Commentary: Ohio GOP wants voters to give up what little power they still have
Right-wing Ohio Republicans from heavily gerrymandered districts, most of which have more farm animals than people, want to see just how gullible you are.
They want you to go to a "special election" in August — one that will cost the taxpayers of the state about $20 million and create unnecessary headaches for all 88 county boards of elections — and give away part of your ability to change Ohio's constitution.
They want to throw out 111 years of Ohio history and set a new standard for passage of constitutional amendments of 60%.
Since 1912, the standard in Ohio has been 50% plus one for passage of a constitutional amendment.
Suddenly, that is not good enough. Suddenly, for Republicans like Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman of Lima and State Rep. Brian Stewart of Pickaway County, sponsors of the legislation, the bar must be set higher, because of the specious argument that they want to protect Ohio from deep-pocketed "special interests" from hoodwinking Ohio voters with constitutional amendments.
It's nonsense and they know it.
What they want is for a 41% minority to be able to stop any constitutional amendment they don't like.
In other words, if they get their way, 41% of the voters could stop:
- The abortion rights amendment that is likely to be on this November's general election ballot.
- A possible amendment next year to raise Ohio's minimum wage.
- Any change in the method by which Ohio's legislative districts are drawn, after Huffman and his allies made a mockery of the rules that were in place last year.
- Recreational use of marijuana.
- Any kind of gun control legislation.
And pretty much anything else the GOP thought police believe will upset their gerrymandered super-majority in the legislature.
The legislation setting up this 60% plan contains changes in the petition process that would make it virtually impossible for any organization to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.
Only the most deep-pocketed special interests could afford it.
The Ohio Senate version of this bill passed on Wednesday on a party line vote. Huffman always gets his way in his Senate.
The Ohio House version was voted out of committee Wednesday after opposition testimony was cut short, amid chants of shame, shame from opponents. Democrats on the committee walked out of the meeting in disgust with Stewart and the chair, State Rep. Phil Plummer of Dayton.
The problem is this bunch has no shame.
With their overwhelming numbers — the product of decades of partisan gerrymandering — they can steamroll over anyone who dares oppose them, like dictators of some Third World junta.
The House has yet to schedule a vote on this 60% rule; and they must have a separate vote on legislation to create this August special election.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose was beating the drum for the 60% since Stewart introduced it last fall.
LaRose, whose head seems to be on a swivel on a number of issues, was in support of doing away with the August election. Now he's told legislative leaders that he thinks an August election is a swell idea. A statewide issue will bring out more people, he says.
He may be right. But, from his point of view, it may not be the kind of voter he hopes will show up in August.
There are 225 Ohio organizations who are lined up against the 60% plan and they are already gearing up to turn out their members. Only a handful, like the ultra-conservative Center for Christian Values and the Buckeye Firearms Association, are in favor.
"We will show up in droves to vote no," Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio League of Women Voters, told reporters after Wednesday's House hearing.
Opponents will show up, Miller said, "because this has been our right as citizens for over a century."
What will happen in the House is anybody's guess. They have until May 10 to hold a floor vote.
House Republicans shut this 60% nonsense down when it came up in the lame-duck session last fall. But the Republicans who wouldn't support it then may be warming up to the idea now.
Brian Stewart, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 1, tipped his hand back in December when he sent out a letter to GOP colleagues saying this venture was all about stopping an abortion rights amendment.
With that admission, the special interests argument went up in a puff of smoke.
For the conservatives in the legislature, the abortion rights amendment, which will likely be on the November ballot, is the most immediate fire they need to put out.
Over the past year, voters in four states have voted to affirm abortion nights — Kansas (59%), Kentucky (52.3%), Montana (52.5%) and Michigan (56.6%).
Every one of them would have gone down to defeat if they had to achieve 60% to be passed.
Holding this election in August was an extreme, desperate response by Huffman to the notion that Ohioans might have opinions different from his own. And any attempt to deviate from what the Republican super-majority wants must be snuffed out.
This is what one-party government is all about. Stifling dissent. Abusing power.
It is hard to imagine the people of Ohio — even in a summertime election — will give away what little power they still have.