His Was The “Fresh, Non-white Face” The Republican Party Wanted — Six Years Later, Peggy Lehner Rejected Him

Republican Niraj Antani — Representative for Ohio House District 42, since 2014. Regardless that Lehner rejected his candidacy for the Ohio Senate, Antani won the Republican nomination and now is the Republican candidate seeking  to represent Senate District Six. Mark Fogel is the Democrat seeking election for that same office.

Republican Ohio State Senator, Peggy Lehner represents District 06. She is now 70 (August 5). But I’d bet she is not ready to retire. She is intensely engaged in her work and is very popular with her constituents — but she is term limited. She has served four years in the House and eight years in the Senate.

You’d think that Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner — term-limited — would have endorsed Representative Niraj Antani to replace her in the Ohio Senate (District 06). Both right-wing Republicans, they had worked closely together for six years — he in the Ohio House and she in the Ohio Senate — advancing some of the most controversial anti-abortion legislation in the nation.

Antani wanted Lehner’s endorsement, but, instead, in the 2020 Republican Primary, Lehner urged Republicans to reject Antani’s candidacy and to vote for another rising young Republican, Rachel Selby, to be the Republican Party candidate for District 06.

In 2014, when Antani became a member of the Ohio House at age 23, Lehner no doubt had had great hopes for her young colleague — He was a determined conservative, a child of immigrant Indian parents. He was eager to help every Republican candidate. She, no doubt, agreed with Dave Landon, the vice chair of the party’s executive committee, who said, “Antani’s election says that we’re willing to look to young people to play a role … That we’re looking for a fresh face, a non-white face.”

They seemed like such a couple. Who wrote the book of love? In chapter one, Antani and Lehner were inseparable in their passion to craft ever more extreme anti-abortion public policies. They pushed the “heartbeat bill” and just last year they advanced “The Abortion Pill Reversal Information Act” — legislation opposed by the The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology. From the Ohio Legislative watch:

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering and Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, are introducing identical legislation in the Senate and  House. This bill will promote pseudo-science “abortion pill reversals,” requiring doctors prescribing medication abortions, which are performed up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy, to provide information about a procedure to reverse abortions in the event the woman changes her mind. The concept is controversial and doesn’t have FDA approval.

But in chapter two, they broke up. Lehner dumped Antani and it was all because of guns. Angry words were spoken. Laura Bischoff in an April 19, 2020 DDN article quotes Antani as saying: “Lehner and I disagree on the 2nd Amendment. I believe in supporting the 2nd Amendment. She believes in gun control. I’m not willing to compromise on that issue. And I believe that’s why she endorsed my opponent.”

Words hurt. So Cruel, so unkind. What a harsh, unfair, accusation — “She believes in gun control.” You can hear Lehner’s fellow NRA members laughing out loud.

Lehner’s decision to reject Antani’s candidacy was, in part, a response to the shockwaves of public outrage from the events of August 4, 2019 — the night that nine fellow Daytonians, out for a nice evening in the Oregon District, in seconds were shot to death with an awesome gun. (See: 26 shot in 32 seconds)

Weighing on Lehner’s decision had to be the memory of the shouts of the crowds who gathered to tell Governor DeWine to: Do Something. Do something. Do Something.

After the August 4 mass shooting, Governor DeWine, two weeks later, responded to the “Do Something” cries and made some specific recommendations for new gun laws. Lehner supported Gov. DeWine’s proposals and Antani opposed them. Antani’s stubbornness may have been the final straw for Lehner. This from the August 18, 2019 DDN: Ohio lawmakers mixed for law changes from shooting:

In the Senate 16 members — evenly divided by party — support the governor’s red flag proposal. In the House 23 Democrats and two Republicans said they support it.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering said she supports all of Gov. DeWine’s proposals and considers the red flag and universal background check proposals “to be the most urgent and potentially most life-saving.”

“In addition, I support a ban on high capacity magazines and assault weapons. These are probably more effective at federal level,” Lehner said. …

Of those surveyed, only State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg said outright that he is against DeWine’s red flag proposal.

“The proposal lacks necessary due process,” Antani said. “We must address the growing culture of violence in our society, all of it. We must create a comprehensive system to get treatment to those who have violent tendencies.”

Dissatisfied with politicians’ offers of thoughts and prayers after more than 250 mass shootings so far this year, advocates for changing U.S. gun laws spoke out loudly on Sunday — many of them shouting a simple command to their public servants: “Do something!”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine heard it during a Sunday night vigil for victims of the mass shooting in Dayton. His speech was partly drowned out by many in the large crowd repeatedly shouting, “Do something!”

I think it was after this article that Lehner decided to dump Antani. Lehner is no dummy and she had to be thinking: In this atmosphere of public outrage, it would politically crazy to endorse a gun zealot “not willing to compromise.”

