Explosive Charges: Black Democrat Alleges Racism in Lawsuit against Ohio Democratic Party

An African American lawmaker -- a Democrat -- is charging the Ohio Democratic Party and chairman Chris Redfern with racism and defamation in a lawsuit filed this week, telling reporters there is a "plantation mentality" in the party that treats black lawmakers as a monolithic voting bloc.

Last week, Chris Redfern, head of the Ohio Democratic Party, resigned in disgrace after presiding over sweeping losses of every statewide office, a record-breaking majority of Republicans elected to the Ohio legislature, and the utter collapse of the Democrats' candidate for governor. Redfern also lost his own seat in the Ohio House on Tuesday. As it turns out, all of that may have only been the tip of the iceberg of the Ohio Democratic Party's problems. The Dispatch reported on Monday:

State Rep. John E. Barnes, a Cleveland Democrat, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Ohio Democratic Party and its chairman, Chris Redfern, alleging white lawmakers get better treatment and he was punished for raising the issue of racism in the party.

Barnes said he faced discrimination and retaliation from his own party when he refused to join the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus in the Ohio House. Barnes said he feared it would harm his reputation to “associate with an organization whose moral compass he found to be troubling.” The lawsuit mentions members of the caucus who have been convicted of felony and misdemeanor offenses in the last three years. According to the complaint, Barnes "saw little value to himself or to his district" in joining OLBC and "wanted to be treated as an individual rather than as a member of a presumed monolithic block of votes based upon his skin color."

Barnes alleges in the lawsuit that his his failure to join the OLBC and his cooperation with Gov. Kasich on issues like Medicaid expansion angered Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern and key leaders of the Democratic caucus in the House. As a result, he says he was passed over for committee leadership positions in retaliation. He claims the party also punished him by endorsing his opponent, Jill Miller Zimon, in the May primary and made false statements about him during the campaign. The party distributed pro-Zimon campaign fliers claiming Barnes voted with Kasich more than 75% of the time, cut funding for schools, blocked Medicaid for the poor and disenfranchised voters. In a press conference on Monday, Barnes said he has fought his entire career for programs like Medicaid and was offended by the accusation, which he believes harmed his reputation in his community. Barnes beat Zimon in the primary and went on to win re-election last week.

"I'm proud to be a 94% voting Democrat in a historic district," Barnes said in the press conference, seated next to his lawyer. "As a lifelong Democrat I'm extremely disappointed for the outright lies that Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, circulated in the 12th House district during the primary election."