Archive for the ‘Midwest’ Category

Ohio’s History Repeats Itself: A Return to Plunder Laws

In inequality, Midwest, Politics on August 30, 2011 at 11:47 am

courtesy flickr creative commons -

I just started my third year of law school (hence the slowdown in posting to the blog), and I am in the midst of finalizing a comment* on the (un)constitutionality of the Kasich administration’s JobsOhio initiative. For those of you not familiar with JobsOhio, last spring the Ohio General Assembly enacted and Kasich signed into law  a bill privatizing the state’s Economic Development department. What this means is that Kasich can appoint private industry executives to a board of directors (which was initially going to be headed by Kasich, until they realized it was blatantly unconstitutional) and channel funds to private corporations (and it just happens they all were campaign donors or are people he is fairly friendly with), all under the guise of “creating more jobs”.

In my opinion, JobsOhio is pretty horrible. And I believe it is certainly unconstitutional. But as I have done research on this, what has really struck me is how much the more things change the more they stay the same. We have been here before. History repeats itself. Insert your favorite cliche.

The reason why the Ohio constitution prohibits using public finds for private enterprise in the first place is because we went down this road before, and it ended with corruption and waste. The pertinent constitutional provisions came about because of some not-so-different laws passed in the early- to mid-1800s. At that time Ohio was a young state and very much in need of greater transportation to get goods to market. There was a boom in industry, with the need for trains, canals, and better roads. The public wanted them all built, and in the flurry of activity, allowed their legislative representatives to enact laws that would channel state funds to private companies willing to build the infrastructure.

Unfortunately, while some train tracks and canals were built, the state took on huge amounts of debt. Much of the debt was never repaid by the corporations (many of which took the money and ran); train tracks were never built, or if they were built, they were often duplicate routes and were an efficient use of tax dollars.  Money was channeled to cronies. And areas of the state in need of infrastructure were not served. In sum, huge amounts of public funds led to a whole lot of nothing. A backlash ensued, and the public demanded accountability for the use of their money. The result was a new state constitution that placed huge limits on public financing of private enterprise.  And in the end, after the new constitution went into effect, the railroads were still built and canals dug, all without use of the public coffers. 

The moral of the story is this: taking the public money and giving it to private corporations leads to a whole lot of BAD. It leads to corruption and waste. Ohioans of the 19th century called laws that funded these acts “plunder laws”. It seems plunder laws have returned, this time with promises of jobs and new industry rather than new roads and canals.

My prediction: we will see fraud, we will see money channeled to cronies, and we will see an uneven use of funds benefiting some state regions more than others.

Let’s heed the wisdom of those who went down this road before. Let’s follow our constitution, and rather than repeat mistakes of the past, prevent them from happening all over again.

* For those sane individuals who have wisely steered clear of legal education, a “comment” is a short academic legal article


Victory for Ohio Workers!

In Midwest, Worker's Rights on July 21, 2011 at 1:39 pm

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Ohio Secretary of State has now certified the SB 5 petition signatures, meaning that voters will have the chance to repeal the anti-union legislation this fall! This is great news. I am so impressed by the work of the organizers, who not only got enough signatures, but broke the record by obtaining 915,456 valid signatures.  Further proof that the Ohio people do not support Governor Kasich’s extreme far-right policies.

I am signed up to volunteer to help spread the word about the ballot initiative and encourage you to do the same! Just check out Stand Up for Ohio’s website and sign up online to take action!

Kudos to Kasich: Governor Gets it Right in Vetoing Water Bill

In Midwest, Politics on July 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

While I am not a huge fan of Kasich (understatement?) I applaud him for taking the bold step of vetoing  House Bill 231, which would have dramatically increased industrial access to Lake Erie water, without any safeguards such as permits or scientific review.

Seems that Kasich has angered his friends. But perhaps their loyalties are to their pocketbooks–rather than to the people’s lake. In today’s Columbus Dispatch, an editorial states:

“[bill] sponsor Lynn R. Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, [] sniped at Kasich, “I think he’s tired of getting beat up and thought he’d screw the business community and look popular.” Consider also that Wachtmann is president of a bottled-water company, an obvious conflict that should loom large whenever he talks about what’s best for Lake Erie.” (Columbus Dispatch)

President of a bottled-water company?! You can’t make this stuff up.

(Of course, Wachtmann’s name might sound familiar; he is one of the sponsor’s of Ohio’s horrific “heartbeat bill” which would ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected.  Lovely eh?)

Again, kudos to the Governor to standing up to special interests who have dollar signs in their eyes rather than a desire to protect our valuable natural resources.

Ohio’s Aggressive Recruitment of Out-of-State Students–Due to Population, or Price?

In Midwest on July 15, 2011 at 11:10 am

Ohio's Report Card: "F" in affordability

Today’s Dayton Daily News has an article on how Ohio colleges are recruiting more out-of-state students. The article explains that universities are pursuing this strategy due to a predicted drop in home grown high school graduates (a 9.3 percent decline) during the next ten years.  I don’t doubt that a reduction in population definitely plays a part in this decision. But I would be curious to hear how much of this push is driven by economics. The article briefly notes that non-native students bring in higher tuition, but otherwise does not explore the issue of cost.

