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State Legislatures Burn Democracy

In an interview, Michael Weinman, the head of government affairs for the Ohio chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents some twenty-four thousand law enforcement officers, described the new laws on firearms as “dangerous” and “senseless”. Thanks to the legislation, he explained, “anyone can walk into Ohio and carry a concealed firearm,” and there’s no need to mention that they have the gun if they don’t. he is arrested by the police. Weinman pointed out that the law on arming school employees contains no provision requiring lethal weapons to be securely locked, adding, “Can you imagine a kindergarten student sitting down to be reading, and there’s a gun in the kid’s face?” He noted that other than teachers, most school employees “have not learned how to discipline people – and most school shooters are students”. Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, told me, “It’s amazing. The more firearms you have in schools, the more accidents and fatalities there can be, especially with such minimal training. She added, “We are just as bad as Texas and Florida when it comes to these laws. We are becoming more and more extreme.

Weinman said the right-wing shift on guns in Ohio has been driven, in large part, by “very aggressive gun groups,” some of which profit from extremism by stoking fear. This helps sell memberships and grow valuable mailing lists. “These groups are very divisive,” Weinman said. He recently testified before the Ohio General Assembly against the relaxation of state gun laws; afterwards, he told me, Chris Dorr, the leader of a particularly militant group called the Ohio Gun Owners, chased him out of the room and down a hallway, demanding that he be fired. In an online post, Dorr, who argues that the National Rifle Association is too soft on its defense of gun rights, posted a close-up of Weinman with the caption, “remember this faceadding in another post that Weinman is “the most aggressive foe of gun rights in Ohio.” Dorr and his two brothers, Ben and Aaron, operate affiliate gun groups across the country, who share the slogan ‘No Compromise.’ During the pandemic, the Dorrs’ groups have branched out into other fiercely anti-government causes and helped lead anti-mask and anti-vax protests. Niven, the political scientist, said said the Dorrs “maintain relationships with the most right-wing members of the state legislature and can have their bills heard.” Ninety percent of Ohio voters favor an audit background of people trying to buy guns, Niven noted, “but the Democrats can’t be heard.”

Teresa Fedor, a Democratic senator who served in the General Assembly for 22 years, has described Ohio’s new gun and abortion laws as the worst legislation she has ever seen passed. . She said to me, “It sounds like Gilead” – the fictional theocracy from Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Fedor added, “We have state-mandated pregnancies, even of a ten-year-old.”

The problem is personal to him. Fedor, a grandmother, is a former teacher; in her twenties, while serving in the army, she was raped. She had an abortion. Fedor was a divorced single mother at the time, trying to get a teaching degree. “I thought my life was going to be over,” she said. “But abortion was accessible, and it was a step back. For me, this choice meant that I could have a future. I feel like I’ve crossed over and have the life I dreamed of when I was a little girl, because I had that choice. Without the freedom to have an abortion, she said, “I wouldn’t be a state senator today.

In 2015, during a floor debate on abortion policy, Fedor testified about his experience. As she spoke, she was furious to notice that another lawmaker, who opposed her views, was laughing. She said Republicans serving in districts that were designed to be voter-proof “just aren’t listening to the public, period — it doesn’t have to be.” According to Fedor, many of the most extreme bills were not drafted by lawmakers themselves, but by local and national right-wing lobby groups, which can raise black money and train primary voters. in strength. Nationally, the most influential such group is the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that essentially outsources legislative drafting to interested companies. In Ohio, Fedor told me, it is often extremist religious groups that wield undue influence. She then noted that one such organization is about to have “an office right across the street from the Statehouse bedroom.”

Opposite Ohio’s Greek Revival Statehouse is a vacant six-story building that is set to become the new headquarters of the Center for Christian Virtue, a once-obscure nonprofit founded by an anti-pornography advocate. four decades ago, in the basement of a Cincinnati church. In 2015 and 2016, the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center classified the organization as a hate group, citing homophobic statements on its website that described “homosexual behavior” as “unhealthy and destructive to the individual” and “for society as a whole. .” The group later deleted the offending statements and, according to the Columbus Dispatch, he recently became “the state’s premier lobbying force on Christian conservative issues.” Over the past five years, its full-time staff has grown from two to thirteen, and its annual budget has grown from four hundred thousand dollars to $1.2 million. Group chairman Aaron Baer told me the new headquarters – the group bought the building for $1.25 million last year and plans to spend another $3.75 million on the renovate – is really meant to send a signal. “The message is that we’re going to be here for the long haul,” Baer said. “We are going to have a voice in the direction of the state and the nation, God willing.”

The center already wields an unusual influence. Emails obtained by a watchdog group, Campaign for Accountability, show Baer has been in regular contact with Governor DeWine’s office about a range of policies. The center’s board includes two of the state’s biggest Republican donors, one of whom, corporate lobbyist David Myhal, previously served as DeWine’s top fundraiser. A third director, Tom Minnery, who served as chairman of the center’s board of directors, is chairman emeritus of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful national legal organization that was created as the religious right’s response to American Civil Liberties. Union. And, until earlier this year, a fourth director of the center was Seth Morgan, who is currently vice-president of the ADF

The most recent IRS records available show that the center and ADF share multiple sources of funding, including the huge and opaque National Christian Foundation, and have amplified each other’s messages. In April, the center celebrated the ADF’s legal defense of an Ohio college professor who refused to use a student’s favorite pronouns. In addition, the center works with approximately one hundred and thirty Catholic and evangelical schools, two thousand two hundred churches, and what it calls a Christian Aligned Business Chamber of Commerce. Jake Grumbach, a political scientist specializing in state government who teaches at the University of Washington, told me the center exemplifies what political scientists call the “nationalization of local politics.”

The Center for Christian Virtue appears to be the true sponsor of some of Ohio’s most extreme bills. Gary Click, the Sandusky-area pastor serving at Ohio House, credited me that the group prompted him to introduce a bill opposing gender-affirming care for transgender youth, regardless of parental consent. The center, in essence, handed Click on the wording of the legislation. Click confirmed to me that the center “is very proactive in Cap Square” – Ohio’s capital – adding, “All lawmakers are aware of their presence.” Click’s transgender bill is not yet in effect, but a related bill, also promoted by the center, has passed the Ohio House. It states that any student on a women’s sports team participating in interscholastic conferences must be born with female genitalia. The legislation also provides for genital inspections. Niven observed that “many anti-trans sports bills are trickling down” to Republican-led state houses, but “leave it up to Ohio to pass a provision for mandatory genital inspection if somebody question their gender. He continued, “It’s gerrymandering. You can’t say “show me your girl” and stay in the office unless you have must-see neighborhoods.

Cartoon by Seth Fleishman

In a phone interview, Baer told me that his mother and father, who divorced, were Jewish Democrats. But his father converted to Christianity and became a Baptist pastor. After a turbulent adolescence, Baer himself converted to a more conservative form of evangelical Christianity. He told me that the only “true hope for our nation is in Jesus, but we need guarantees in the law.” He described gender-confirming health care for transgender patients as “mutilation.” Baer believes the Supreme Court should strike down the legalization of same-sex marriage, and he opposes the use of surrogate pregnancy, which he called “renting a womb,” because it “permanently separates children from their biological mothers. He supports the Personhood Act—State Representative Click’s proposal to ban abortions at conception. As for the high-profile ten-year-old rape victim from Ohio, Baer told me that the girl would have been better off having her rapist’s baby and raising it too, because a “child will always do better with the biological mother”.