Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has been widely praised for slowing the spread of coronavirus through a series of aggressive measures that closed down the state before many of his Republican counterparts around the country.
But Keith Threewits, the executive committee chairman of the Darke County Republican Party, is not impressed.
“Basically he superseded the constitution of Ohio and the constitution of the United States and violated the principles of the Declaration of Independence when the founders said that governments were instituted among men to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Threewits said when asked about DeWine by The Daily Beast.
State Rep. John Becker, is championing legislation he said is “designed to stop the madness and open up society and the economy again.”
While Becker gave the governor credit for being public and transparent, larger actions by DeWine have not sat well with him.
“When it comes to canceling an election, when it comes to suspending civil liberties, when it comes to shutting down private businesses, all of that's illegal,” Becker, a Republican, said.
Becker outlined that his legislation would make orders from the state's health director advisory instead of mandatory with the added hurdle of the general assembly approval being required to make those orders mandatory.
DeWine has found himself in a tricky spot at this stage of the coronavirus pandemic, with some conservative voices growing frustrated at the state’s slower reopening pace and keen to throw open the doors despite COVID-19 continuing to kill people.
But faced with members of his own party charging that he’s going against the GOP’s bedrock principles, the longtime Republican elected official has simply acknowledged the displeasure and moved on. At the same time, states across the country have begun reopening measures, with Republican leaders in Georgia and Oklahoma making aggressive pushes and proudly touting their early easing of restrictions.
“There's anxiety certainly building in the Republican party about the pace of reopening, but this governor (is) I think striking the right balance between having to get the state back to work and recognizing that this continues to be a threat," said Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party who gave high marks to the governor.
On Tuesday, DeWine’s role meant having the dire task of announcing budget cuts of $775 million in “general revenue fund spending” during the current fiscal year as the pandemic continues to trouble the state, a task he undertook with the stoic approach of a man who’s held a variety of different elected offices throughout Ohio over the last 40 years.
Nationally, DeWine’s approach during the pandemic has shown to be quicker, and stricter, than some of his fellow Republican state leaders.
For example, when it came time for the state’s primary scheduled for March 17, DeWine made drastic last-minute efforts to keep in-person voting from happening during the pandemic. After an earlier attempt was derailed, DeWine announced the night before the election that the polls would be ordered closed as a health emergency.
On other occasions, DeWine has been less steadfast. During an appearance last Sunday on ABC’s This Week, DeWine explained that a mandatory requirement for customers heading into retail stores to wear a mask "was just a bridge too far," as he described pulling the move back.
And DeWine’s office has been clear that he knows he’s not making everyone happy with his actions.
“The Responsible RestartOhio plan and our Stay Safe Ohio Order will open 90% of the Ohio economy by next week,” DeWine’s press secretary Dan Tierney said in an email. “The Governor notes that he hears criticism from both sides. Some think this is too fast, others think this is too slow. The Governor is committed to working swiftly with remaining industries to determine best practices for reopening.”
That approach hasn’t stopped fellow Republicans from pushing for a far more aggressive approach. More than 30 state house lawmakers signed on to a letter late last month in support of a plan that said “a responsible opening of all businesses can, and should, begin,” by May 1.
DeWine did not follow that suggestion.
Even Becker, the state senator who proposed a bill to limit the governor’s power during a crisis, acknowledged it was likely to fail.
“I think the majority of the General Assembly supports the governor, as does the majority of the state,” Becker said. “However I can tell you I'm getting overwhelming support from around the state for this bill.”
Brad Sinnott, chairman of the central committee for the Franklin County Republican Party, defended the governor’s approach.
“I think the governor has acted very responsibly from the outset of the COVID-19 situation,” said Sinnott. “And here in Franklin County I sense a great deal of support for the reopening of Ohio on the pace and under the terms being set by the governor.”
Dave Johnson, the Columbiana County GOP chairman, proudly touts that he is a conservative Republican who owns a tile company and a fine dining restaurant.
"On the basis of all that experience, I support what the governor's doing," Johnson said.
Health restrictions signed last Thursday continue to order people in the state to remain at home with some exceptions. Construction, manufacturing and distribution businesses could open starting Monday along with “general office environments,” with certain measures under the administration’s reopening plan, while retail stores are allowed a larger scale reopening on May 12 with health rules also in place.
But other attractions, like barber shops and hair and nail salons remain closed under the Ohio order, despite other GOP-led states allowing those same outlets to throw open their doors late last month.
“Governor DeWine… initially the goal was to flatten the curve and that is exactly what we have done! Stop moving the goal posts on us!,” Republican Ohio State Rep. Craig Riedel posted on Facebook last Friday over a new order.
Some GOP critics in Ohio have even gone as far as to lash out at Dr. Amy Acton, director of health at the state’s health department. On Saturday, there was a “small” protest at the home of Acton, who is Jewish, according to Cleveland.com.
DeWine has defended Acton, saying Monday that demonstrations should be directed at him because he’s the elected official setting the policy.
“To bother the family of Dr. Acton, I don't think that's fair game,” DeWine said. “I don't think it's right. I don't think it's necessary to get your point across.”
Late last week, Republican Ohio State Rep. Nino Vitale targeted Acton over the state’s stay at home restrictions.
“Is this America or Amerika?” Vitale posted on Facebook last week. “Your basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness do not come from an unelected Globalist Health Director, who signed the order in the dark of night. Your basic human rights are inalienable and cannot be bought, sold, traded or taken from you.”
Vitale, who has been a controversial figure in Ohio during the pandemic, faced quick backlash for his words. That hasn’t stopped the Ohio Republican from continuing to disparage the state’s virus response.
“For the second time in a week, a member of the Ohio legislature has invoked antisemitism when describing displeasure with the state’s COVID-19 response,” Cleveland’s Anti-Defamation League Regional Director James Pasch said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Rep. Nino Vitale’s use of the antisemitic slur “globalist” when describing Ohio’s Director of Health is unacceptable and offensive.”
In a social media post Monday, Vitale again went after Acton, urging people to “ignore the unelected Dr. Acton’s orders, open your counties now, before it’s too late.”
“These orders were NOT voted on by 2/3rds of a vote of the legislature, as need to be done in cases of emergencies in Ohio,” Vitale added later in the post. “These are INVALID orders.”
DeWine has also found support in unexpected corners. While some Republicans may be vocally discontent with the strictness of DeWine’s approach, Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper gave the governor kudos for his keeping in-person voting from happening March 17 and his early approach to shutting down the state.
But to Pepper, DeWine seems to be caving to some political pressure in recent days.
“There's growing unease that he's pushing more quickly and being egged on by these right-wingers,” Pepper told The Daily Beast.