SUDDES: How big will Republicans win in November?

November’s big question isn’t whether Republicans will maintain their majorities in the state Senate and Ohio’s House of Representatives. They will.

Instead, the question is how big those GOP majorities will be – and how rowdy they’ll be in doing business with either Gov. Mike DeWine, a Cedarville Republican, or his Democratic challenger, Nan Whaley, Dayton’s former mayor.

And puzzling that out requires going through some Statehouse numbers, because no matter who’s governor beginning in January, the legislature has bucked DeWine from time to time and will almost certainly keep doing so, as, for sure, it will buck Whaley if she wins.

Reason: Ohio’s Right to Life Governor isn’t conservative enough for some of Ohio’s GOP legislators, which tells you more about them than about Mike DeWine. You read that right – to a clutch of student-senate types in the Statehouse, DeWine is a political squish. His record says otherwise, but to borrow Ronald Reagan’s celebrated tongue-slip, “Facts are stupid things.”

The 33-member Senate, which Republicans have controlled since January 1985, now has 25 Republicans and eight Democrats. And that won’t change much, if at all, on Nov. 8.

A 25-member GOP caucus has a lot of room to maneuver. To override a governor’s veto requires 20 Senate votes. And to declare a bill an emergency measure – protecting it from a statewide up-or-down popular vote (a referendum) – requires 22 Senate votes.

The 99-member House now has 64 Republicans and 35 Democrats. That margin could see-saw, but Republicans are almost certain to retain at least 60 seats – enough to overturn a gubernatorial veto – if not reach 66 seats, enough to block referenda on bills.

In the 56 years since Ohio’s had a 99-seat House, only once, after Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, has a House caucus – in this case, the GOP’s – won 66 Ohio House seats, (for 2017-18).

Certainly, even the current (2021-22) legislature has been less than deferential to DeWine, startling with caterwauling over his (excellent) management of Ohio’s response to COVID-19, and the (since all but abandoned) gun-safety package DeWine proposed after the 2019 mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District.

True, the grotesque GOP gerrymandering of General Assembly districts by the GOP is part of the reason Democrats remain a legislative minority at the Statehouse. Another reason – and it’s a stark truth – is that Democrats, like Republicans during the 22 years Democrats ran the House (1973-1994), appear to have gotten used to being in the General Assembly’s minority, which can be plenty comfortable especially in a politically safe Ohio House or state Senate district (and there are some of those in parts of Ohio).

So that’s why the main event at the Statehouse beginning in January will be between a Republican-run General Assembly and whomever, Democrat or Republican, is governor, with the state Supreme Court playing an occasional cameo as a fan (Republican) or foe (Democratic justices) of the next legislative gerrymander by the GOP. (The district lines that are being used this November are supposed to apply only for this election, although given the … fluidity … of the courts, it may be that this year’s districts will be reused for 2024, with a much bigger voter turnout thanks to ‘24 being a presidential election year.

Historically, Ohio’s executive branch ran the Statehouse, thanks to a so-called strong governorship and what – legally – is still a parttime legislature (despite comfortable salaries and cozy benefits). But partisanship, and lust for talk-show purity, means Republican legislators are done playing second-fiddle to governors in Columbus. So keep earplugs handy: They now want to lead the band.

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

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