EDITORIAL: One detail left out of the celebration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2022

When Gov. Mike DeWine announced a $500 million investment in Ohio’s Appalachian counties this year, which was approved by the state’s General Assembly, the news was greeted with praise, as a long-neglected part of the state was getting a much-needed boost.

DeWine deserves credit for taking Appalachia into consideration and making it a priority and we commend him for that and thank legislators for approving it.

However, as the governor and leaders in the Republican-controlled statehouse pat each other on the back and offer congratulations, there is an elephant in the room that is not being addressed — had their party had its way at the national level, this investment would never have happened.

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Funds for the state’s investment came heavily from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden near the start of his term in 2021.

The problem with the celebration by Ohio’s Republicans as the money is distubuted is that not a single Republican in Congress voted for the package, which passed solely because of Democratic support.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who has fashioned a reputation for himself as a moderate and bipartisan type, voted in lockstep with his party’s leader in the chamber, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, against the package, as did every Republican Senate member.

Bill Johnson, whose district lies almost entirely in Appalachia and includes Lawrence County, joined his party in the House in opposing ARPA, and, in a press release, called it “fake COVID relief legislation” and a “grab bag of Democrat (sic) liberal wish list.”

Adjacent to his district is that of Brad Wenstrup, into which Lawrence County will fall after redistricting takes effect.

Wenstrup similarly opposed ARPA, calling it a “so-called ‘COVID-19 relief’ bill,” and a “partisan wish list.”

In fact, of members of Congress appearing on the ballot in Lawrence County, the only one who can say he voted for the legislation that made the Appalachian investment possible is Sherrod Brown, the state’s Democratic U.S. senator.

As the investment funds go into effect for infrastructure, tourism development, education and workforce training and community health projects, there will no doubt be ribbon cutting ceremonies with various political figures invited.

Will Johnson and Wenstrup show up to proclaim “I am here today to celebrate this project that I voted against funding?”

Don’t count on such straightforwardness when the cameras are rolling.

Even DeWine, who proposed this Appalachian package, opposed ARPA, stating at a March appearance at the City Club of Cleveland that he would have voted against it had he still been in the Senate.

DeWine seems to have no problem spending ARPA funds and touting it, such as when he used them for behavioral health care and law enforcement initiatives in the state. Of course, nowhere in these announcements is credit to Biden or Democrats in Congress, who actually made them available.

Republicans and conservatives demonized ARPA at the time with their go-to label of “socialism” and labeling it as runaway government spending, a curious stance, as they voted for similar COVID-19 relief bills when their party held the White House with Donald Trump.

Trump was in fact so proud of passing such packages that he insisted on having his name printed on the included stimulus checks mailed to Americans.

It’s amazing how all it takes is the letter after a politicians name being different for a political party to sing a different tune.

In their knee-jerk opposition to ARPA, Republicans missed out on a chance to be a part of crafting good government in action and could have had an even bigger role in seeing the region’s priorities addressed.

Instead, for them to take credit now for the Appalachian investment is disingenuous and, if they were open about their record on its funding, voters would likely be left scratching their heads and wondering, “Why didn’t they want this?”