Jena Powell, a Republican candidate for Ohio House of Representatives District 80, has political and familial ties to an organization that may have enabled former Rep. Wes Goodman’s duplicitous lifestyle. The Forge, a Dayton, Ohio based conservative leadership academy caters to 16-24 young conservatives who are interested in entering politics. Powell’s brother, Justin, co-founded the organization with Adam Josefczyk in late 2014. It touts Ms. Powell’s primary victory in HD 80 as a success for the organization and uses her image and story in its promotional materials. Goodman is the “pro-family” representative from District 87, who resigned in disgrace after he was discovered having sex with a man in his Statehouse office.
Goodman served on the Forge’s Board of Advisers from at least March 2015 to about May 2016. During the middle of that timespan, in October 2015, Goodman was alleged to have sexually assaulted an eighteen-year-old boy, who Goodman had coerced into coming to his hotel room after a DC fundraiser for Goodman’s House campaign. It is clear from reported accounts that Goodman’s behavior toward young men, especially those with an ambition to be involved in conservative politics, was often predatory and coercive, and that he used his political connections to leverage access to young men.
As the Washington Post’s blockbuster story makes clear, Bob McEwen, current Executive Director of the Council for National Policy (CNP), knew about the assault as soon as it took place, because the young man’s outraged parents included him on an email chain. In emails obtained by the Washington Post, McEwen assured them that “strong action is about to take place.” Tony Perkins, head of CNP, withdrew his support for Goodman, encouraged him to drop out of the race and suspended Goodman’s membership in CNP. In November 2017, Goodman, who had campaigned on belief in “natural marriage” (read: heterosexual), resigned from the Ohio House after his gay “double life” was exposed.
Bob McEwen, fully apprised of the October 2015 incident, continued to support the Forge, even while Goodman remained on its Board of Advisers and active with its events. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 McEwen served as a keynote speaker at the Forge’s annual leadership summit. Goodman was a featured speaker at the summit in 2015 and involved in some capacity at the 2017 summit.
Former House speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s Chief of Staff told the AP that they heard rumors of Goodman’s unfaithfulness and sexual conduct as early as May 2016, but because it was consensual and not being conducted on state property or with state personnel, it was considered a private matter. As a politician who had campaigned on anti-gay rhetoric, worked for nonprofits with “pro-family” missions and enjoyed endorsements from Christian right organizations, Goodman’s “double life” was an appalling hypocrisy, but ultimately a political question. It met a political end when he resigned in disgrace.
However, in news reporting that emerged just days after his resignation, it became apparent that not all of Goodman’s sexual conduct was consensual. In addition to the Washington Post story, a reporter for the Independent Journal Review collected over 30 sources who had experienced unwanted sexual attention from Goodman, especially through social media. The reporter, Caleb Hull, who disclosed that he was also sent sexually explicit messages by Goodman while he was a student at Cedarville University, described Goodman’s modus operandi.
Hull reported that “the majority of the people he targets are between the ages of 18 and 24 and have had very little interaction with him personally… In many instances of his alleged sexual misconduct, Goodman apparently offered to be a “mentor” for those looking to get into politics. Because of the power he had, his victims say they were afraid to report instances of abuse for fear of damaging their own political careers.”
One source told Hull that Goodman “repeatedly invited [him] up to Ohio so I could job shadow him and tour the Ohio Capital.” On at least one occasion, July 6, 2017, Goodman hosted Forge students at the Statehouse (Ohio House of Representatives July 6, 2017, pg.2). The Independent Journal Review quoted a source that Goodman’s inappropriate behavior “seemed to escalate when he came back to Ohio.” Goodman was active in Ohio conservative circles in early 2015, officially began his campaign for Ohio House District 87 in December 2015 and won the seat in November 2016.
Weighing Goodman’s affliction together with the timeframe and the demographics of the men he tended to target, there is a reasonable chance that Goodman met some of the young men he harassed through the Forge. Other than the Washington Post story and one account from Hull’s sources, which names Turning Point USA specifically, none of the sources who came forward to the Independent Journal Review or other publications ever named the conservative organizations that brought them into Goodman’s orbit. No one associated with the Forge has accused Goodman of any impropriety or accused the Forge of any wrongdoing. And yet, if Powell wins in the general, the Forge and its network will gain even greater influence at the Statehouse.
The voters of HD 80 deserve a chance to properly vet Powell, the Forge and its connections to Goodman. Assuming McEwen told the Forge’s leadership what they knew about Goodman, voters have a right to know if the Forge turned a blind eye to sexual assault and placed its young students at risk. In a statement that former head of the Ohio Republican Party Matt Borges gave to the Cincinnati Enquirer, he said of McEwen: “There was an allegation of sexual assault against one of our state representatives. (McEwen) knew about it and apparently chose to do nothing. That’s an unacceptable failure.”
In a series of tweets from June 13, 2018, Caleb Hull places the tally of known Goodman victims who have contacted him in the hundreds. According to one now-deleted tweet, that number may be as many as 155.
Hull places their experiences firmly within the context of the #MeToo movement, claiming that Goodman “spoke at and sexually harassed men at Turning Point USA conferences” and that the victims were “terrified of their careers being hurt and went along with it” and they “felt vulnerable and helpless”. Hull previously worked for Turning Point USA.
Disclosure: The author of this piece, Danielle Harlow, was approached by HD 80 Democratic candidate D.J. Byrnes for an opposition research position. Harlow could not accept the position due to a conflict of interest but did begin this inquiry as an initial phase of the research. She is not now, nor has she ever been a paid or volunteer member of Byrnes’ campaign.
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