Ohio House Republicans had no problem some years ago when former Gov. John Kasich appointed his turnpike director, a former marketing and building industry person with no medical training, as state health director.
Nothing against Rick Hodges, but it’s hard to imagine him in that job now, leading the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Mike DeWine, on the other hand, hired the right person at the right time to lead the Department of Health. It was the right time for those who value competence in a crisis. It was the wrong time for the Trump GOP. They run experts out of town.
It looks like Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton had had enough. She resigned abruptly last week, after gaining well-deserved plaudits for guiding Ohio through the early stages of a once-in-a-lifetime public health emergency. She earned our trust and no doubt saved many lives. Trumpists in the Ohio House and elsewhere beat her up for it. Kaiser Health News reported that 27 state and local health leaders in 13 states have resigned, retired or been fired since April.
Critics attacked Dr. Acton relentlessly for issuing shutdown orders. House Republicans tried to strip away her emergency powers. Armed protesters harassed her at home. She was targeted with anti-Semitic slurs and subject to vile rumors spread online.
What did Amy Acton do to deserve this madness? She was calming and competent, a leader who clearly had the best interests of Ohioans in mind. To her credit, Ohio jumped out early with shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19. We are better off than many states for her efforts. Infections are surging nationwide.
The vast majority of Ohioans stand behind Gov. DeWine and Dr. Acton, judging by DeWine’s 80 percent approval rating. She gained national prominence in a few short months. But it was as if a bunch of sexist males in the House GOP caucus couldn’t handle her success.
“I don’t recall at any other time a cabinet member being under such a barrage from members of the Ohio House,” Mary Anne Sharkey, a respected Ohio political journalist-turned-consultant told me.
Ms. Sharkey said while anti-government bombast is nothing new among House Republicans, “I’ve never seen it so personal.”
Twice recently, members of the Ohio legislature made anti-Semitic references about Dr. Acton. Rep. Nino Vitale described her as a “globalist,” a slur for Jew, eliciting a rebuke from The Anti-Defamation League.
It’s hard to make sense of the savagery directed at Dr. Acton. The night she resigned, I called an old friend, Tom Beres, who retired from Cleveland’s WKYC Channel 3.
“I can’t think of another person going 110 percent doing her job — doing a job people liked — being suddenly stuck in a meat grinder,” he said. “Ohio is in a comparatively good place and she was the principal architect of that strategy,” he said.
We’re in for a long stretch with COVID-19. More than 2,500 Ohioans have died. Nino Vitale, what’s the plan?
Mr. Spector is a Northeast Ohio writer focused on health care. His commentary is courtesy of Ohio Capital Journal.