I just spent five days in the burn unit for editors who make unpopular endorsement decisions. It was a painful time.
Actually, I spent five days in the Fort Worth, Texas, area with my wife visiting an old friend and touring old family cemeteries and chicken-fried steak, while musing over the proliferation of prefab churches in Texas. But that’s grist for another column.
Right here and now I’m talking about The Athens NEWS’ endorsement of Jay Edwards’ re-election as state representative for the House District that includes Athens County. The endorsement ran on Monday, Oct. 29, and Edwards got re-elected by a healthy margin eight days later. The incumbent won by 16.58 percent in the overall district, but lost to Democrat Taylor Sappington by 10.76 percent in Athens County (the official tally released Tuesday extended that margin to 12.24 percent). In the county, Sappington significantly improved on Democrat Sarah Grace’s margin over Edwards two years ago. Both Sappington and Grace lost heavily to Edwards in other parts of the 94th District.
Since our Oct. 29 endorsement, this newspaper and, in particular, yours truly (who wrote the endorsement and had the most influence on the final decision) have been pilloried on social media by both friends and foes.
In the past five days, I’ve explained the endorsement in personal messages to several local women (and a few men) whom I like and respect. They had called me out on social media or direct messaging for endorsing a candidate who wound up voting last Thursday for a probably unconstitutional anti-abortion bill that effectively bans the procedure as an option for many women in Ohio, and that heartlessly and maliciously contains no exceptions for women who are pregnant as a result of incest or rape.
I know why those critics are not happy. It's a terrible bill, and in supporting it (and a separate hardcore gun-rights bill), Edwards has dented his carefully groomed reputation as a Republican who's plausible in Athens County.
In the interests of economy and self-preservation, please permit me to explain our Jay Edwards endorsement to a wider audience. It was mostly based on the state representative’s work with stakeholders and small communities in southeast Ohio to address poverty, education, health-care, water-protection, opioid and other issues. I won’t apologize for applauding any elected official, of any party, when his or her work results in improvements in the quality of life for people in our poor region.
Edwards’ support of Medicaid expansion, alone among his fellow Republican Party members, is one example.
While I respect those who made a different calculation of their priorities in the recent election, this newspaper’s approach was done in good faith. We made it based on our choice of who would be in the best position to advance the economic and community interests of our poor region. We came to this conclusion based on his drive, prospective connections with majority party leadership, and knowledge of these issues (just listen to him talk about them). I can't deny the fact that Edwards' winning numerous union endorsements, including from the Ohio Education Association, made an impression.
But there’s a flip side. Jay Edwards isn’t free to play the pretend-Independent any longer. If his party – and in this case, it’s a far-right Ohio Republican Party that’s emboldened by recent election victories and squarely behind a rogue president – requires him for a key vote, they'll say frog and he’ll jump. The state GOP needed Edwards for a veto-proof majority on the anti-abortion bill. He might have voted that way anyway, but he doesn’t really talk enough about it to know.
Watch whether Edwards stands up against his party in potential votes to retreat on the state food stamp program and other programs for the poor and needy in Ohio, programs that keep both people and the economy afloat in some area communities, sad to say. Let's not allow any more of Appalachia Ohio's meagre resources ascend to the 1 percent.
The Athens NEWS will hold Rep. Edwards to account if he doesn’t continue his hard work leveraging more money, resources and policies to help folks in our beleaguered region.
Edwards’ votes last week on the far-right abortion and gun-rights legislation can't be ignored any more than his by turns dismissive and aggressive attitude toward those who get in his way or don’t bend to his wishes.
We will join others in holding Jay Edwards accountable for those votes and others that we believe are wrong.