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Ohio Democrat Ousted From Her Caucus Sues Party

State Rep. Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent of Columbus (right) meet President Donald Trump on Air Force One in Cleveland prior to the first presidental debate on September 29.
Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent
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State Rep. Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent of Columbus (right) meet President Donald Trump on Air Force One in Cleveland prior to the first presidental debate on September 29.

A Columbus state representative who hasn’t been to the Statehouse in more than a year and a half is suing her fellow House Democrats, as well as the current and former minority leaders.

State Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent (D-Columbus) claims in a lawsuit filed in federal court she was kicked out of the House Democratic Caucus in retaliation for a floor speech in November 2017, when she blasted Columbus Police for their handling of Black crime victim cases. She was speaking in support of her bill mandating police officers as child abuse reporters.

Kent's lawsuit names the Ohio House Democratic Caucus, current Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) and former Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton).

Kent was removed from the Ohio House Democratic Caucus in June 2018, not long after she endorsed state Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) for House Speaker. Smith was battling to replace former House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who'd resigned amid an FBI investigation into payday lending legislation. Democrats were suggesting they'd vote for Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton).

Kent's lawyer, Nick Owens, says she has PTSD and anxiety and feared further retaliation, so she didn’t run for re-election. He points to an incident when Kent was denied entry to a caucus meeting in May 2019. That was the last time she was at the Statehouse.

Owens also said Kent is still a Democrat, even though she publicly endorsed President Trump for re-election this year – one of only two sitting Democratic state lawmakers across the country who did so. She met with Trump on Air Force One and attended the first presidental debate in Cleveland on September 29.

“Even if she voted for Donald Trump, the law is clear. All members of the state legislature elected under the affiliation of their party are then respective members of their caucuses," Owens said.

A spokesperson for the Ohio House Democratic Caucus had no comment on the lawsuit.