Dewine delivers first State of the State address in 3 years

Posted at 5:31 PM, Mar 23, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio —Gov. Mike DeWine issued his first State of the State address since 2019 on Wednesday.

The address is typically an annual one, but after scrapping the last two in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DeWine's address Wednesday was only his second since he was elected. DeWine delivered his only other State of the State on March 5, 2019.

University of Cincinnati political science professor Dr. David Niven, Ph.D., wrote these speeches for former Gov. Ted Strickland.

“Every State of the State is about an election. It’s always about telling the voters what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been working for them. This one just has a little bit of extra fire,” said Niven. “He has a primary coming up in just a few weeks, and he hasn’t had the normal routine of a yearly State of the State because of COVID.”

DeWine faces a faces a four-way GOP primary in May, thanks to anger from conservatives over his efforts to slow the pandemic spread, including early shutdown orders and a statewide mask mandate. He ducked a chance to debate his three far-right challengers next week.

Even with the governor in the midst of a reelection campaign this year, he didn’t propose any major initiatives during the hourlong speech. Instead, he ticked off a list of accomplishments and mostly avoided addressing the rough patches in his first term.

DeWine touted Ohio’s economy. He said the state budget is balanced and the bond rating is its highest since 1979. He told the crowd the unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent, slightly lower than it was in March 2020 — but the state workforce also has shrunk by about 190,000 workers since the pandemic, and many companies are still struggling to find workers.

DeWine highlighted $1.2 billion slashed in state spending and tax cuts of $3.6 billion. He said that leaves more money for businesses to reinvest and more money in the pockets of Ohioans.

He also highlighted Intel’s recent announcement of a $20 billion investmentin two semiconductor factories, which will bring thousands of jobs to the state.

At the same time, DeWine told lawmakers, “Invest in things where the returns will not all be immediate. In many cases, we will not see results during this administration or even our lifetimes.”

He listed addiction and mental health investments lawmakers have made since 2019.

DeWine said transforming mental health services a keystone goal for his administration, calling for investing significant resources in making help visible and expanding services in every community.

He touted moves to put more funding toward police departments.

“We’re doubling down on our support for law enforcement,” said DeWine.

He followed that with the topic of improving transparency and training for departments across the state.

The crowd applauded as he asked lawmakers to pass a bill that creates harsher punishments for repeat offenders and distracted drivers.

Democrats noted that earlier this month, the governor signed legislation ending the state’s concealed weapons permit requirement over the opposition of law enforcement groups — a topic DeWine avoided mentioning during his address.

The governor also took time to salute front line workers who sacrificed during the pandemic.

He pointed out General John Harris of the Ohio National Guard.

Analyzing the speech from a social perspective was leader of The Health Gap in Cincinnati, CEO Renee Mahaffey Harris.

“I think his actions from the beginning spoke to what he believed was most important, which was protecting people’s lives,” said Mahaffey Harris. “I do think that the politics made it difficult to make the decisions that were in the best interest of the people first.”

DeWine highlighted one new law that went into effect Wednesday. It would require insurance to cover more telehealth services.

He said that would create better access to care for those who cannot easily leave their homes.

He asked lawmakers to now turn investments toward Appalachia and state parks. He said that can help bring money to and spending to every county.

During the speech, DeWine left unmentioned the possibility Ohio may have to move its May 3 primary because the Ohio Redistricting Commission, of which DeWine is a member, has failed three times to adopt a new set of constitutional legislative maps.

DeWine also did not reference an ongoing $60 million bribery scheme that included passage of a 2019 bill that the governor signed bailing out two nuclear power plants. The scandal resulted in charges against former Republican House Speaker Larry Householder, who was expelled from office last summer.

Over the past two years, the governor has faced criticism from many fellow Republicans for his efforts to slow the spread of the pandemic, and DeWine acknowledged at the start of his speech that, “no governor and General Assembly agree on everything.”

Later, he touched on two of those disagreements: asking lawmakers to pass a stalled proposal to increase penalties on violent felons, part of a package of proposals DeWine offered after the August 2019 mass shooting in Dayton. He also asked lawmakers to pass a bill cracking down on distracted driving that also is stuck in the Legislature.

Afterward, Democrats criticized the governor for failing to focus more on gun control issues and the redistricting chaos.