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Portman denies keeping Democrats out of political event

By Kat Tenbarge
The Columbus Dispatch

(February 24, 2017) — Sen. Rob Portman denied claims that his office prevented Democrats from attending a political dinner where he spoke Wednesday.

Rather, Portman shifted the blame to Sandusky County Republican Chairman Justin Smith, who has taken responsibility for the decision and says he remains proud of it.

Portman said Friday a Dispatch story raising questions about his role in weeding out Democratic attendees from the GOP event was “false news.”

The Sandusky County Republican Party and its Seneca County counterpart co-hosted the annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Seneca County GOP Treasurer David Koehl reiterated Thursday that Portman’s office played an instrumental role in the decision to refund tickets bought by potential protesters. Koehl shared an email he sent to Portman staffers last week — well before the controversy arose — questioning their decision to deny entry to suspect ticket-buyers.

Additionally, Koehl stressed his friendship with some of Portman’s staffers and Sandusky County Republicans. He referred to the final decision to deny tickets as a joint one, enforced by the co-sponsors in conjunction with Portman’s office.

The GOP senator was in town today to co-host a workshop at Columbus State Community College on securing grant money to fight Ohio’s opioid crisis.

“If we could get more funding into the right sources here in Ohio, we can make a difference,” Portman said. “The day before yesterday I was at a recovery center in Toledo, Ohio. I know if they had more funding for long-term recovery, particularly sober housing, in their case, they could make a bigger difference in saving lives.”

He pointed to recent data that indicate Ohio is on track to lose more people to opioid overdoses in the past month-and-a-half alone than any other equivalent time period in the past year.

“We know what works, which is better prevention and education to keep people from getting into addiction in the first place,” Portman said. “And then (we need) better detox and recovery units, and treatment that is focused on getting people to actually come out successfully, get back to their families, back to their lives, back to work.”

Portman also addressed protesters outside the event, and said he met with them and invited them into the workshop. He denied the idea that his office is inaccessible, pointing to two tele-town halls held in the past 10 days. However, he did not indicate that he has plans to hold a traditional town hall meeting, along with visits to local businesses and organizations across Ohio.

“There are 11½ million people in the state, and I hear lots of different points of view,” Portman said. “Everybody needs to be civil on both sides, and I worry about that. I think there is, in our country today and even here in our state of Ohio, an increasing division.”