What the Dayton Daily News fails to note is that according to the 2008 National Report Card on Higher Education (the most recent report card), Ohio receives an “F” for affordability of in-state colleges and universities.

Ohio families on average contribute 39 % of annual income for in-state tuition

In fact, Ohio families pay more for higher education than the most states, and “[p]oor and working-class families must devote 57% of their income, even after aid, to pay for costs at public four-year colleges.

Seriously, think about that. More than half of your income to support your child going to college. Unbelievable.

I have nothing against Ohio universities recruiting out-of-state students. But I think they should be entirely honest about their motives. It is unfortunate that administrators are not taking this opportunity to educate the public about how our state’s policies are hurting higher education.  They might note, for example,  that in 1978 over 17 percent of the share of the Ohio budget went toward higher education, while in 2005 it was only 11.7 percent.2  

Slashing revenues has consequences. And you have to wonder if perhaps maybe the decline in population would not be so large if the state invested in institutions that families value–and want to be able to afford–such as higher education.

1The National Report Card on Higher Education, Measuring Up 2008: Ohio (last visited July 15, 2011).

2Policy Matters Ohio, Wendy Patton and Kiel Albrecht, College Bound at 1, August 2005, available at

Even Ron Swanson Would Disapprove of Ohio Republicans

In Midwest, Politics, Poverty, Worker's Rights on June 30, 2011 at 10:45 am

If you are a fan of Parks and Recreation, then you are probably familiar with meat-eating-Libertarian Ron Swanson. As much as Ron Swanson and I might disagree about the role of government, I think he would agree that the Ohio Legislature is currently violating several of the cornerstones of the Pyramid of Greatness.

Faith Community Steps Up

In Great Recession, Midwest, Social Change on June 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I am currently doing some research on the decline of the social contract and how we can improve America’s safety net. It doesn’t take long to discover that faith communities are increasingly the ones filling the gaps for families in need, often stepping up to provide vital services for those whose unemployment has run out or are not eligible for other social programs.

I often think of faith communities as kindly social service providers. What I forget is that they can also be agents of social change. What would the civil rights era have been without churches and faith leaders?

Enter the Greater Cleveland Congregations, an interfaith coalition working for change in the Cleveland community. I am blown away by their vision. Just take a look at their mission statement, which includes the word POWER!

According to the organizers,

The mission of GCC is to work together to build power for social justice. GCC unites people across lines of race, class, religion and geography to promote public, private and civic-sector actions that we believe will strengthen and improve the quality of life of our neighborhoods.

Maybe the Great Recession will create the catalyst needed to mobilize our communities. Research seems to back up this idea; according to a study released by UC-Riverside, the economic crisis has inspired or revived campaigns for economic justice among consumers, homeowners, and unemployed workers, as well as among a variety of public sector workers and their clients.”

Our elected officials act as though they are powerless to solve the problems of the day. It is easy to feel powerless just watching them drone on and on about deficits and budget cuts while ignoring the economic suffering going on across this country. This coalition reminds us that we are not powerless. It is time people to reclaim their power, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.

Timely Observations of a Election Day Volunteer (Or, why our voting system is broken, but not in the way Ohio Republicans think it is.)

In Midwest, Uncategorized on May 25, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I have finally decided to revive this blog, and the timing couldn’t be better. About six months ago I drafted a post based on my experience volunteering for the first time as a poll observer. Both parties in Ohio are entitled to send poll observers to monitor the elections and ensure that everything is running smoothly, the law is being followed, and voters rights’ are being protected. (Of course, one party which shall remain nameless tends to care more about voters’ rights than the other.)

The general impetus of my rant thoughtful post was that the United States is leaps and bounds away from having a fully functioning democracy. We fail at running elections.

While I had many, many criticisms about how Ohio runs its elections, I did *not* observe that we need fewer opportunities to vote by absentee ballot or that we should eliminates a requirement that poll workers direct voters in the wrong precinct to the correct one. Nope. Can’t say that those were the reforms I was thinking about.

Rather, these were the type of issues I walked away scratching my head over:

  • What, you couldn’t find us here in the voting location, back here behind the school bus maintenance building industrial entrance with no signs or flags?
  • Do you know your voting rights? It is likely that the election workers do not know your rights. Learn them and bring this handy card with you to the polls. Or consider volunteering as a poll observer. A big part of my job was educating the poll workers themselves about what was allowed under the law and correcting misinformation.
  • Why Tuesday? Seriously, why?!
  • Roving bands of republicans. Ew.
  • Yes, let’s take one of the most important jobs in a democracy–election day poll workers–and hire low-wage elderly folks and make them work a sixteen hour day (with a lunch break only). Sure, no mistakes will
  • Can someone please update the worker manual and correct those errors? Mmm thanks.
  • Identification madness. So. Much. Madness.
  • Law student fail: no clue who these judges are and which one I should vote for. Kinda doubt any of these other voters have a clue either.
  • Problems voting? I know, let’s just give you a provision ballot that will never be counted!
  • Who is in charge around here? And why am I (the volunteer) the one making sure you don’t run out of ballots?!
  • Oh, you move around frequently? You rent, you are a student, you got evicted and had to move in with relatives for some time? Oh Yeah, you are pretty much screwed because you can’t vote here anymore.
  • Why oh why can’t people just register on site?