Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) appointed former county judge Jenifer French as chairwoman of the state’s public utilities commission on March 19. French will fill a position that has been vacant since November, when former Chairman Sam Randazzo resigned. If confirmed by the state Senate, French’s term will run through April 10, 2024.
French was a judge on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas from 2015 to 2021. She lost a re-election bid in the nonpartisan race on November 3, 2020, after running in the Republican primary unopposed. Although the general election for the court was nonpartisan, candidates ran in partisan primaries.
The Ohio Public Utilities Commission is a five-person state executive board that regulates electric and gas utilities, water and wastewater companies, telecommunication companies, and railroads.
Ohio is one of 37 states in which utility commission members are appointed by the governor. The position is elected in 11 other states and in two (South Carolina and Virginia) they are appointed by the legislature.
A special recall election seeking to remove four Woodmere Village Council members from their seats is scheduled for February 23, 2021. Woodmere is a town in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, with a population of 884 people as of the 2010 census. The board members subject to recall are board president Jennifer Mitchell Earley and members Glenda Todd Miller, Lisa Brockwell, and Craig Wade.
The recall election ballot asks one question for each of the four members: “Shall [council member’s name] be allowed to continue as Member of Council?” If a majority of the votes are in the affirmative, the member will remain in office; if a majority of the votes are in the negative, the member will be recalled. The question of replacement for any recalled member is not on the ballot and will be addressed after the recall election, if necessary.
The recall effort began in October 2020. Recall petitioners, known collectively as the Woodmere Project, cited the council’s failure to install a sidewalk along the village’s main road and its inability to keep the village’s website up-to-date as grounds for the recall. Petitioners also accused the four council members of pitting residents against each other.
The recall opponents alleged that a lack of transparency about the contents of the recall petition misled the residents who signed it. Petitioners were required to obtain 45 signatures to get the recall on the ballot.
The recall election was originally scheduled for January 19, 2021, but was canceled after the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections determined petitioners did not submit the required number of signatures. The effort was initially certified as having enough signatures due to confusion over whether petitioners were submitting initial or supplemental signatures. Petitioners then re-submitted signatures sufficient to get the recall on the ballot on February 23.
In 2020, Ballotpedia covered a total of 226 recall efforts against 272 elected officials. Of the 49 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 29 were recalled for a rate of 59%. That was higher than the 52% rate for 2019 recalls but lower than the 63% rate for 2018 recalls.
On Jan. 25, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced that he would not seek another six-year term in the Senate when his term expires in 2022.
In his statement announcing his decision, Portman said, “I am really looking forward to being home in Ohio full time, seeing family and friends more, and getting back to the private sector, including being able to be more involved in the community and in our family business. And I plan to stay involved in public policy issues.”
Portman was first elected to the Senate on Nov. 2, 2010. Prior to serving in the U.S. Senate, Portman served multiple roles in President George H.W. Bush’s (R) administration, represented Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House from 1993 to 2005, and served as U.S. Trade Representative and later as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in Bush’s administration.
As of January 2021, three incumbent U.S. Senators have also announced they will not be running for re-election in 2022: Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Between 2011 and July 2020, Ballotpedia tracked 243 retirement announcements from members of the U.S. House and Senate. January had seen the highest number of retirement announcements of any month at 45. Thirty-one of those took place during election years and 14 during odd-number years. During odd-number years, when no regular congressional elections were held, the highest number of retirements—24—had been announced in November.
The candidate filing deadline to run for elected office in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio, is on February 3, 2021. Prospective candidates in Columbus may file for the following municipal and school district offices:
City council (3 seats)
Columbus City Schools Board of Education (3 seats)
In Cleveland, prospective candidates may file for the following municipal offices:
City council (17 seats)
Municipal court judge
The primary elections are scheduled for May 4, and the general elections are scheduled for November 2.
Columbus and Cleveland are the first- and second-largest cities in Ohio, respectively. Columbus is the 16th-largest city in the United States by population, and Cleveland is the 48th-largest. The Columbus City Schools district is the largest school district in Ohio; it served 50,219 students as of the 2017-2018 school year.
Director of Insurance Judith French (R) was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Jan. 19, to succeed interim director Tynesia Dorsey.
The director is a cabinet-level executive position in the Ohio state government and the chief officer of the Department of Insurance. The director is responsible for ensuring the laws and regulations related to insurance are enforced across the state.
Prior to her appointment, French served on the Ohio Supreme Court from 2013 to 2021. She was first appointed to the court by Gov. John Kasich (R). She ran for re-election to the seat and was defeated in the general election on Nov. 3 by Jennifer L. Brunner (D).
