Ohio State Senator Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) speaks before fellow lawmakers. Smith is one of two Black state senators, along with state Senator Nina Turner (D-25), and among five Black state lawmakers with constituents in the Cleveland Metropolitan area.
By Kathy Wray Coleman, Associate Publisher, Editor, Cleveland Urban News.Com and the Kathy Wray Coleman Online Newsblog.Com www.clevelandurbannews.com0
CLEVELAND, Ohio-Politics makes strange bed fellows. And Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich knows that all too well as he was in Cleveland last week for a second time this month to meet with Black people, this time for the ceremonial signing of a criminal records sealing law recently passed by the Republican controlled state legislature and sponsored by state senators Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati).
Ohio Governor John Kasich (R-OH)
The law, an amendment to a state law already on the books that permitted the sealing of only one non-violent criminal record, either a felony or a misdemeanor, gives a sentencing judge the discretion to seal criminal records of non-violent crimes to the limit of two, either a single felony or misdemeanor, or two misdemeanors. And It modifies child support calculations for monies owed by incarcerated persons, gives more protection against the public release of certain juvenile court records, and provides letters of recommendations for jobs like barber and beautician for people with felony records.
Smith, the assistant minority leader for the Ohio Senate and one of two Black state senators representing the Cleveland area, had fought for statutory reform for ex-offenders, a disproportionate number of whom are Black males. And Kasich heard her plea, bucking fellow Republicans and successfully urging passage of the law.
“I have long advocated for expanding
’s record sealing laws, and for giving ex-offenders a second chance when finding employment. Senate Bill 337 accomplishes these goals,” Ohio Smith said in a press release to Cleveland Urban News.Com shorty before a press conference at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Cleveland where about 350 people witnessed the governor's ceremonial signing of the bill into law, including a host of Black elected officials. “It will benefit thousands of rehabilitated citizens who have paid their dues to society and want to move on with their lives. This legislation eliminates barriers to employment, and it reminds society that ex-offenders have a place among us. "
A former Ohio congressman who stole the governorship from former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in a close election in 2010, Kasich is by most political standards shrewd, at least in winning over some Black Cleveland leaders.
The jury, however, is still out on whether his newly found relationship with select Black elected officials will flourish.
Though she has endorsed Jackson's educational plan, Democratic 11th congressional district U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge of Warrensville Hts. is not among Kasich's comrades, and the congresswoman representing a majority Black congressional district in Ohio that includes the largely Black city of Cleveland is being seemingly cautious about getting too cozy with him politically as President Barack Obama is in a neck and neck race for the presidency and Ohio is a key battleground state.
Kasich is backing Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a posture that has not stopped Black leaders, including Cleveland's mayor, from fraternizing with Ohio's highest ranking state political leader on issues of public concern such as public education and the legal system, nor him with them.
The governor visited Cleveland two weeks ago to do a ceremonial signing of another state law, one that endorses Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's unprecedented Cleveland schools education plan, an unorthodox plan that replaces teacher seniority with merit pay and hands public funds slated for the majority Black and financially strapped school district to charter schools.
Smith was the only Black Cleveland area state legislator that voted against the mayor and Kasich's education plan, which is applicable only to the Cleveland Municipal School District, and contingent in its entirety first upon the passage in November of a 15 mill city schools operating levy.
Kasich had run afoul of the Black community and Black state lawmakers, including Smith, after he took office in 2011 and hired not one Black for his cabinet, though he now has two.
But when he joined Smith and other Democratic Black elected officials in Cleveland last week to celebrate his signing of HB 337, all eyes were on the controversial White governor, whose relationship is still cool with the state's public sector unions after voters last year repealed Senate Bill 5, a now defeated state law that would have stripped unions of the power to strike on wages and other work conditions and eliminated key provisions of Ohio's public sector collective bargaining law.
The Cleveland Chapter SCLC, Black state legislators such as Smith and state Sen Nina Turner (D-25), also a Cleveland Democrat, took on Kasich with aggression when he tried to get away with keeping Blacks out of his cabinet. And Turner, a sponsor, with state Rep. Sandra Williams (D-11), also a Black Cleveland Democrat, and three other state lawmakersof the state law that framed the mayor's education plan, was featured on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central linking Kasich's then insensitivity to America's historical slavery of the Black community.
But as Kasich joined prominent Blacks in Cleveland last Monday around HB 337, including prominent area clergy like Olivet Institutional Baptist Church senior pastor Jawanza Karriem Colvin, the partisan fighting between Democrats and Republicans on the state level that is so frequently present in political arenas was not visibly there, some said.
"This is not about Republican or Democrat. This state law is humanitarian and good for the community," said state Rep. Bill Patmon (D-10), a Cleveland Democrat who attended the signing as did a handful of other Black elected officials including state Rep. John Barnes Jr. (D-12), Cleveland Ward 6 Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell and Cuyahoga County Councilpersons Yvonne Conwell (D-7) and Pernell Jones (D-8).
A study commissioned by the Cleveland NAACP found that the predominantly White 34 judges of the general division of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas that hear felony cases, lawsuits seeking damages in excess of $15 thousand dollars, and other legal matters, give Blacks harsher sentences than Whites for the same crimes and similar, if any, criminal backgrounds.
Kasich had met last month at the Cleveland Clinic with Black elected officials and other Black leaders, a meeting scheduled by George Forbes, 81, a prominent part time Cleveland attorney and former Cleveland city council president who resigned earlier this year as president of the Cleveland NAACP but remains general counsel for the Call and Post Newspaper, Ohio's Black press with distributions in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, Oh.
State Reps Patmon and Barnes, Councilwoman Mitchell, and Cleveland Ward 8 Councilman Johnson, who has publicly backed the schools levy, were among those that attended the meeting held at Cleveland Clinic with Kasich, one where Kasich listened to Black leaders and talked of programs brought to Cleveland through this year's state budget, including $700 thousand renovation project for the city's Eastside Market.
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