Evidently undaunted by last week’s tallies, the legislature’s arrogant GOP leaders indicated they might devise work-arounds to undermine what the voters decided, not just on abortion but also on a separate measure, Issue 2, a voter-initiated law passed Tuesday to legalize adult use of marijuana.
If the past offers clues, the same bullying Statehouse crowd, vexed by Ohio’s pro-choice voters, will now paint another bigger bull’s-eye on another group of Ohioans, quite possibly Ohioans seeking, or who have made, a gender transition.
Just under 57% of those Ohioans voting on Issue 1, as the abortion rights amendment is known, voted “yes.” The measure carried 25 counties, including every county in Greater Cleveland, as well as Franklin (Columbus) and four of its suburbs – Delaware, Fairfield, Licking and Union, foursome which had voted for Donald Trump in 2020.
The crucial mistake DeWine and his fellow Republicans made was passage in 2019, early in his governorship, of the so-called “heartbeat bill,” which forbids abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected (which can occur even arguably before a woman knows she is pregnant). The measure is known as Senate Bill 23 of 2019
It’s tied up in court but will almost certainly be permanently blocked by Issue 1. The heartbeat bill’s sponsor was Sen. Kristina Roegner, a Hudson Republican. Among those voting “yes” on it was Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, who vigorously opposed Issue 1 and has hinted in so many words that if he can find a way to undercut it, he will.
Last week’s GOP fiasco follows August’s, when voters, also in a statewide referendum, refused to support a Republican scheme to require a minimum “yes” vote of 60% for passing statewide ballot issues such as Issue 1. Had the August issue passed, the abortion rights measure would have failed to pass because its 57% “yes” vote was 3 percentage points fewer than 60.
Then, as now, the reason the General Assembly’s Republican leaders don’t listen to or even understand statewide sentiment is because of gerrymandering, which means that for all practical purposes:
(a) Ohio Statehouse Republicans are guaranteed majorities in the state Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives;
(b) Those majorities are selected not in November’s general election but, in effect, in springtime Republican primary elections; and,
(c) Republicans who vote in those primary elections skew toward the Donald Trump-actually-won-in-2020 crowd, which thinks bipartisanship is a 14-letter word for treason.
Tuesday’s results, besides being a victory for the pro-choice position on abortion, are also living, breathing illustrations of why placing the Citizens Not Politicians issue on the 2024 ballot, and having voters pass it, is so essential to getting Ohio’s legislature back on track. Citizens Not Politicians would take district-drawing out of the hands of political insiders, which is crucial to maintaining a General Assembly answerable to all Ohioans, not to a Statehouse clique of special interests and political wirepullers who profit not from consensus but from conflict.
Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.