SUDDES: Don’t handcuff Ohio voters

This is what unchallenged, one-party power leads to at Ohio’s Statehouse:

On Election Day, Democrats picked up three State Board of Education seats.

Result: Complete coincidence, Statehouse Republicans are moving to strip the board of most of its powers, giving them instead to an appointee of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

Meanwhile, pro-choice Ohioans will likely aim to amend the Ohio Constitution to guarantee a woman’s right to choose abortion.

And Ohioans who oppose gerrymandered General Assembly and congressional districts will likely aim to amend the constitution to require fairly dawn districts.

Result: Another complete coincidence, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose wants to make it harder for voters to pass voter-initiated constitutionals amendments.

Since 1912, the state constitution has required a simple majority of those Ohioans voting on a proposed (petitioned) amendment to pass it. LaRose wants to require a 60% vote on petitioned amendments. (For amendments the legislature proposed, the majority requirement would remain 50% plus one.)

Supposedly, this is all about the potential for special interests to come into Ohio to mobilize voters to petition for constitutional amendments that would enrich the issues’ sponsors.

In fact, though, by passing Issue 2 of 2015, Ohioans have already amended the state constitution to protect it. According to its official ballot language, that year’s Issue 2 “[prohibits] any petitioner from using the Ohio Constitution to grant a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel for their exclusive financial benefit or to establish a preferential tax status (and, 2) [prohibits] any petitioner from using the Ohio Constitution to grant a commercial interest, right, or license that is not available to similarly situated persons or nonpublic entities.”

Among the officeholders who signed the official argument in favor of the 2015 antimonopoly amendment were future State Auditor Keith Faber, a Celina Republican.

The official “Pro” argument said amendment would “prohibit special interests from amending [the Ohio] Constitution to guarantee financial profits for themselves or get special economic privileges.” The amendment was in part a reaction to a ballot issue proposing a statewide marijuana monopoly, and further back, 2009′s casino-gambling initiative.

Bottom line: The Ohio Constitution already includes safeguards against special-interest hijackers, unless that is, LaRose considers an anti-gerrymandering amendment a “special interest” or sees abortion as a “special interest.”

The pivot isn’t “special interests.” The pivot is the public interest.

If someone opposes abortion or fair districts, she or he should have at it, on those topics. But don’t handcuff Ohio voters: The constitution, after all, belongs to them – not to Statehouse insiders, who are supposed to be their servants, not their masters.

As for the State Board of Education, Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican who wants to reduce its powers, isn’t the first Ohio officeholder the panel has frustrated.

In the 1990s, then-Gov. George V. Voinovich, a Cleveland Republican, wanted to reform the board. Instead, then-House Speaker Vernal G. Riffe Jr., a Scioto County Democrat, would only agree to reformat the board so it would be composed of a mix of elected members and of members appointed by the governor. Senate Republicans aim to transfer the board’s major responsibilities to a new Department of Education and Workforce directly answerable to DeWine. (The current Education Department answers to the state board.)

Maybe the deck chairs need re-arranging. Or maybe grousing about the state board is a way to distract attention from what should be the real education-policy issue: Full funding, by the Senate and the House, of Ohio’s bipartisan Fair School Funding Plan.

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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