker Householder], ‘Mr. Speaker, if you’re willing to support impeachment, I’m willing to lead the effort,’” Becker recalled in an interview with Arlingtonian.
“And he just pooh-poohed the idea at the time and over the [course of the] month I followed up with him multiple times to find out at what point he was going to be ready to move forward with impeachment,” Becker said.
He continued, “Then [DeWine] started making things worse, where he had the 10 o’clock last-call with the bars, mask requirements on kids in schools, so then I’m hearing more and more from constituents that are all upset, and so then I accelerated the drafting process.”
However, Becker has not yet officially filed the legislation with the Clerk of the House, and remains undecided as to when he will do so. “I don’t have any immediate plans for it, but I can assure they are going to be filed long before the end of the year,” he said.
The 10 articles cover a number of accusations, including violation of separation of powers and oath of office, the infliction of permanent economic damage and various violations of both the Ohio and the U.S. Constitutions.
The articles are introduced by a 700-word preamble that “explains the history and the constitutional authority” behind impeachment, according to Becker. “There [are] differences of opinion out there as to what’s an impeachable offense. And so I really addressed all that in the preamble,” he said. “My favorite part of the articles is actually the preamble.”
Several portions of the articles also compare DeWine’s behavior to the coronavirus itself, with this directly incorporated into Article VI, which states that “DeWine has committed misfeasance and malfeasance with his policy [decisions], which have proven to be far worse than the virus itself.”
The impeachment effort remains an uphill battle. So far, only three of Becker’s colleagues in the Ohio House—Republican Reps. Nino Vitale of Champaign County, Paul Zeltwanger of Warren County and Candice Keller of Butler County—have vowed to co-sponsor the legislation.
Becker and his co-sponsors are all Republican, as is DeWine, prompting some to call the articles a symptom of disagreement within the Republican party. For example, Democratic Rep. Allison Russo, whose district includes Upper Arlington, said in an interview with Arlingtonian, “I think this is more reflective of some of the infighting that we’ve seen developed in the Republican caucus, and the party.”
Becker’s cosponsors are just as controversial as the articles themselves. Vitale made headlines in August after being accused of six campaign finance violations by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and more recently, after calling on Americans to stop getting tested for coronavirus in a viral social media post.
Zeltwanger supported a bill to cancel Ohio’s state of emergency and is infamous for his scarce attendance on the House floor. Keller is no less controversial, making headlines after blaming the shooting in Dayton on former President Barack Obama, drag queens and same-sex marriage, as well as introducing a bill that would prohibit abortion if there was a detectable heartbeat.
Becker Supports Criminal Charges
Becker “would definitely support” criminal charges against DeWine in addition to impeachment, he said.
Acting as a private citizen, he filed last month an affidavit to the Clermont County Municipal Court, and called upon his supporters to do the same, saying in a YouTube video, “I want you to take that document, change that information to your information, and file it in your county.” County prosecutors swiftly rejected the effort.
State Republican leaders have swiftly denounced the effort, with Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken telling the Cincinnati Enquirer, “the attack by John Becker and his allies is a baseless, feeble attempt at creating attention for themselves.”
Speaker of the House Robert R. Cupp, who is the leading Republican in the chamber, also rejected the notion of an impeachment, saying in an interview with WHIO-TV News that it was nothing more than an undue escalation of a political disagreement and would result in a “state constitutional crisis,” an assessment with which Becker disagrees. “I think [Speaker Cupp’s response] is pretty silly. I’m not sure who actually wrote that for him,” he said.
Russo also opposes the impeachment effort. “Many of us [in the House] feel that this is a bit of a political stunt, and, frankly, it’s a distraction from many of the other important things that Ohioans need us to be working on at the moment,” she said. She doesn’t think the articles will advance further in the legislative process, saying, “This piece of legislation in particular is pretty much dead in the water.”
“I would say that the vast majority of people in this district have been supportive of [DeWine’s coronavirus] response so far, and would be against this impeachment effort,” she added.
Becker says that his constituents have expressed “broad support” for the effort, saying “I’ve got a lot of people contacting me, thanking me.”
In addition to the impeachment articles, Becker is considering running against DeWine in the next Republican primary. “If the Governor runs for reelection, and if nobody else steps up to run, I will run for Governor against DeWine in the primary. That’s not my first choice, and there [are] a lot of Ifs in all that,” Becker, who has described himself as the most conservative member of the legislature, said. “But if nobody else is going to step up, I’ll do it.”
Becker makes clear that his criticism does not extend to public health leaders such as Amy Acton, the former director of the Ohio Department of Public Health. “I was one of the few people that didn’t go after Amy Acton,” he said. “As far as I was concerned, she was doing her job as a health professional advising the Governor to the best of her ability. My problem is not with Amy Acton; my problem is with the Governor … not adequately considering all of the ramifications of the advice that Amy Acton was giving him.”
Despite his frustration with DeWine’s handling of the pandemic and his support of criminal charges, Becker is “willing to give the Governor the benefit of the doubt that he is doing what he believes is in the best interests of Ohioans. And that’s where we disagree,” he said.
DeWine’s office responded in a statement that DeWine’s priorities are “saving lives during this pandemic, helping the economy, and getting Ohioans back to work.” More explicitly, DeWine himself has publicly dismissed the articles, saying at a press conference, “Have at it.”