The office of insurance commissioner is nonpartisan in 38 states. The 12 states in which the position is partisan include the 11 states where the insurance commissioner is elected, as well as Ohio. Of the 12 states where the insurance commissioner has a partisan affiliation, the office is held by a Democrat in three and a Republican in nine.
No initiative campaigns submitted signatures in Ohio on the Dec. 25 deadline. In Ohio, initiated statutes are indirect, requiring 132,887 signatures in 2021 to go before the Ohio State Legislature. If enough signatures are submitted, the legislature has the option to approve an initiative without a vote of electors. If the state legislature does not adopt an indirect initiative, the initiated statute becomes direct, requiring an additional 132,887 signatures (for a grand total of 265,774) to go before voters in 2021.
The signature deadline was 10 days before the Ohio State Legislature will convene on January 4, 2021.
Ohioans for Gun Safety, which sponsored the Ohio Background Checks for Firearm Purchases Initiative, announced in December 2019 that it would target the 2021 ballot instead of the 2020 ballot. Dennis Willard, a spokesperson for Ohioans for Gun Safety, said, “We think that 2021 gives us the best opportunity to have a clear and simple and straight forward conversation with Ohio voters that background checks for gun safety will save lives and reduce gun violence.” The initiative would have required that an unlicensed person wishing to sell or transfer a firearm to another person to conduct the transfer through a licensed gun dealer running a background check. The campaign did not submit signatures by the deadline.
Between 1995 and 2020, 45 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Ohio. Voters approved 53.3% (24 of 45) and rejected 46.7% (21 of 45) of the statewide ballot measures.
Incumbent Larry Householder (R) defeated four write-in candidates—Marci McCaulay (D), Jay Conrad (R), Robert Leist (L), and Kaitlyn Clark (I)—in the general election for Ohio’s House of Representatives District 72. Householder ran unopposed in the April 28 Republican primary.
On July 21, 2020, after the filing deadline for additional candidates to appear on the ballot, Householder was arrested and charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering scheme. He was accused of collecting more than $60 million in exchange for legislation that would bail out two nuclear plants in Ohio. The bailout was valued at $1.5 billion.
At the time of his arrest, Householder had been serving as Speaker of the House since 2019 when he defeated sitting House Speaker Ryan Smith (R). The House removed him from the position by a 90-0 vote on July 30.
In response to his arrest, on Sept. 1, Householder said, “[I]n the United States, we believe that you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty. And that day has not occurred … And so, I am innocent. I am going to defend myself vigorously.” Householder entered a plea of not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman on Sept. 3.
Householder previously served in the House from 1997 to 2004, including a tenure as Speaker of the House from 2001 to 2004. He returned to the House representing District 72 in 2016 and won re-election in 2018.
Incumbent Steve Chabot (R) defeated Kate Schroder (D) and Kevin Kahn (L) in the general election for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District. Chabot was first elected in 1994 and won re-election in every year since, other than 2008. He last won election in 2018, defeating Aftab Pureval 51.3% to 46.9%.
Both parties’ Hill committees targeted the 1st District this year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) included Schroder on its list of Red to Blue candidates, while the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) placed Chabot in its Patriot Program. The two groups spent a combined $5 million in the district.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Michael Newman to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio by a 67-30 vote on October 22, 2020. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.
After Newman receives his federal judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the eight-member court will have five Republican-appointed judges and three Democrat-appointed judges. Newman will join three other judges appointed by President Trump.
The U.S. Senate has confirmed 219 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 162 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.
Newman was a federal magistrate judge for the Southern District of Ohio from 2011 to 2020. Before that, he worked in private practice and as a law clerk to the Southern District of Ohio’s Magistrate Judge Jack Sherman and to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit Judge Nathaniel Jones. Newman earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from New York University in 1982, and his J.D., cum laude, from American University’s Washington College of Law in 1989.
On Sept. 18, Lucas County Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger selected John Hobbs III, Vanice Williams, Tiffany Preston Whitman, and Cerssandra McPherson to fill vacancies on the Toledo City Council. Each will hold their position in a temporary capacity while legal proceedings continue for four previous council members.
On July 21, council members Tyrone Riley, Yvonne Harper, Larry Sykes, and Gary Johnson were suspended from office after being charged with bribery, extortion, and conspiracy. According to an FBI investigation, the four members are alleged to have accepted $34,000 in bribes in return for votes on zoning requests. All four voluntarily stepped down from their council positions in July.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) stated: “Until allegations of public corruption are resolved in court, a suspension is the proper remedy to balance the accused’s right of a presumption of innocence with the public’s interest to have a functioning city council.”
Hobbs, Williams, Whitman, and McPherson assumed office on Sept. 22. Though the position is non-partisan, the Toledo Blade identified all four as Democrats. Each council member will hold their position in a temporary capacity until their predecessor’s term ends or until the suspended council member resigns or is found innocent.