The red-blue wave dividing rural and urban Ohio means Gov.-elect DeWine must find a new middle from which to lead: editorial

The choice of which legacy to bestow on tomorrow's Ohio is now up to Mike DeWine – and the General Assembly, writes the editorial board.

Governor-elect Mike DeWine may have won decisively in most of Ohio’s 88 counties but the nine he lost and the three he won by fewer than three points include Ohio’s most populous — and all of its urban — counties. That explains why DeWine and running mate Jon Husted won barely half the unofficial popular vote, 50.66 percent — a percentage that could tighten once provisional and remaining absentee votes are counted. 

The combined population of the counties DeWine lost — Athens, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lorain, Lucas, Mahoning, Summit and Trumbull counties — and the three he won by fewer than 3 points — Erie, Montgomery and Portage counties — is 5.9 million. That’s slightly more than half Ohio’s population of 11.7 million. 

The numbers underscore that this latest red wave in Ohio — a sweep of all statewide offices with a legislature still firmly in GOP hands — is both less and more than that.

It’s a complex red-blue wave of rural-urban divisions where the interests of Ohio’s major population centers and its most vibrant economic engines are not being reflected in a Statehouse firmly entrenched in downstate and rural interests.

At his lengthy press conference Wednesday, President Donald Trump took credit for DeWine’s 4.22-point win over Democrat Richard Cordray in Ohio.

But Tuesday’s election represented a significant erosion of Trump’s 8.5-point Ohio victory, with a flip in Northeast Ohio’s Trumbull County, which Trump won by 6 points — and DeWine lost by 5 points in Tuesday’s unofficial results. 

At the same time, Ohio Democrats showed Tuesday that they still have not been able to find traction in rural parts of the state. These include southeast Ohio’s Appalachian counties that just a decade ago were represented in Congress by Democrat Zack Space, who lost Tuesday by 3.87 points in unofficial returns in his run for Ohio auditor.

What does this all mean for Governor-elect Mike DeWine?

First, DeWine must to do all he can to make sure his fellow Republicans legislate responsibly and in quest of future economic growth. DeWine, of Cedarville in southwest Ohio, is a quintessential small-town Ohioan. His ice cream socials are renowned. But he also knows that GOP support in rural Ohio will decline if jobs and livelihoods continue to erode.

As a former state senator, U.S. House member, U.S. senator, lieutenant governor and state attorney general, DeWine has the capacity to refocus the General Assembly on critical investments in education and innovation.

First up is crafting Ohio’s next two-year budget. DeWine must end the practice of shipping the costs of statewide problems downstream to courthouses and city halls. Candidate DeWine told our editorial board he wanted to review the state’s financial position before restoring Local Government Funding cuts. But that’s a dodge. Thanks to outgoing Republican Gov. John Kasich’s stewardship, state finances are strong.

With poor educational attainment one of the major factors keeping Ohio down economically, DeWine also needs to persuade lawmakers to repair Ohio’s grossly deficient school funding formula.

Then there’s Lake Erie, Ohio’s greatest single natural resource, whose future is threatened by those General Assembly Republicans allied to corporate agriculture stalling efforts to tackle western Lake Erie’s toxic algal blooms. DeWine told our editorial board he’d rather study Kasich’s distressed watershed designation for eight Maumee River tributaries. But action is what’s needed. 

Voters in Republican-leaning lakeshore counties, from Ottawa in the west to Ashtabula in the east, appeared to convey that message Tuesday with significantly narrowed support for DeWine compared with Trump’s 2016 margins in those counties.

It is also long past time for Ohio law to require full disclosure of how much money lobbying clients pay lobbyists. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow online charter-school scandal, and the separate ten-year struggle to reform payday lending, starkly demonstrate the sway the Statehouse’s lobbying army has over the legislature. 

DeWine is a sincere and long-term “right-to-life” advocate. Given that, he knows that the right to life extends even to the most down-and-out crack-smoker and opioid addict. Ohio can set a national standard for effective and humane treatment of addiction. Or the state can keep doing what, often as not, doesn’t work.

The choice of which legacy to bestow on tomorrow’s Ohio is up to Mike DeWine – and the General Assembly. 

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer — the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.   

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