Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials say they just followed state law when they terminated the employment of Ohio House candidate Charlie Daniels from his job as a corrections officer at the Belmont Correctional Institution this week.
Daniels, a St. Clairsville resident, is the Democratic candidate seeking election in the new 95th District this year. He faces incumbent Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Ohio Revised Code prohibits classified state employees from taking part in politics "other than to vote as the officer or employee pleases and to express freely political opinions." It expressly forbids state employees from seeking office in a partisan election.
"There was a 50 percent possibility this would happen, and we were prepared for that," Daniels said. "Truthfully, I would have become a full-time candidate anyway. For now, I'm going to stay in the race, and keep on working (for election).
"Toward the end of the process, this became a thing of principle. The law is unconstitutional, and they continue to use it. We need to get the laws constitutional so everybody gets to run. This goes against everything this country is founded on. It's ironic it happened on the week of July 4."
Daniels said he checked last year with the Ohio Secretary of State to determine whether he could seek office. He said attorneys with the office asked him if he intended to remain employed at the prison after being elected to office, and he told them he did not.
Daniels said the attorneys said they didn't have a problem with him holding his state job as he ran for office - but he must give it up if elected.
"Most states have eliminated the law because when they used it against an employee, the courts have found in favor of the employee and they get their job back," he added. "It keeps getting found unconstitutional."
Daniels was among state employees leading the charge to overturn Senate Bill 5, a measure restricting collective bargaining rights for public workers. A referendum on SB5 was defeated when Ohio Issue 2 was rejected by voters last year.
State employees wanting to run for office must either take a leave of absence or resign, said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
"As a state agency we do not get to pick and choose which laws we are going to follow," she said. "The law is clear that an employee in classified service in the state of Ohio is prohibited from participating in this type of activity (running for partisan political office.) We have been involved with ongoing discussions with this employee regarding this issue dating back to the beginning of the year.