In her April 19, 2020 article, Gun laws: Where local Statehouse candidates stand, Laura Bischoff writes:

“Niraj Antani, a Republican state representative from Miamisburg, holds an A+ rating and endorsement from the Buckeye Firearms Association. He is undecided on DeWine’s Strong Ohio plan, though he is endorsed by DeWine for the Senate seat. Antani opposes bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as red flag laws. He favors enacting a stand your ground law and supports eliminating training and background checks for people who want to carry concealed weapons.”

I’m thinking that Lehner turned against Antani because she feared in the wake of the August 4, 2019 shooting that his unbridled gun zealotry could result in the Republicans losing District Six — in the control of the party since 1985.

The problem for Lehner was not just Antani’s clueless response to the August 4 shooting. It’s what had happened in 2018 that had made Antani look like a real gun nut.  In 2018, Antani had gained national notoriety — and brought ridicule to the defenders of the 2nd Amendment — get this, by advocating that 18 year old students should be permitted to take their guns with them to their high schools. Yes, read that again.

This from a DDN article printed March 16, 2018 written by Will Garbe:

“Law-abiding high school students age 18 years or older should be able to carry long guns inside public high schools,” state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, told the Dayton Daily News in an interview Thursday.

The issue came up during a Twitter dispute Wednesday between the state lawmaker and Zach Dickerson, a Democratic primary candidate for the District 42 seat Antani currently holds.

Antani has long advocated allowing college students to carry firearms on campuses, but the shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have injected into the national conversation a new round of debate about the place of weapons in American high schools.

“Students deserve a chance to stand their ground and defend themselves.” — Rep. Niraj Antani (@NirajAntani) March 14, 2018 (A tweet now unavailable)

Antani maintains he was not advocating arming high school students, but rather said students should have the option of carrying long guns in school if they meet the legal criteria to do so.

“The law is anybody above 21 can have a handgun and anybody above 18 can have a long gun, and so anyone who complies with the law should be able to carry and protect themselves,” Antani told the Daily News. “If you look at what happened many decades ago, people brought their firearms to school. They kept them in their cars, maybe, but there was not a problem.”

“My view is that anyone who is of age should be able to carry a firearm wherever they want,” Antani said. “The only restriction I believe in is for private property.”

Antani cited a “cultural difference” between urban and rural communities for differing opinions about guns.

“You go out to Valley View, in my district, you go shooting against a rock in your backyard … it’s part of the culture there, it’s not a big deal,” Antani said. “Of course, in inner-city Dayton Public it would be a big deal, but there is a cultural difference … In rural America, there is a culture of carrying firearms safely. In any urban area, such as Dayton Public, there is not. In Dayton, unfortunately, there is a lot of gang violence, and firearms are used improperly.”

From a DDN Article printed March 16, 2018: Ohio lawmaker stands by gun-carrying students comment despite critics:

“Yesterday, I learned a lesson,” Antani posted on Twitter. “A reporter asked me a question about (Second) Amendment issues. I told the reporter I believed that gun-free zones do not work, and that every law-abiding person who is of age has a right to carry to defend themselves. I am not advocating the arming of students.”

In a Twitter exchange Wednesday with a Democratic General Assembly candidate, Antani said, “Students deserve a chance to stand their ground and defend themselves.” The comments came as thousands of local students walked out of class following the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school.

The article reports that Republican Senator Rob Portman made this comment: “There’s a federal law requiring that there be no weapons, not even within a certain distance of schools, and I think that’s appropriate.” He was referring to the Gun-Free School Zones Act approved by Congress and signed into law by George H.W Bush in 1990.

The DDN article continues:

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said by phone Friday that Antani is “looking to be the next NRA puppet.”
“It is clear from his comment he doesn’t have a good understanding of the gun issue in both rural and urban communities, and it’s clear that he’s not being thoughtful about the conversations these young people are having,” Whaley said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich called Antani’s comments “sheer madness.”

“Sanity and safety demand that we not encourage more weapons in our schools and that we outlaw assault weapons,” Kucinich said. “This is an urgent matter of public health and safety. We must not wait for another incident.”

August 4, 2019. There was shocking gun violence in the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio — 26 shots were fired in just 32 seconds, leaving nine dead and many wounded.

In 2016, Peggy Lehner was designated by the Columbus Monthly as the “most compassionate” of the Assembly members. But, Peggy Lehner dumped Antani — compassionately, I suppose. She knows that there is a growing number of Republicans who agree with her and who want sensible gun laws.

Lehner rejected the Antani candidacy. She knows that there is a growing number of citizens who have images of August 4, 2019 — and images of similar horrific acts of gun violence — burned into their brains, and who are fed up with pro-gun lobby.  She knows that it is dumb for the Republican Party to choose someone as their candidate who is a proud and outspoken pro-gun extremist.

Peggy doesn’t want the anti-guns zealots to ruin it for the anti-abortion zealots. She rejected Antani’s campaign out of conscience and out of her unshakable belief that to be pro-life is much, much more important than to be pro-gun.

