'Fire in my bones': The music-loving Ohio attorney general suing the Biden administration

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When Dave Yost was young, he wanted to be a rock star. Now, he’s leading a federal lawsuit against the Biden administration.

Last week, Yost, Ohio’s first-term attorney general, filed a federal lawsuit against the Treasury Department and its secretary, Janet Yellen, alleging that a provision in the $1.9 trillion Democratic spending package that prohibits states from using relief funds to offset tax cuts or credits “directly or indirectly” is unconstitutional.

He pursued the lawsuit independently, separate from a group of more than 20 attorneys general that sent a letter to the Biden administration hinting at legal action should the provision not be clarified.

“I think there’s been enough talking. It’s time for action,” Yost told the Washington Examiner. “I’m going to do my talking in court.”

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Yost didn’t always want to be attorney general or even a lawyer for that matter. He was encouraged to enter law school only after trying other career paths.

Yost spent the first four years of his professional career as a reporter with the Columbus Citizen-Journal, a daily newspaper owned by Scripps Howard that printed its last edition in 1985.

“I probably would still be doing that if my paper hadn’t gone out of business,” he said.

Yost had grown up near his first job, with his family moving to the area from Chicago when he was just 4. The oldest of six siblings, he also stayed nearby for college, where he attended the Ohio State University and majored in journalism and political science. While there, he met Darlene, whom he married in 1980.

At that time in his life, Yost played the guitar at bars with a rock ‘n’ roll band that called themselves the Pink Flamingos.

“When I started out my life, I thought I was going to be a rock star. I was playing guitar in a bar when I met my wife, and she thought she was marrying a musician with pretty long hair,” he said. “So to find herself married at this point to a Republican attorney general is quite a long journey.”

He still does play a bit of music in his spare time. His home office, which is lined with acoustic and electric guitars, looks a bit like a lounge. The other part of his office is chock-full of books, which he said he consumes several of at a time — “I’ve got about 12 open right now.” Yost is a practicing Christian and attends church every Sunday, which is reflected in some of the books he said he is reading.

Guitars line part of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s home office area.
(Dave Yost)

Yost’s musical tastes are “all over the board.” He played jazz in his youth and has covered several different artists while playing in bands. He said he has recently found himself listening to British rock group the Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age.

At an event during the 2016 Republican National Convention, which was held in Ohio, Yost played a set with a band called The Pursuit (as in, “the pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the Constitution) during which he indicated that he was going to run for attorney general in 2018 by flipping over his guitar to reveal a sign on it that read “Y4AG” during a cover of “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen.

Yost's Home Office
Scores of books grace the home office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who is an avid reader.
(Dave Yost)

He stumbled into the legal profession while working in communications for Dana “Buck” Rinehart, the mayor of Columbus. Yost said Rinehart was the one who encouraged him to go to law school, and he enrolled at Capital University, which is located in a suburb of Columbus, and took night classes while working during the day.

After getting his law degree, he moved to Delaware County, where he and a few friends opened a “typical small-town law firm,” where they did everything from divorces to probate and even criminal defense work.

Yost’s first foray into the realm of public office was a stint on the Delaware City Council. The next time was in 1999, when his good friend, the county auditor, got elected to the state Legislature, creating a vacant position.

The county auditor was supposed to be a part-time position, but Yost said that while balancing law and government work, he ended up feeling like he was doing neither job very well. So he sold his piece of the firm and “downsized” his lifestyle to that of a public servant. He became Delaware County’s prosecutor in 2003 and did that for eight years before becoming the state auditor.

Yost, who was elected attorney general in 2018, said that he had not planned to become the state auditor before running to be Ohio’s top lawyer. He had wanted to skip that step in 2010 and run against Richard Cordray, the Democratic attorney general.

But then, a better-known candidate, former U.S. senator and now-Gov. Mike DeWine, decided to enter the race for attorney general, and the GOP needed a candidate for state auditor, so Yost decided to become Ohio’s chief fiscal officer and won. He was reelected to the role four years later, as was DeWine.

But then, in 2018, Yost got his chance to become attorney general. DeWine had decided to run for governor, so Yost hit the campaign trail.

“Constant travel through the state, talking to people,” Yost said of his 2018 run. He said much of the $5 to $6 million that the campaign raised went toward advertising. “I had been out there for eight years protecting the taxpayers, I had a little bit of a reputation as fighting public corruption. We had over 140 convictions of people for public corruption out of our work.”

In terms of campaigning, Yost said that he liked speaking with Ohioans but didn’t like “what politics has become.”

Yost said that over the course of his years in politics, he has seen the vitriol get “substantially worse,” to the point that if he were 40 years old today and considering an entry into politics, he is not sure he would even run.

Dave Yost
Dave Yost pumps his fists before speaking at the Ohio Republican Party event, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Yost was elected as the next Ohio attorney general.
(Tony Dejak/AP)

Asked about his priorities as attorney general, Yost highlighted a 2016 Peggy Noonan article meant to explain the meteoric rise of former President Donald Trump. The piece describes how the “unprotected” class, regular people, was not being heard by the “protected” class of political figures, journalists, Hollywood, etc.

He said he’s adopted a slogan for his office in Columbus: “Protecting the unprotected.”

Yost’s recent decision to sue the Biden administration has garnered a lot of attention.

During Trump’s time in office, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led California in filing more than 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration, costing taxpayers some $41 million. Yost does not foresee himself adopting a similar tack against the Biden administration. “Becerra was just blatantly partisan,” he said.

“State tax policy belongs to the states,” he said. “We shouldn’t be having one-size-fits-all dictated by the federal government.”

He said that the 10th Amendment is perhaps “the most important protection” the United States has against domination by one political party.

He used so-called “sanctuary cities” (which he made sure to note that he personally opposes) as an example of how the 10th Amendment benefits blue states as well. Trump had threatened to strip funding for such cities while in office.

As for future political aspirations, Yost said he is running for reelection, although he “briefly considered” running for Senate after Rob Portman announced his retirement.

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“I’ve got a lot of fire in my bones to fight for what’s just, and I’m not going to rule anything out,” he said.

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