Silence isn’t always golden. There are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding the arrest of State Rep. Robert Mecklenborg (R-Green Township) on drunken driving charges, and Republican leaders are hoping the lawmaker’s impending resignation will end the matter.
But the questions and the lack of candor reveal a lot about the GOP’s double standards for holding elected officials accountable, what conduct is acceptable in campaigning and how much the public deserves to know.
Mecklenborg was arrested April 23 for operating a motor vehicle while allegedly intoxicated. An Indiana state trooper stopped him shortly before midnight in Lawrenceburg, Ind., and the lawmaker failed three field sobriety tests. Also, Mecklenborg — who is married and the father of three children — had a woman in his vehicle who is an exotic dancer at Concepts Show Girls, a nearby strip club. Toxicology texts showed Mecklenborg had Viagra in his blood, according to police documents.
Although the arrest happened in April, it somehow slipped between the cracks of media scrutiny until WLWT-TV (Channel 5) was tipped off more than two months later. An initial story appeared June 29, followed by a deluge of coverage statewide on TV, online and in newspapers.
But in the days and weeks since Mecklenborg’s arrest became publicized through the media, the state GOP has been curiously silent about the matter.
The muted reaction is a far cry from what occurred in early June, when Ohio Republican leaders felt a pressing need to weigh in on the texting controversy surrounding then-Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who sent photos of his penis to females through Twitter and the Internet.
Even though Weiner hadn’t been charged a crime, Christopher Maloney, the Ohio Republican Party’s communications director, issued an overheated public statement urging U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to call for Weiner’s resignation.
“Talk is cheap,” Maloney said in the June 9 statement. “It’s time for Sherrod Brown to walk the walk when it comes to draining Washington’s ‘ethical swamp’; it’s time for him to join his fellow candidates for U.S. Senate, and Democratic Party peers, in calling for Anthony Weiner’s resignation. Sherrod Brown sits on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics. As long as Sen. Brown intends on continuing to incorporate ethics and good government into his 2012 campaign platform, he should join with his Democratic colleagues and provide Ohioans with an answer on whether Anthony Weiner should resign his seat in Congress.”
Ironically, Mecklenborg — a self-styled “family values” conservative on social issues — is a member of the Ohio House’s Judiciary and Ethics Committee.
CityBeat sent an email to Maloney and Ohio GOP Chairman Kevin DeWine earlier this month, asking them why the party hadn’t made an official statement about Mecklenborg’s arrest. Specifically, the email asked whether the party thinks Mecklenborg should resign.
Neither Maloney nor DeWine have replied.
The first elected Republican to address the incident was House Speaker William Batchelder (R-Medina), on July 13. He said Mecklenborg should resign from office.
Lo and behold, on Sunday, July 17 — typically the day of the week when newsrooms have minimal staffing and the public’s attention is on other matters — Batchelder’s office issued an announcement that Mecklenborg would resign. In August. To be exact, 16 days later.
Why the delay? It’s so Mecklenborg can get paid for all of July, instead of having his salary pro-rated; he also will get slightly more in his pension.
The Speaker’s office emailed the news near the end of the highly watched July 15 women’s World Cup final soccer match between the United States and Japan. A coincidence, we’re sure.
Mecklenborg wrote a two-sentence email to the House Speaker, informing him of the decision.
“I want to sincerely apologize for any pain and embarrassment I have caused my family, my constituents and my colleagues,” Mecklenborg said later in a statement. “I will be forever grateful to the many constituents and colleagues who have urged me to stay, but I believe it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to step aside during this difficult time.”
Mecklenborg’s precarious situation was made worse when The Columbus Dispatch revealed that four days after he was charged with OVI, Mecklenborg signed a driver’s license application in Ohio attesting he didn’t have any outstanding traffic citations. Besides the OVI, Mecklenborg had an expired driver’s license when he was pulled over in Indiana.
A blood test given by police registered Mecklenborg’s blood-alcohol content at 0.097 percent, above the 0.08 percent level at which a driver in Indiana or Ohio is considered drunk.
Nevertheless, footage from the trooper’s dashboard video camera repeatedly shows Mecklenborg insisting he had nothing to drink that evening.
The political web site Plunderbund has said Mecklenborg’s young companion that night, Tiona Roberts, works at Concepts Show Girls strip club on Arch Street, not far from the Hollywood Casino.
CityBeat contacted the club and a woman who identified herself as the business’ bookkeeper said the club’s owner was declining comment about the incident or whether Mecklenborg is a regular customer.
On a website featuring reviews of the club, one customer described Concepts as follows: “Dances were 10 dollars and I was definitely up for it. (Mandy) was outstanding for one way grinding. She moved in all kind of positions for the best grinding. The songs were long and I paid for six straight songs. Some of the best one way contact I have had.”
Newspapers and websites across Ohio have followed the story closely, but readers who rely on The Enquirer wouldn’t have learned about the stripper, the lie on the driver’s license application or the reason for the resignation’s delay.
Some media critics have wondered if that’s due to Mecklenborg’s day job as an attorney at the powerful Dinsmore & Shohl law firm on East Fifth Street downtown.The law firm represents Procter & Gamble, among other large local corporations, and a managing partner is board chairman of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Although The Enquirer hasn’t followed up on the incident officially, a person who posted on its “Moms Like Me” discussion board made an interesting allegation.
In a comment posted online at 11:07 p.m. July 2, someone using the screen name “Daynamariee1981” wrote: “I was employed at Concepts for five years while I was in college. Bob came into the club at least three times a week. He is extremely perverted and would offer almost every girl money for sex. I had no idea he was a State rep. I had no idea that he was married because his text messages were so dirty. I really think it should be up to the voters. He is great at his job, he is just a lousy husband.”
Of course, the allegation might be unfounded; still, most observers would think the region’s daily newspaper of record would track down the commenter using its administrative access to the board and try to verify the information for an article.
Frankly, some of the details shouldn’t matter to the public. Except.
Except Mecklenborg is one of those Far Right social conservatives who worked tirelessly to inject his personal values on matters of conscience into the lives of others and wasn’t timid about telling other people how they should live their lives.
The lawmaker was one of the sponsors of the so-called “heartbeat abortion bill,” a measure that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which could outlaw the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant. The measure has passed the Ohio House. Also, Mecklenborg opposes same-sex marriage, believing it endangers traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
In a statement given to WLWT shortly after news of the arrest broke, Mecklenborg said, “While the discovery process in this case goes on, I am entitled to the same presumption of innocence as any other citizen. Beyond this, it is a personal matter, which I trust you will respect.”
No, Mr. Mecklenborg: Your party’s overheated rhetoric and your own outrageous policy positions make it fair game. Maybe the incident will serve as a wakeup call to the GOP that such tactics can return to bite you in the ass, but I doubt it.