Regardless of Peggy Lehner’s efforts to advocate for Rachel Selby, Niraj Antani won the Republican Primary by over 40% points. He spent the money needed to win. I have Republican neighbors who, five weeks in a row, received a full-color expensive mailing from Antani. I’ve not yet looked up how much he spent, but it was a lot.

Will Peggy give Niraj just one more chance?

Peggy has good reason to fear that, after 35 years of Republican control, District 06 might go Democratic in 2020. Antani has a lot of baggage. If Republicans had listened to Lehner, and had nominated Rachel Selby, there would have been no problem. Selby had no negatives and would have been unbeatable. I’m guessing she would have won by 60% to 40%.

Antani, on the other hand, in his six years has accumulated many negatives by, again and again, advancing extreme legislation and by making outlandish statements. If he loses District Six for the Republicans, Peggy Lehner can say that at least she tried to give the warning. Few Republican Primary voters took heed.

The Democratic candidate, Mark Fogel, can take whatever he would have won in a Selby contest and consider it his base. If the Republican candidate had been a man, rather than a woman, I would have guessed the outcome to be 57% to 43%. So 43% is Fogel’s base. To add to this base, one good place to start would be to find those Republican voters who care about reasonable gun policies. Yes, these people exist and Peggy Lehner is one of them. These Republicans are probably already identified in someone’s mailing list.

These Republicans, who agree with Peggy Lehner’s ideas about limited gun control, know that, with Antani, they don’t stand a chance of impacting public policies concerning guns. Antani is on record as saying: “I’m not willing to compromise on that issue.” Unlike Lehner, Antani will not be open to reason, and then he’ll praise himself for his unreasonable intransigence. He has established for himself quite a reputation as a hardliner, so much so, he couldn’t find a way to work with our conservative Republican Governor concerning reasonable gun law changes — in the context of public outcries about a horrible — and local — gun disaster, to boot. Concerning guns, Antani is un-movable.

Daytonians gather to mourn the loss of those taken by senseless gun violence

Let’s suppose that 40% of Republican voters agree with Peggy Lehner concerning guns. And let’s suppose that 15% of that group will push back against an Antani candidacy by voting Democratic. Building on the 57% to 43%, established above,  just this one negative — Niraj’s pro-gun extremism — according to these modest assumptions, delivers a 53.58% to 46.42% contest. But that is just a start. The Mark Fogel campaign has many Niraj Antani negatives to explore — all based on Antani’s heartfelt views.

OK — I’m going to award Mark three more percentage points, this from contemplation of why he, as Mark Fogel, the individual, can be expected to surpass the norm: 1% for his cum laude credentials and his record of service; 1% because this contest will become a focus of public attention, to Mark’s advantage, and 1% because Mark’s plan for “servant leadership” will make the difference.  Now, the result is  50.58% to 49.42%

OK. “Servant Leadership” is key and this philosophy / promise, I believe, will be a big source of strength for Mark in this campaign. I’m doubling his gain in this category — 2%, rather than 1% — the result: 48.52% for Niraj and 51.42% for Mark. As the Beetles proclaimed: We can work it out. Life is very short. We can make our democracy work. We can work it out.

This will be the election of our lifetime and this contest for Ohio Senate District Six could be a watershed event. We have two bright, talented, and articulate young men — Niraj is 29 and Mark is 40 — whose POV’s give wonderful depth and contrast. This contest should be a great opportunity for a meaningful District-wide discussion of topics dealing with important public policies and issues. It should be a great opportunity to begin to understand each other’s competing points of view. It should be a great opportunity to make our democracy come alive.

Antani’s website doesn’t show a list of his endorsers, so I can’t tell if Peggy ever officially endorsed Niraj. Regardless, I’m guessing Peggy will urge the citizens of OSD-06 to support Antani’s candidacy. Peggy Lehner’s big passion is for pro-life action. Regardless of Niraj’s stubborn obtuseness concerning guns, she’ll give him one more chance. Peggy knows that, if elected, Niraj will be a spokesperson for anti-abortion extremism and that he will be on the cutting edge in finding new ways to insult and to challenge Roe v Wade.

 

How Niraj Antani Won Election At Age 23

In 2014, Terry Blair, the elected representative for OHD-42, died at age 67. He had just won the 2014 Republican Primary election for a fourth term. The Central Committee of the Montgomery County Republican Party was empowered by state law to name Blair’s replacement on the ballot. There were five candidates. Only sixty-five Republicans voted and it took four rounds of votes to eventually settle on a winner. Niraj Antani finally got a majority of the Central Committee members to support his candidacy. His extreme right-wing views on guns, abortion, and taxes, especially taxes, gained him the support of Rob Scott and Committee members loyal to Scott and the local Tea Party organization. Since a Republican always wins OHD-42, these 65 Republicans got to choose who would represent the 115,000 citizens (80,000 registered voters) in the district.  In the general election in 2014, Antani beat Democrat Patrick Merris 64% to 36%.  In 2018, he defeated Democrat Zach Dickerson by 59.3% to 40.7%.

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