COLUMBUS, Ohio — After Ohio GOP senators were mailed feces was published Thursday evening, legislators sat down to give their reactions.
An investigation is underway after each Ohio GOP senator was mailed feces; however, the envelopes were intercepted Thursday before reaching the lawmakers.
The Statehouse mail room received most of the excrement-filled letters, but the Cleveland and Akron post offices intercepted a few. The return addresses were fake, Senate GOP spokesperson John Fortney said.
"We're assuming human," Fortney said regarding whether the feces came from a human or an animal.
The whole situation is ridiculous, he added.
"I'm really angry about it," Fortney said. "These are a bunch of little scared, little cowards that wouldn't say s*** or a thing to you face-to-face, right, they would rather send it in the mail."
The U.S. Postal Inspector is investigating this federal crime, he added.
"The OHP has been notified, and as always, the safety of all 33 members of the Senate, their staff and statehouse employees remains a priority,” he said.
There were no certain public policy issues, like abortion or gun access, written in the letter, Fortney said, but he doesn't know if there were any threats or expletives targeting the legislators.
"I think political discourse has really taken a turn in the last decade," said state Sen. Jerry Cirino, a Republican from Kirtland. "I'm more concerned that this act, along with some of the language in social media that we've all been seeing, whether it's regarding the Dobbs case or gun control issues or any number of hot button issues, people have to understand that there's a way to make your opinions known to your legislators."
There is a professional way to make your voice heard that doesn't put people's health in jeopardy, Cirino added. That's why these letters were "so disgusting," he said.
Both the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the State Highway Patrol said they are investigating, but can’t release details yet.
"The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting Postal Service employees and customers and preserving the integrity of the mail," a spokesperson for the service said in an email.
The culprit didn't think this through, Cirino added.
"These people are intellectually deficient, as I like to call them," Cirino added. "They're not being very good communicators because they did not make their issue clear. They obviously didn't do any research either because we are in recess."
State Sen. Kristina Roegner, a Republican from Hudson, said she feels bad for the staff who were exposed.
"There are other things going on and I don't want to make myself seem like a victim," she said. "I understand that people are very passionate right now."
A few Republicans said they are assuming the feces envelopes line up with Roegner's six-week abortion ban going into effect.
"This is a highly charged and emotional issue, there's passion on both sides," the lawmaker continued. "But we need to engage in civil discourse."
State Sen. Stephanie Kunze, a Republican from Hilliard, agreed with the other legislators, citing she was "deeply saddened" that someone would have even thought to do this.
"It didn't even reach elected officials, it reached our staff," Kunze said. "They can be Democrat or Republican. It's not an effective means except to put people in harm's way."
Kunze is known as one of the most moderate lawmakers in the Statehouse — voting against the six-week abortion ban, the 'Stand Your Ground' gun law, and arming teachers in schools with just 24 hours of training — so she says this isn't the first time she has faced harassment.
"I received death threats," she said. "I think that as much as it seems like maybe there's an increasing discourse, I think there's always been a threat to public servants."
Due to her bipartisan attitude, she gets a lot of hate, she said.
"I get it from both sides, frankly," the lawmaker added. "I guess it's what that old quote is about: I'm not pleasing anyone, so I must be doing a great job representing the people I love so much here in the 16th Senate District because it's truly a 50/50 district."
She represents a suburb of Columbus, similar to Republican state Sen. Matt Dolan's district in Cleveland. The pair often vote similarly on contentious issues.
This calls into consideration the safety of not only the elected members of the Senate, but their staffers and every employee of the Ohio Statehouse, Fortney said.
What really concerns Kunze is what could happen after this.
"If you're willing to do something like this, what else is your next idea?" she asked.
It reminded Fortney of when anthrax attacks happened through the mail after 9/11.
"You're talking about any type of biohazard, and also, what if this had been blood that was contaminated with hepatitis C or some other contaminant and people were exposed to it?" he said. "It was just uncalled for."
There are some companies online that let anyone send feces through the mail discreetly, but Fortney didn't know if they were looking into that.
"What may be the result of this is that mail that we get from constituents that is legitimate is going to take longer to get to us because it's going to go through some level of scrutiny from a security standpoint," Cirino said. "We may not get mail about certain things on a bill until after the bill is passed. Well, what good was that?"
There are a lot of changes that may need to be made following this, he said. The Statehouse team is determining if there will be heightened security measures for the staff, Fortney added.
"Obviously, the morons who perpetrated this act aren't concerned about that," Cirino said.
The lawmaker is looking forward to hearing what comes out of the investigation.
"The punishment should really be extreme," he said. "I mean, not only to fit the crime, but to send a message to anyone else around the country who decides that this is an appropriate way of communicating with your legislators."
People need to realize this is a legitimate federal crime, Kunze said.
"It needs to be taken seriously, it's not a joke," she said. "I think that we live in a very unstable kind of world right now."
The lawmakers received an email advising them to be careful checking their mail at home. The email also states not to "open, smell or taste" anything suspicious and to immediately go to the Sergeant at Arms.
"When I get certain mail, it's causing me to think twice about opening it and so on," Cirino said. "Those are other ramifications going down the road here that we're all going to have to deal with."
Another thing that is upsetting to Cirino is the lack of statements from the Democrats.
"I would think and I would hope that they would publicly make a comment that would show their disgust for this happening to their Republican colleagues here," he said. "I haven't heard anything from them, there's been nothing on social media.
"It would be great to hear a unified disgust for this particular act."
As of right now, only the senators received the feces, not the representatives, Fortney said.
"No one at the House has received any mail with fecal substance on it," a spokesperson for the House GOP said.
That would probably take a lot more time and be a lot more expensive.
Cirino is angry and said while this is not a funny situation, he can't help but find the humor in the absurdity of it.
"As public officials, we often have to take a lot of crap from the public, and that's part of our job," Cirino said. "But this situation has taken it to a new level, unfortunately."
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