Josh Mandel will stop at nothing to keep the people of Ohio safe from illegal immigrant crime. But that is a little unusual when you consider that immigration issues don’t really fall into his job description.
Mandel is Ohio’s state treasurer and is currently locked in a political fight with liberal politicians over whether or not two of the Buckeye State’s biggest cities should help illegals skirt federal law enforcement. He is coming up against a political machine that is thoroughly bipartisan.
Earlier this year, the mayors of Columbus and Cincinnati announced that they wanted their cities to become sanctuary cities – municipalities that protect illegal immigrants from the repercussions of obfuscating federal immigration law.
Mandel – who is also a candidate for U.S. Senate – wasn’t about to let that happen, knowing the effects that these policies have had on countless families like that of Kate Steinle, who was gunned down in broad daylight by an illegal immigrant in San Francisco. Her killer had been previously shielded from deportation by the city’s sanctuary policy.
A day after Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley announced his sanctuary intentions, Mandel countered he would fight tooth and nail to block the effort (as well as any other such effort in the state).
“You’re seeing the city of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and the state coming together here, to say over our dead body will Cincinnati become a sanctuary city," he said at a press conference in late January.
"When a mayor like Mayor Cranley decides to publicly announce that he's violating federal law, and that he's going to make a city less safe against radical Islam and the threats we face, we have a responsibility as Americans, as citizens, to oppose this type of act from a mayor, from a politician.”
Josh Mandel, along with a Candice Keller, a Republican state representative from Butler County, introduced a bill that seeks to block sanctuary efforts. Going beyond the typical defund-threat approach, the legislation would impose criminal penalties on mayors of sanctuary cities when their citizens fall victim to criminal alien crime.
When they talk with conservative activists, they say they want to stop sanctuary cities, but when they run into me and other conservative leaders in the halls of the statehouse, they complain that we’re being too conservative.
Situations like Kate Steinle’s aren’t limited to large cities, either. Last October, CR’s Carly Hoilman spoke with residents of Milford, Mass. – a town of 27,000 people – where multiple families have been torn apart by the after effects of lax immigration policy.
"Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime," Maureen Maloney, whose son was killed by a criminal alien, told Hoilman. "Our family is permanently separated by his death."
Mandel says his legislation in Ohio – which would hold culpable officials to a fourth-degree felony charge – is crucial for accountability.
“We want to include as strong a deterrent as possible to ensure that liberal politicians and others in the political establishment are not making their cities sanctuary cities and are not putting their citizens in harm’s way,” he told Conservative Review.
“For me, this issue is first and foremost about safety and security of families throughout the state of Ohio,” he said. “I believe that we have a duty to learn everything we can from horrendous policies like those in San Francisco and make sure that they never come to the heartland.”
Just as much as safety, Mandel says the debate is just as much about “the Constitution and the rule of law.”
“Federal law is pretty clear that local law enforcement has an obligation to report these illegal immigrants to federal immigration authorities,” he said. “And the politicians who think that they’re above the law are putting local cops in a terrible position just to score political points with left-wing activists.”
Right now, allies are sparse for a conservative like Mandel, who says he’s not only squaring off against the usual crowd of liberal, open-borders organizations and activists, and a liberal media, but also a state-level GOP establishment that is hesitant – or even hostile – to rocking that boat, contrary to their campaign promises and rhetoric.
“As usual, a lot of the squishy, moderate Republicans in Ohio are saying one thing to their constituents and doing another thing in Columbus,” Mandel told CR. “When they talk with conservative activists, they say they want to stop sanctuary cities, but when they run into me and other conservative leaders in the halls of the statehouse, they complain that we’re being too conservative.”
The treasurer is, to date, the only state-level official in Ohio to take a public stance on the issue.
But he’s used to leading a lone charge like this, which was the case for his crusade against other initiatives in the state like Medicaid expansion and Common Core — the latter of which he says started with him and two homeschooling moms around a kitchen table.
“We had the political establishment laughing at us and ridiculing us. Then we motivated the grassroots conservatives around the state to start contacting their public officials,” Mandel recalls.
“All of a sudden, the politicians in Columbus changed their tune.”
He hopes this fight will be no different.
“This is a place where I’m very familiar and very comfortable,” he said. “I’m used to taking on people in my own party when it means standing up for conservative principles and standing up for the Constitution.”
Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religious freedom, immigration, and the judiciary. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A Publius Fellow, John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate’s writing has previously appeared in several religious and news publications. Follow him @NateMaddenCR and on Facebook.