House Dems are too quiet


Allow me to describe two emotional reactions to circumstances that I witnesses last week, one involving a life, the other a livelihood.

I know it’s unfair and potentially out of line to compare the scene in the witness room at an execution and a legislative committee hearing, but stick with me for a minute.

Scene 1 is the Death House at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, where I was on Thursday morning, watching the state put to death Johnnie Baston, the convicted killer of a Toledo shopkeeper.

Baston had long said he was not the shooter in the incident, placing the blame instead on another man he barely knew who used his gun and pulled the trigger back in March 1994.

The courts found that story implausible, as evidenced by the massive single dose of barbiturate administered intravenously to Baston.


In the days before his execution, state prison officials announced that Baston had finally confessed to the crime, based on a behind-closed-doors statement made as part of an attempted lie detector test initiated by his family to clear his name.

But just before his lethal injection, one of Baston’s brothers told reporters there was no confession, and he said his family would continue to search for the real murderer.

And just as Baston was closing his eyes for the last time, one of his other brothers jumped out his chair, loudly punched the wall in the Death Chamber witness room, then crumpled into a combination of sobs and expletives.

It was the most outward display of emotion that I’ve seen among witnesses at the seven executions I have attended.

Though it surprised most of us in the room, it made perfect sense: Here’s a family that sincerely believes one of its members has been put to death for a crime he didn’t commit.

There was no stopping the execution at that point. In their shoes, I may responded in comparable fashion.

Union protesters who have swarmed the Statehouse in recent weeks — though in decreasing numbers as of late — have yelled and screamed, too. When they’re in the building for committee hearings or floor votes, their emotional state is no secret.

Which is why House Democrats demeanor is so puzzling, even after their leader, Armond Budish, exclaimed repeatedly that they were going to “fight like hell” to stop Senate Bill 5.

To me, “fight like hell” means yelling and screaming, maybe getting gaveled out of order.

To be fair, Democrats on the Commerce and Labor Committee have asked extensive and pointed questions about how Republican-led collective bargaining reform will affect Ohio families.

But they seemed so calm and business like when they had a chance to confront the bill’s sponsor and other proponents that it left me scratching my head.

I understand there are rules and a needed decorum in the legislative process, but Senate Bill 5 has prompted protests seldom seen at the Ohio Statehouse.

There doesn’t seem to be any stopping Senate Bill 5 from passage. Protesters are mad. Lawmakers who oppose the bill are mad, too.

So far, they haven’t been mad enough to punch a wall. For a caucus bent on fighting like hell, that’s a surprise.

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. E-mail him at or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog

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