On the off-chance that you’re not sufficiently depressed and/or horrified at the direction the Republican party is taking in 2019, here’s a dispatch from LGM’s Ohio bureau: Back in July, the Republican-controlled Ohio state legislature passed an energy bill, HB6. The bill has four key components. First, it added a surcharge to every ratepayer’s bill to fund a bailout of two older nuclear power plants. Second, it added another surcharge to bail out two old, dirty, failing coal plants, one of which is not located in Ohio. Third, it significantly rolled back Ohio’s renewable energy target, from 12.5% by 2027 to 8.5% by 2026. Fourth, it substantially reduced improved energy efficiency goals to such a level that most counties have already met them.
To learn more about this atrocious bill, read Dave Roberts’ reporting at the time. He calls it the worst energy bill of the 21st century and I’m inclined to believe him; he should know. As Roberts notes, a subsidy to squeeze everything we can out of low carbon existing nuclear plants until the grid is cleaner is potentially justifiable, but in this particular case it’s far from clear the nuclear plants are actually unprofitable. The other three, to state the blindingly obvious, have no conceivable justification whatsoever, but here we are.
In response to this, a group called Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has successfully petitioned for the opportunity to place an referendum on the 2020 ballot to repeal HB6. On August 30, the language for the measure was approved, triggering the beginning of a signature gathering period; they now need roughly 265,000 signatures statewide, including at least 3% of the number of voters who voted in the last Gubernatorial election in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, by October 21. The signature gathering drive is now underway. Given what we know about public opinion about these issues, the chances for passing this referendum seem pretty good, which probably explains the grotesquely wicked and irresponsible tactics against the signature gathering campaign. The dark money PAC running a campaign against the referendum has adopted the following messaging strategy: this is a stealth effort by the Chinese government to take over Ohio’s electrical grid and steal jobs. This lie is egregious and stupid, but hardly noteworthy in 2019. Much worse is the message is that the signature gathering effort is in fact an effort by the Chinese government to gather the precious personal
fluids information of Ohioans, which they will presumably use at some later date for some dastardly purpose. The clear implication of the campaign’s messaging is that the signature gatherers are agents of the CCP (whether we’re meant to think of them active traitors or useful idiots isn’t clear). Lest you suspect I’m exaggerating, here are the flyers (the TV spot is arguably worse):
About that request that vigilant patriotic Ohioans call the hotline to “report” signature gatherers? It may trigger the deployment of paid “blockers” whose job it is to prevent the petition from being signed:
The backers of House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout bill, have deployed campaign workers to attempt to prevent HB6 opponents from collecting the signatures needed to place an HB6 referendum on the ballot. As cleveland.com’s Andrew Tobias reports, a spokesman for the pro HB6 group says the anti-petitioners – referred to as “blockers” in political campaign parlance – are trained to be polite. But the anti HB6 group has complained the blockers are harassing their petitioners.
Let’s not mince words: This is an effort to defeat a signature drive by inciting political violence against signature gatherers, full stop. It’s already led to a reported assault, and it could easily get much more serious. The dark money group behind this campaign (Ohioans for Energy Independence) also hosts another website promoting House Speaker Larry Householder. FirstEnergy, the primary recipient of HB6’s largesse, fought hard to get Householder elected speaker (it was a close and contested hard-fought election; Householder needed Democratic votes to win the speakership, which he bought with some promised budget provisions); it’s fairly safe to assume the Ohio Republicans in Householder faction and their partners are FirstEnergy know exactly what they’re doing. The normalization and weaponization of political violence is going to get worse before it gets better.
I was hoping to close this post with a link to instructions for our Ohio readers to find their way to signing the petition, but my googling around a bit was unsuccessful. If anyone knows where would-be signers can go online find a petition to sign, drop me a line or put it in comments and I’ll amend the post to include it. (Here’s a website for the opposition to HB6; it doesn’t seem to be updated from the legislative fight this summer; the petition here is an appeal to lawmakers, not a substitute for signing a petition to place the referendum on the ballot.)