Midterm Elections With Long-Term Consequences 

By Bruce Checefsky

The 2022 midterm elections are coming, with congress, the state senate, county executive, appellate judges, and ballot measures up for grabs. The general election in November will decide the balance of power in the Ohio Supreme Court and determine the influence of Trump in Ohio politics. The entire nation will be watching the results.

Ohio voters will elect a new representative to the U.S. Senate on November 8, with conservative Republican and author J. D. Vance running against Democratic U.S. Representative Tim Ryan. Ryan and Vance are competing for the six-year senate seat after Republican Sen. Rob Portman announced he would not seek re-election this year. If Ryan wins, Ohio would have two Democratic U.S. Senators for the first time since John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum served together in the early 1990s. A Republican loss in the Senate race could signal a change in voting attitudes for the state. 

Vance, 38, the bestselling author of Hillbilly Elegy and a venture capitalist with ties to Silicon Valley, is viewed as an outsider by some analysts. Ryan, 49, is a 10-term House member from the Youngstown area. 

Democrat Chris Ronayne and Republican Lee Weingart are candidates for Cuyahoga County Executive, a position that has a term of four years. Weingart, 56, was appointed Cuyahoga County commissioner in 1995 at age 28. After losing his election bid to stay in office in 1996, he started a lobbyist consulting company, LNE Group. Ronayne, 53, served as Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell’s planning director and chief of staff in the early 2000s before becoming the executive director of University Circle Inc. in 2005. He stepped down in 2021 to campaign for county executive.

In the Eighth District Court of Appeals, only seven of the twenty-three open seats for judicial office are challenged. The winner will serve a term of six years. Cornelius J. O’Sullivan (R) will face off against Michael John Ryan (D). The other races are Tim Hess (R) and Richard A. Bell (D), Gina Marie Crawford (R) and Maureen Clancy (D), Joan Synenberg (R) and Brian Mooney (D), Denise Joan Salerno (R) and Deborah M. Turner (D), Kevin J. Kelley (D) and Wanda C. Jones (R), and Kenneth R. Callahan (R) and Jennifer O’Donnell (D).

Ross DiBello, a Cleveland attorney who worked at the law office of Cassandra Collier-Williams and is now a judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas General Division, said finding information about judges can be difficult. “We need an independent and publicly funded tracking and publicity mechanism for incumbent judges and lawyers who become candidates to understand their judicial records,” said DiBello in an email to The Cleveland Observer. “Judges can grant and terminate probation and hold corporations accountable for bad behavior. They can confirm or vacate a Death Penalty. They deal with neighborhood fence and dog bite disputes.”

Kevin J. Kelley, former president of Cleveland City Council and mayoral candidate, is running for judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division. Kelley said fundraising limits are unfair. Most government offices have a much higher cap than the $650 for individual donors in the judicial races. Ohio Supreme Court candidates can accept up to $3,800 in contributions from individuals in the primary and general elections. Organizations are limited to $7,000, while political parties can contribute up to $189,500 in primaries and $347,600 in general elections.

Kelley wants to win the election since he thinks his experience with the city provides valuable litigation skills and the knowledge needed to be a successful judge. “As city council president, my job was to build consensus with people and listen to them. I was able to build coalitions and never failed to get the votes I needed,” he said. “The challenge was working with sixteen colleagues, independently elected, that I did not supervise. I could not discipline or fire them. I had to build a consensus and work with them.”

With few comparisons between campaigning for mayor and a judicial seat, Kelley acknowledged that he was free to debate issues facing the City of Cleveland as a mayoral candidate. But as a candidate for judge, he can discuss his qualifications only. Legal cases pending that may make it to the court are off the table for public discussion. Campaigns must be void of political commentary.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Wanda C. Jones, appointed by Gov. DeWine to fill the vacancy on the bench after the death of Democratic judge Joseph D. Russo, is campaigning against Kelley. Jones, a Republican, earned her Bachelor’s degree at Ursuline College and a law degree at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Before serving as a judge, she was an assistant attorney general in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. She previously worked as a principal at Axner & Jones LLP. Jones said judicial races rarely get the attention they deserve. Running for office is expensive and time-consuming.

“If you are a good judge, people vote for you; if you are not, they will not vote for you. People should have a right to decide between two candidates,” she said, referring to the number of unopposed races. “I learned early in my career that it was not about the issues or a debate between the candidates. It was political, and I believe politics has no place in the courtroom.” Judges of the court of common pleas are elected to six-year terms.

In The Betrayal, a new book about Mitch McConnell and the U.S. Senate, Ira Shapiro chronicles the challenges faced by the Senate during the Trump administration. The midterm elections could challenge McConnell’s power—or, should Republicans win control of the Senate—force President Biden to become more moderate. With voter apathy in Cleveland a dismal reality, Shapiro believes that at a certain point, people do not vote because they think it does not matter. Fatigue from the pandemic can also play a role in civic engagement. Shapiro in a recent phone interview said that if Americans do not like the direction that things are going, they better register and vote.

The deadline to register to vote is October 11. Ohio voters with up-to-date registration information can vote in person starting October 12, including the two Saturdays, the Sunday, and the Monday before Election Day. Learn about absentee and early in-person voting from the Ohio Secretary of State  https://www.ohiosos.gov

Polls open on November 8 at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.