The Democratic Party leaders of the Ohio House and Senate demanded an apology yesterday from Gov. John Kasich over his spokesman's comments about a state lawmaker, but did not receive one.
The Democratic Party leaders of the Ohio House and Senate demanded an apology yesterday from Gov. John Kasich over his spokesman’s comments about a state lawmaker, but did not receive one.
Rob Nichols offered up harsh words about Rep. Debbie Phillips, they said, after the Athens Democrat asked for more information, including emails and documents, about the resignation of George Elmaraghy, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s top water-quality watchdog.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a job creator that she hasn’t opposed, vilified or protested at some point,” Nichols wrote on Thursday in an email to The Dispatch. “If she had her way, we’d all be living on a collective farm cooking organic quinoa over a dung fire. So, I think we’ll take her views in context.”
House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard, a Democrat from Columbus, called Nichols’ comments “ unacceptable, inexcusable and absolutely unprofessional” and demanded that he personally apologize to Phillips.
“I find it pretty extreme and ridiculous,” she said. “It’s made the whole (forced resignation) even more suspicious.”
In an email yesterday, Nichols said only this: “She submitted a public-records request, and we passed that request along to our public-record attorneys, who will begin processing it.”
Phillips joked about quinoa, the edible seeds of a grainlike crop, saying, “It’s kind of trendy."
“In all seriousness, I would expect a better response than that from the governor’s office,” Phillips said. “I’m still waiting for a straightforward response to (my) question.”
The war of words is part of the fallout from an Aug. 19 email that Elmaraghy sent his staff. He wrote that Kasich and Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally had demanded that he resign as surface-water division chief because of “considerable pressure” from coal companies.
The companies, Elmaraghy wrote, wanted water-pollution permits “that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.”
The Ohio EPA and the state’s coal industry have a history of disputes over permits that businesses must obtain before they can release pollutants into streams, obliterate streams and wetlands or fill them in. The permits attempt to minimize environmental damage and outline the work needed to repair or replace waterways.
Since Kasich began his gubernatorial campaign in 2009, Ohio coal interests have donated a total of nearly $1 million to statewide and legislative candidates, a Dispatch analysis of secretary-of-state data found.
Elmaraghy initially agreed that he would step down on Sept. 13. Shortly after his Aug. 19 email, he hired an attorney and has launched an effort to keep his job.
In an Aug. 22 email to Nally, Elmaraghy argued that he is a classified state employee, which protects him from outright dismissal without cause. An email from Ohio EPA spokeswoman Carol Hester, however, states that Elmaraghy is an unclassified employee.
Spokesmen for Kasich and Nally have refused to answer questions about Elmaraghy, saying it’s a personnel issue. Heard and Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney, a Democrat from Cincinnati, said the public deserves answers.
“There absolutely is a requirement for a public accounting,” Heard said.