As the Ohio Democratic Party reels from its thumping and the resignation of its chairman, it has suffered another setback- this time from one of its own. Six days after the elections, State Representative John E. Barnes (D- Cleveland) filed a lawsuit against the ODP and outgoing chairman Chris Redfern. The basis of Rep. Barnes’ lawsuit is especially important. In it, he challenges that the ODP is infested with institutional racism. In the suit, he claims he was punished in ways when he refused to join the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC).
There are a few main sources of complaint:
- Black Democrats in the House are required by their party’s leadership to go through the OLBC, rather than directly to the Minority leadership. Barnes has likened this to a “plantation,” and treating black legislators as a “monolithic block of votes.” For instance, according the official court documents, Barnes was required to submit his committee preferences to the OLBC, rather than minority leadership directly, contrary to House rules.
- Barnes refused to join the OLBC, citing his concern over its “moral compass.” In one instance of this, then-OLBC leader Sandra Williams asked Armond Budish for a “contribution” of $200,000 to deliver votes in his November 2010 bid to become Minority Leader.
- The lawsuit claims that due to Barnes’ refusal to join the OLBC, and his complaints of racism led him to be given lower priority for committee assignments and rankings. In addition, the ODP actively encouraged, and then supported a challenger to Barnes in the 2014 primaries. Ohio Dems ran ads targeting Barnes, claiming he “disenfranchised voters” and “blocked Medicaid for the poor. The attack that he “disenfranchised voters” was based on allegations that he voted for HR 130 on May 22, 2013. However, according to the roll call for HR 130, Barnes wasn’t even present on that date, and did not cast a vote!
Be sure to read the official court document here. Of particular interest is an incident found on page 5, bullet point 24. In this anecdote, Budish told Barnes that he couldn’t come up to him directly with concerns related to committee assignments- he had to go through the OLBC.
If the contents of this lawsuit are true, then it is something that should shame all Ohioans. We could expect this to have happened in the deep south in 1954, but not Ohio in 2014. We have an African-American president, and a fresh wave of minority legislators in Washington. The ODP lost not only elections, but its own ‘moral compass.’ Sadly, it seems Ohio Democrats are treating their own members as second class- only because of their skin color.
Third Base Politics will be following this case as it unfolds. For the exhibits to Rep. Barne’s complaint, click here. In case the court documents fail, you can find them again here (scroll down toward the bottom of the page).