Government

California Company Stops Doing Business with Summitville over Post

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A California tile distributor says it has cut ties with a supplier owned by Columbiana County Republican Party Chairman Dave Johnson after he posted a meme blaming the California wildfires on liberals.

A spokesman for Emser Tile, headquartered in Los Angeles, confirmed in an email Wednesday that it had discontinued doing business with Summitville Tiles Inc., which Johnson owns.

It follows Johnson’s post of a meme Nov. 18 asserting that the California wildfires were “God’s punishment” and “brought to you by the Liberals in California.”

Johnson serves on the board of directors for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and is a past chairman of the Ohio Manufacturing Association.

His controversial post has drawn wide coverage by news organizations including Newsweek, The Hill, Huffington Post, New York Post, Salon, Raw Story and Fox News. The Mahoning County Democratic Party issued a news release last week calling on Johnson to issue an apology to the victims, their families and first responders, and for him to resign as GOP chairman and from his other boards.

Johnson, who also owns the Spread Eagle Tavern in Hanoverton, said he took the post down “within an hour or two after it was posted” at the suggestion of a friend who had seen it and said he should “take a look at it” again. After he did so, he agreed with his friend and removed the post, though apparently not before screenshots were taken of it and shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Johnson also provided a statement last week expressing his regret.

“To err is human, and I confess to erring in my recent post regarding the tragic wildfires in California,” he wrote. “My intent was not to show any disrespect to the innocent lives that have been lost to these wildfires, but rather point to the policies that have largely contributed to the fires.”

He also attached a link to an article in the Sacramento Bee that noted California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a wildfire management bill that passed on both houses of the state legislature with unanimous support.

The fact-checking site Snopes reported that Brown vetoed the legislation because its provisions would have been redundant to risk-mitigation efforts undertaken by the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and would have slowed down those efforts.

On Nov. 19, Emser Tile said on its Twitter account that it was “saddened” to see Johnson’s comments, particularly “during this time of devastating natural disasters” and such opinions “do not reflect” the values of the company.

“As a result, Emser ceased doing business with Summitville and has disassociated itself from the brand,” said Barbara Haaksma, vice president, marketing for the company. Emser communicated with Johnson the following day.

In a follow-up email, Haaksma said Emser stands “firmly behind our statement.” The company has 74 locations, including one in Cleveland, but did “minimal business” with Summitville, she said.

On Nov. 21, Johnson disputed that Emser had ceased doing business with Summitville, but said he removed his California distributors from the list on the company’s website so they wouldn’t be harassed. A visit to the Summitville website showed it is under construction.

Johnson said David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, wanted people to stop doing business with his companies. “He claims to care about the Valley,” he said. He also said people were calling his businesses and yelling obscenities at his employees.

Johnson only took the post down because he was afraid it would hurt his business, Betras said. He denied that he called for a boycott of Johnson’s companies or was aware of any such organized efforts.

At least one individual posting under the Mahoning County Democrats name on its Facebook page said the controversy “won’t die down if we have anything to say about it.” The poster also pledged to keep Johnson’s meme pinned to the top of its page and remind people that “every dime” spent at Summitville and Spread Eagle fund his “idiotic ramblings,” as well as list the locations of other restaurants, lodgings and tile stores in the area.

Agitated when contacted about Emser’s statement, Johnson said he would answer no further questions about Summitville Tiles or Spread Eagle. They were his “personal family businesses” and “none of anyone else’s business,” he remarked.

“Don’t call me about it again,” he said.

In addition to mainstream media attention, the deleted meme – which has nonetheless been circulated on social media – has generated considerable blowback online, even from self-professed Republicans and conservatives.

One poster, Stevie Bliss, “a registered Republican,” described the post as “disgusting and does not represent me.”

Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler, a Democrat who also commented on the thread, called it “the most despicable thing I have ever seen posted on Facebook,” and said Johnson will be “the one that will burn in hell.”

A couple of posters also pointed out that Paradise, Calif., one of the communities ravaged by wildfires, is a primarily Republican area. “If God was trying to bring hellfire to liberals, why didn’t he hit San Francisco, Berkley or Hollywood?” Tony Branch asked.

The intense and sustained reaction and coverage didn’t surprise Betras. What did was “someone who had so much hubris who thinks they could post something like this,” he said. “But in the age of Trump, that’s where we find ourselves.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.