SUDDES: “All political power is inherent in the people” — a nice concept while it lasted



One of the great Statehouse public relations cons of recent times is that claim that Ohio’s Republican-run General Assembly is conservative.

Not so. It’s revolutionary, pushing the state and its power into more and more features of everyday life in Ohio. As Lionel Trilling had a novel’s character say, “Never has there been so much talk of liberty while the chains are being forged.” And the General Assembly’s Republicans are hard at work in the smithy.

Here — in your gynecologist’s office. There — in your (“locally controlled”) schools, and school libraries, and school restrooms, and athletic programs. Everywhere — tearing down the wall between church and state and making guns (today’s real weapons of mass destruction) as universal as wallets and handbags.

One by one, the General Assembly is making war on the common institutions that make Americans Americans, and Ohioans Ohioans, starting with public schools, whose major fault seems to be that many teachers are unionized. There’s a reason “divide and conquer” is considered political wisdom: It is.

So, beginning with the 1995-1997 state budget, and initially only in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, GOP legislators created a “pilot” private school voucher plan that in the 28 years since has become five separate state voucher programs. According to the Legislative Service Commission, the five programs cost the state $555 million in the fiscal year that ended last June. That’s money that otherwise could have gone to public schools. And the legislature wants to further expand school vouchers in Ohio.

One might also consider the constitution’s stance on public money going to non-public schools with religious links: “No religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state.” That went out the window years ago.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly’s Republican leaders have cemented their power into place by drawing GOP-skewed districts for the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio’s Senate, then defying the Ohio Supreme Court on the issue.

And to make majority rule even less likely in Columbus, the Statehouse’s Republicans want to make it harder to change the state constitution. Aim: To fight off women’s right to choose abortion and derail a proposal to stop for once and all gerrymandering of General Assembly districts by either party.

For 111 years, the Ohio Constitution has required a statewide “yes” vote of 50% plus 1 if voters want to amend it. But State Issue 1, which nearly unanimous GOP legislators rammed onto a statewide ballot for an election on Aug. 8, would boost to 60% the requirement for ratifying constitutional amendments.

Aim: To derail a pro-abortion-choice amendment, likely on November’s statewide ballot. That is, the GOP plan to block the pro-choice amendment would in effect empower a minority to overrule a majority — par for the Statehouse’s 2023 “heads I win, tails you lose,” playbook.

Given that, to paraphrase the German writer Bertolt Brecht, instead of having voters elect the legislature, Ohio’s (GOP-run) legislature should elect the voters. You could argue that’s just what State Issue 1 aims to do.

Turns out our “conservative” Statehouse Republicans, who have run the General Assembly for almost 30 years, have a zest for power and aren’t about to return even a smidgen of it to Ohio voters. And here you thought that even the legislature’s county-seat lawyers would know, as the Ohio Constitution says, that “all political power is inherent in the people.” It was a nice concept while it lasted.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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