COLUMBUS— Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland), vice chair of the OHIO 2020 Task Force, voiced frustration following yet another meeting where none of the presenters were minorities or women and the primary concern of all of the presenters seemed to be re-opening the state as soon as possible.
“We were under the impression by the Majority that this task-force would be a bipartisan, collaborative effort to map out next steps for the General Assembly’s response to the COVID-19 crisis in Ohio,” said Rep. Upchurch. “However, it became almost immediately apparent from the agenda and the chosen speakers that this task force was actually designed to gather one-sided testimony that only supported the idea of opening Ohio as soon as possible. This was never a democratic process.
House Democrats are eager to discuss the important issue of economic recovery, but not at the expense of the public’s health. It is a delicate balancing act and we disapprove of the direction this task force is taking thus far.
Diversity is important in a process such as this – specifically diversity of thought, life experience, gender and race/ethnicity. Ensuring all voices are heard is our job as lawmakers. We encourage interested groups to come forward, including workers concerned about going back to work, and share their thoughts with the task force since the lack of diversity in our invited guests has been detrimental thus far to our success.”
Ohioans are encouraged to share their story with the task force via email at Ohio2020@ohiohouse.gov with the following information:
- Name and location of the business
- Number of employees
- Years in business
- Contact information for business owners (email, phone number)
- Brief description of nature of the business
House Democrats have submitted a diverse list of speakers, including labor, front-line workers, educators and healthcare professionals, to Chair Rep. Paul Zeltwanger (R-Mason) for consideration but so far, none have been added to the agenda. To date, no women or people of color have testified before the task force.
Furthermore, Vice Chair Upchurch was informed by Chair Zeltwanger following the one and only time he has been permitted to deliver opening remarks to the group that he must submit those remarks to the Chair in writing in advance.
The remarks Rep. Upchurch delivered at Tuesday’s task force meeting that prompted such an unprecedented request were:
“I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of why we are here.
We are here for the workers, the small businesses, the local governments, disenfranchised communities who are struggling financially right now… yes. But most importantly, we are here to create an incremental plan that gets people back to work safely, restores the public’s confidence to leave the house, and prioritizes human life above all else.
As Governor DeWine said a few weeks ago, “We save our economy by first saving lives, and we do it in that order.”
Not only are our constituents looking to us for guidance right now, the entire nation has its eyes fixed on Ohio as we have become a national leader in the response to this pandemic and widely lauded for our proactive measures. History will remember how we were able to flatten the curve and have far fewer cases and deaths than neighboring states. History will remember how we prioritized people over profits and made the tough decisions that saved lives.
I know all of my colleagues here today want to be on the right side of history and make sure our rebound out of this does not cause more harm than good. A second spike is a real possibility and we need to proceed with caution.
Re-opening this state before we have adequate PPE, widespread testing or a vaccine is a death sentence. We need to be listening to the consensus of the medical community and our state health director to protect the safety and security of all Ohioans.
Based on some of the testimony that we have heard in this task force, my Democratic colleagues and I grow ever more concerned. I hope this group would rely on science and not conspiracy theories and anecdotes to guide our decisions. I hope we would not seek to undermine the governor and the state health director’s widely-praised response to the ongoing health crisis for political gain.
In order to restore Ohio’s promise of a bright future for all, we must restore the promise that we work for Ohio. Some people out there doubt that. They worry about their families and their health and that the decisions we are making on this task force could put their lives in danger. These are life and death decisions that we must make here and I do not take that lightly.
So I remind you, let’s not lose sight of why we are here. Thank you.”
Other Democratic task force members include Reps. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), Tavia Galonski (D-Akron), David Leland (D-Columbus), Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park), Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon), and Thomas West (D-Canton). Several have not been permitted to ask questions of the presenters during the daily meetings.
House Democrats resolve to continue working with the Majority to develop bipartisan solutions to the problems before our state and will remain at the table in an effort to steer these conversations in a more appropriate direction. Meanwhile, progress continues with the six workgroups created by Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) and led by members of the House Democratic Caucus.
- Education Workgroup
- Working Family Support Workgroup
- Healthcare Workgroup
- Tax and Finance Workgroup
- Voting and Election Workgroup
- Government Functions Workgroup
Sykes renews her call to the OHIO 2020 working group to consider priorities outlined by Democrats in recent weeks in coordination with local officials, healthcare experts, business leaders, front-line workers and everyday Ohioans.
“From the onset of this crisis, Democrats have been working collaboratively with local officials and listening to constituents and business leaders on short and long-term solutions to provide needed relief to those affected by coronavirus. We welcome dialogue with our colleagues across the aisle to help Ohioans struggling to get by who cannot afford to wait for us to act or play politics in this time of crisis.
“The reality is that right now, too many Ohio families are struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table and access the essential services they need—including healthcare—through no fault of their own. The work of the legislature remains unfinished and we continue to fight for our constituents who need us more than ever during this uncertain time.”
On April 1, House Democrats called on legislative leaders in both chambers to reconvene the General Assembly to address outstanding issues Democrats says cannot wait until after the pandemic subsides.