Echoing Trump, More GOP State Legislators Call for Easing Closures

By: - April 15, 2020 12:00 am

About 75 people protest outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, criticizing the state’s shutdown of the economy, and calling on Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to reopen businesses. Republican lawmakers in Ohio and other states are pushing governors to ease restrictions sooner rather than later. Andrew Welsh-Huggins/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

Ohio state Rep. J. Todd Smith, a Republican, thinks it’s about time to get his state back to work.

It’s not that he’s overly displeased with what Gov. Mike DeWine, a fellow member of the GOP, has done thus far to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It’s just that his constituents are telling him it’s time to ease up. And he says dire predictions of thousands of deaths in Ohio have not proven to be true.

“Due to the fact that the data is not matching up to what we were told would happen, I think there should be some thought to rescinding some of these restrictions,” he said in a phone interview. “What’s happening to our economy is actually more harmful than the lives that are being lost.”

At one point, models in Ohio forecasted 10,000 new cases a day, but recent models put that number closer to 1,600 at the peak later this month.

Still, more than 28,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States. Nearly 350 Ohioans had died as of Wednesday afternoon — 50 of them Tuesday alone.

Smith is one of a growing number of state lawmakers — nearly all Republicans — who are beginning to push for a loosening of restrictions, sooner rather than later. Some are chafing at the unilateral power governors of both parties have wielded in issuing stay-at-home orders and closing schools and businesses. But the partisan divide on the issue suggests that, like nearly everything else in American politics, the movement has a lot to do with President Donald Trump.

“I imagine that those who are most critical of aggressive state action [are] people who tend to be very supportive of whatever position President Trump is taking,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

Weingart noted that some GOP legislators may be motivated by their animus toward big government, but added, “I don’t see a consistent political philosophy as much as responding to the party that controls the White House.”

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.