To the Editor:

According to a recent story in the Carroll County Messenger (March 1, 2022), the 2020 census did not bode well for Ohio. Two-thirds of Ohio counties lost population in the past decade, with the largest population drop of 8.7 percent occurring in Harrison County.  Columbiana was down 5.5 percent, Carroll was down 7.3 percent, and Jefferson was down 6.4 percent. This is important because county populations affect grants, jobs, schools, property values, business, and the overall economy. Ohio lost one congressional seat in 2021. In 1970, Ohio had 24 congressional seats; today we have 15. 

Our state, according to many, is experiencing a “brain drain”; as recent college graduates continue to move away from our state to other regions of the country. In order to halt this exodus, in December 2021, Rep. Jon Cross introduced legislation to attract and keep students and workers in the state. The GROW Act includes provisions which would help retain students by excusing them from paying Ohio income tax for three years if they stay in the state for three years after graduating from an Ohio higher education institute. A 2018 study by the Fordham Institute found that 51 percent of native Ohioans plan to leave the state after graduating from college. 

In addition to forgiving taxes, the legislation would also recruit students from outside the state by offering a $25,000 scholarship to 100 top five-percent students pursuing a STEM-based career.  The legislation offers incentives to employers who provide STEM internships and apprenticeships. 

I’ve had first-hand experience with the exodus of students leaving the state. I taught both secondary and post-secondary courses for over 20 years and many of my STEM students left the state upon graduation. When this topic came up during a recent conversation with our oldest granddaughter, a STEM student at Ohio University, she said “no monetary compensation can keep me in the area if the policies in the state remain the same.” 

Why are our youth leaving the state?  When it comes to Ohio’s students, many will mention the current social/political atmosphere in the state. Governor DeWine has recently tried to paint the state as being “progressive,” even going so far as spending $50 million on an ad campaign claiming “Ohio is a progressive state.” This campaign targeted people and businesses outside Ohio encouraging them to move to Ohio. Ads were on billboards as far away as California and Oregon.  

Sadly, Ohio is anything but progressive. A look at recently passed bills will testify to the backwards movement of the state. Far right supported bills pertaining to gun laws, abortion rights, LGBTQ protection, gerrymandered state election districts, and the continued pandering to the oil and gas industry are some reasons our young people are leaving the state. 

Take for instance the “stand your ground bill, SB175” which removes “the requirement for a person to retreat before shooting in self-defense.” This leaves the door wide open to random shootings as it relies on subjective language to determine “a dangerous situation.” Another gun law, recently passed SB215, “does away with a requirement to get training and a license to carry a concealed firearm in the state.” Senate Democrats, police groups, and gun control advocates have voiced opposition to the bill. Data from other states with similar bills show violence does not decrease but actually increases after the passage of similar bills. Bills like these will take Ohio backwards to days of the wild, wild west.

The Republican-controlled process to redraw new district maps this year has still not successfully produced maps which are representative of the state’s major parties. Data shows 54 percent of Ohio voters identify as Republicans and 46 percent as Democrats. Critics point out that Ohio’s gerrymandering definitively “dilutes the votes of people of color.” As they defy Ohio’s Supreme Court and create chaos for Ohio’s May elections, Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission continue to deny Ohioans “free and fair” elections. 

Ohio’s LGBTQ community and many doctors point out that HB 110 violates the Hippocratic Oath. 

HB110 was signed into law in June 2021 and included a “conscience clause” that says “doctors, nurses, and even insurance companies can now legally refuse to provide medical care or refuse to pay for medical care if it violates their religious or moral beliefs.” 

The Republican party in Ohio has, according to Kersha Deibel, CEO of Planned Parenthood, “made it their job to bury abortion providers under so many TRAP laws (targeting restrictions on abortion providers) that providing and accessing essential health care in Ohio has become an obstacle course.” Laws will not stop abortions. I am old enough to remember “coat-hanger abortions.”  But obviously Ohio’s Republican party is OK with turning back the clock allowing dangerous archaic techniques to be the only choice for women’s health care. 

Finally, even though Ohio’s legislature and the ODNR have bent over backwards for the oil and gas industry, a recent 2021 study by the Ohio River Valley Institute shows that counties where fracking is occurring have not seen their economies boom. Kathy Hipple, Bard College professor of finance and former analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said “Simply put, the natural gas industry has not delivered the promised benefits for producers, investors, or local communities.”

As we watch Russia trying to take over the fossil-fuel rich country of Ukraine and witness the devastation caused by the escalating climate crisis, we realize the world needs to move towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. But Ohio has passed law after law that benefit the oil and gas industry while at the same time passing laws like (HB6, SB52, HB401, SB234) which block renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state. Is it a coincidence that oil and gas industries are major political contributors in the state? Is Ohio a state that newly graduating STEM students would want to flock to? Do young families want to raise their children in the shadow of fracking pollutants?

Maybe the Governor needs to look at a real progressive state like Vermont or Washington. Maybe he needs to Google the definition of progressive. The ideology of “progressive” includes social justice, environmentalism, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. People who identify as progressive support social programs such as those developed by President Teddy Roosevelt. No, Ohio is not a progressive state or a welcoming state for people of color, females, LGBTQ groups, or people who want clean air and water. 

Randi Pokladnik

Ph. D. Environmental Studies

Uhrichsville, Ohio 

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