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The lasting image thus far surrounding the controversy over Senate Bill 5, a proposal to restrict collective bargaining rights for organized labor, occurred on Feb. 22 when more than 5,000 union workers staged a raucous protest rally with colorful signs and bullhorns outside of the Ohio Statehouse.
The protesters’ target was Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP-controlled Senate that is pushing the bill. Even Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus the next day grudgingly expressed admiration for the groups’ ability to coordinate so well and make themselves part of the lawmaking process.
But right after comments praising the protesters, Niehaus veered in a totally different direction, painting a different lasting image of the protesters at the Statehouse — one not quite so becoming.
"Unfortunately, we have documented instances where people defecated in the building. We have documented instances where they have written on the walls," Niehaus said. "This is the people’s house. I used to say treat it like it’s yours. Well, I don’t want it to be like it’s theirs if that’s the way they treat their own home."
Some union groups responded immediately, denying that a group featuring police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses and others unionized workers would commit such vile acts in the storied building.
So, what gives?
It is clear that Kasich and Statehouse Republicans are frustrated by being upstaged by protesters over SB 5 (Thousands more were expected to rally at the Statehouse on Tuesday, March 1). But PolitiFact Ohio wanted to know whether Niehaus’ accusation would hold up on the Truth-O-Meter. Did protesters really defecate in the Statehouse?
We asked Niehaus’ staff about the "documented instances" and were told that several were reported to the senator and that he confirmed them with Statehouse management. That management is handled by the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.
We called the CSRAB, the curators of the Statehouse, for an accounting of any incidents in the building during the protest.
"There was defecation in the stairwell to the parking garage," said CSRAB spokesman Gregg Dodd, but not inside the Statehouse. Furthermore, there is no proof it was left by protesters, and Dodd expressed his doubt. He noted that CSRAB has dealt with this issue before when there are no demonstrations taking place at the Statehouse.
"Unfortunately it happens from time to time even when there are no events going on, and we think it is either a homeless person or persons, or someone waiting for the bus stop," Dodd said, explaining that this particular stairwell leads up to the street level where there are stops for the Columbus bus system.
The top of the stairwell, at the street level, is enclosed by a small, heated shelter house. There are two of these shelters around the Statehouse.
They are used by homeless people to congregate and sleep at night. The area is also along a stretch that is a main transfer area for the city’s transit system. Scores of people gather at various times of the day waiting for buses.
"So, there is no way to determine if that was in fact someone associated with the rally," Dodd said regarding the human waste left behind in the stairwell.
We’ll give Niehaus a small nod for being right about the writing on the walls. Dodd said there was some writing on the walls inside the Statehouse, but he also noted it was with chalk and was easily cleaned up by the Statehouse maintenance crew. There were also some union stickers stuck to Statehouse floors that needed to be scraped up.
But Niehaus’ key accusation dealt with defecation..
In the context of his statement, he clearly was suggesting that protesters soiled the floor, and that it happened inside the Statehouse.
As Senate president, Niehaus is one of the most influential people in the state government and when he speaks people listen. Yet this claim is beyond inaccurate. It’s a ridiculous assertion that is unsupported by the people who actually take care of the Statehouse.
Statements that are both inaccurate and ridiculous get a special rating on the Truth-O-Meter: Pants on Fire.
Sen. Tom Niehaus, comments to Statehouse reporters following an Ohio Senate session, Feb. 23, 2011
Gregg Dodd, Capital Square Review and Advisory Board, voicemail message, Feb. 25, 2011
E-mail from Jason Mauk, staff of Sen. Tom Niehaus, Feb. 28, 2011
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