MARCANO: Freedom under attack — but not from who you think

Ray Marcano

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Ray Marcano

Leading up to the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a flurry of polls showed Americans worried about the future of democracy. Prior to that, polls showed that more than four in 10 Americans worry about the right to free speech, bear arms, equal justice and more.

In all of these cases, we’re missing the point about the danger confronting us. Some of the people that we elect are the danger. We need to stop them at the ballot box.

They are showing their disinterest in our freedoms by their actions and deeds and, for some reason, we give them license to do so. It’s alarming that we don’t pay more attention to how complicit we are in this mess.

What’s freedom? Merriam-Webster says: “The power to do what you want to do.” But there’s another question we don’t spend near enough time examining — how do I want my elected leaders to support my freedoms?

I want a small, unintrusive government that supports the Constitution and laws of the state and respects my wishes as a voter. I don’t want a politician telling me or a business or an institution what I or it can or can’t do (except in unusual public health or crisis circumstances, such as trying to mitigate a global pandemic. Or if a tornado levels a town I expect the government to step in and take charge and put in emergency measures to help people).

I want the freedom to make my own decisions and live with the consequences. To me, that’s the best definition of freedom. So I can decide not to get a driver’s license, file taxes, or get a health permit for my business, understanding there are penalties if I get caught.

How are our freedoms under attack? Just look at what’s happening in our own backyard.

In 2015, Ohio voters — by an overwhelming 71 percent — voted to approve an amendment that would stop partisan redistricting that “unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents.” Since district redrawing takes effect every 10 years, the new amendment started with the redrawn legislative districts in 2021.

Those voters come from across all parties and ideologies and said, “we don’t want this.”

Republicans said, “who cares?” and passed new congressional districts that would have given them 12 of 15 congressional seats — 80 percent — even though the GOP wins roughly 54 percent of the statewide vote. That means, fairly, the GOP should have eight of the 15 seats.

So you don’t think I’m making up the “who cares,” Rep. Bill Sykes, R-Cincinnati, said in a heated floor debate in November: " ‘Fair’, ladies and gentlemen, is in the eyes of the beholder.” We know that this “fair” is not what voters want.

Worse, three members of the Ohio Supreme Court — Patrick Fischer, Sharron Kennedy, and Pat DeWine — voted to let those gerrymandered districts stand because, in their dissenting opinion, they didn’t think the court should decide on the constitutionality of the maps.

How can a court not decide on constitutional issues?

These elected officials attempted to strike a blow against our freedom to vote and be heard. By extension, they tried to strike a blow against democracy. Luckily, they failed — this time. But the Ohio Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision to stop the gerrymandering should not have been that close, and now it just takes one justice to flip sides, create a constitutional crisis and chip away further at our freedom.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Authoritarianism is always great if you’re on the right side of the autocrats. But now there are literally tens of thousands of Ohio Republicans who want fair Congressional maps (maps that would, by the way, still give Republicans an advantage) but have politicians and judges lined up to stop them.

How is willfully ignoring the will of the voters not a basic assault on our freedoms?

Ray Marcano is a long-time journalist whose column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at raymarcanoddn@gmail.com.

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