COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A state representative who accused the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus of exclusion during campaign season will not be allowed to join the caucus under its new rules.
Before the November 2022 election, NBC4 talked with now-Republican Rep. Josh Williams (R-Oregon), who said he was frustrated that the caucus did not endorse him or help him campaign. At that same time, the former president of the Black Caucus, Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) said the caucus does not align itself explicitly with a party and Williams would have to wait until elected to join.
But since November, there is new leadership, and current caucus president Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) said the bylaws have changed, and now the caucus has aligned with the Ohio Democratic Party.
“It appears that politics have trumped progress as it relates to minority issues here in Ohio,” Williams said. “Because people are not interested in working with me merely because of my political designation next to my name.”
Upchurch said although the group voted on bylaws that specifically align the caucus with Democrats, leaders are creating a bipartisan Black Policy Caucus.
“It is going to be a safe space where African American legislators from either party can come together and talk about policy and issues that are impacting our community,” Upchurch said.
But Williams said he will not join the group.
“Although this may appear as an olive branch, it is an insult,” Williams said.
One difference between the Black Caucus and this new group is money. Upchurch said for now, the Black Policy Caucus will not establish itself as a Political Action Fund (PAC) or a non-profit.
“I think there’s possibilities for anything,” Upchurch said. “For right now, is going to focus on policy and remain within the statehouse.”
By remaining an internal caucus, Williams said the Black Policy Caucus will not have the fundraising capacity or flexibility to “help move social causes in the minority community, including Black Republicans.” Besides, he said exclusion is not the only issue he has with the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.
Williams said he is going to call on the Ohio Attorney of General, the Ohio Secretary of State and the Federal Election Commission to investigate the caucus’ campaign fundraising and allocation policies.
“The state’s statutes provide for two caucuses that can raise money, and that’s the Democratic and Republican caucuses,” Williams said. “But any other organization, you either have to file as a non-profit or another entity recognized by the law.”
Williams claimed there are gaps in the Black Caucus’ filing as a non-profit or a PAC, leaving at least a five-year period when the organization strictly existed within the Ohio Statehouse.
In December 2022, the group filed as a non-profit corporation with the Secretary of State’s office.
“I can’t speak on what took place prior to me being in the legislature, but I can tell you from 2021 until now, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus has been able to fundraise, and we will continue to do so,” Upchurch said.
Williams is the first Black Republican lawmaker in the Ohio House in a half century. Recently elected Sen. Michele Reynolds (R-Franklin County) is the first Black Republican state senator since the the 1990s.
NBC4 reached out to Reynolds to ask if she would join the new policy group, but she did not respond.
A previous version of this story erroneously stated that Rep. Josh Williams and Sen. Michele Reynolds are the first Black Republican lawmakers in the Ohio legislature in 50 years. Although Williams is the first Black Republican representative in 50 years, the last Black Republican state senator was Janet Howard, who served from 1995-98.