The Columbus Dispatch Endorses Frank LaRose



Ohio has two strong candidates for secretary of state, each with a longtime interest in election issues and a record of support for easier voting and transparency in campaign finance. Both are well equipped for the job, but we give the endorsement edge to Republican Frank LaRose, an energetic 4th-term state senator who has been willing to oppose party orthodoxy for the good of Ohio voters.

His opponent, Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, also has backed legislation aimed at improving access to the ballot and providing more information about who donates to campaigns. She is a student of election law and ran Franklin County’s early-voting location at the former Veterans Memorial. But her style is more partisan in a time when the need for nonpartisan leadership in Ohio has never been greater.

At 39, LaRose has an impressive record of public service. Inspired, he says, by his childhood Boy Scout leader, a World War II veteran, he enlisted in the U.S. Army straight out of Copley High School and served around the world with the 101st Airborne and as a Green Beret in the U.S. Special Forces.

After 10 years of service, he earned a business degree at Ohio State University in 2007. Following three years in the private sector, he ran for an open seat in the senate, winning his first term in 2010.

From the start, he has been Republicans’ go-to lawmaker for bills aimed at improving voting and elections. Early on, because LaRose was at the time the only military veteran in the senate, Jon Husted — then newly elected secretary of state — turned to him to carry a bill making it easier for overseas service members to vote.

Since then, he has sponsored or co-sponsored most of the election-related bills in his chamber, often in bipartisan partnership with Democratic Sen. Tom Sawyer of the Akron area, who left the Senate in 2017.

LaRose and Sawyer were part of a “gang of four,” along with central Ohio-area State Reps. Mike Duffey, a Republican, and Democrat Ted Celeste, who in early 2012 asked legislative leaders to name them to a task force formed to come up with a fairer way of drawing district boundaries. Resistance from Republicans intent on preserving their political advantage stymied that and several other attempts at reform; LaRose has backed redistricting bills in each of his four terms.

When lawmakers finally voted to put map-drawing reform for Statehouse districts on the ballot in 2015, LaRose and Sawyer worked with others to push on for reform of Congressional districts, even though powerful Republicans including then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio made clear they were against it.

It took three more years, but a joint resolution he sponsored earlier this year won approval in February, at last bringing a fairer method for drawing Congressional districts.

LaRose was instrumental in another win for voters that his fellow Republicans resisted far too long: online voter registration, approved in 2016 after many failed tries.

Bills currently pending include one to allow voters to apply for absentee ballots online, eliminating the mistake-prone, dual-envelope process currently in use. Another would shine more light on election spending by encouraging local candidates and issue campaigns to file their campaign-finance reports electronically, as statewide campaigns are required to do, and requiring the secretary of state’s office to post them for public view.

A policy centerpiece of Clyde’s campaign is automatic voter registration — when eligible Ohioans get driver’s licenses, enroll in state universities or otherwise become part of a state database, they are automatically registered to vote, and their registrations are automatically updated when they change other official records. Those who don’t want to be registered would have to opt out.

Clyde, also 39, contends that Ohio’s registration deadline of 30 days prior to an election is too long because many would-be voters aren’t tuned into an upcoming election until after that deadline. Both ideas are worthy, regardless of who wins.

Along the way, LaRose has aligned himself with colleagues interested in working across the aisle to solve problems. In 2015, he and a handful of other 30-something fans of bipartisanship in the House and Senate formed the “Ohio Future Caucus” with the idea of rejecting the hidebound partisanship that makes our Statehouse so dysfunctional.

He also has paired with Celeste and another Democrat, Zack Space, former Congressman (and current candidate for state auditor), as members of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, created by the University of Arizona after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

LaRose’s commitment to bipartisanship and civility is important; the secretary of state, charged with ensuring fair elections in Ohio, requires it more than any other elected office.

He has some interesting ideas for encouraging more people to vote — for instance, he would urge schools and civic groups to borrow county voting machines that otherwise would be idle between elections and use them to conduct their own polls and elections.

Exposing more Ohioans, especially teens, to first-hand experience with the machines could demystify voting for those who have not yet done it.

It’s an old refrain, but still true: Ohio and its election system will be under a national microscope in 2020. Beyond that, Ohioans need every election to be fair, efficient and transparent. For his record of bipartisan problem-solving, we endorse Frank LaRose for secretary of state.

Originally written in The Columbus Dispatch on 9/14/18

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