SUDDES: Kansas results hint at larger Democratic turnout for Ohio

The earthquake that shook Kansas Tuesday may generate aftershocks in Ohio, something Ohio pols are sure to feel.

Kansans voted 59% to 41% to maintain access to abortion there. That was the first statewide test of voter reaction to the Supreme Court’s June 24 Dobbs decision, which overthrew the court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade majority, which had legalized abortion nationwide.

Although Kansas has elected Democratic governors (including Kathleen Sebelius, daughter of Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan), Kansas isn’t exactly wine-and-cheese country.

The last time Kansas supported a Democrat for president was in 1964. And Kansas gave 56% of its 2020 presidential vote to Donald Trump (Ohio gave him 53%).

Tellingly, the Kansas ballot issue drew huge turnout: “Indeed, 2022 saw some of the highest turnout in any primary election in [Kansas] history, with many voters saying they came to the polls specifically to weigh in on the [abortion] amendment,” the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl reported.

In Columbus, even the dullest knife in the Statehouse kitchen knows big turnout, in Ohio at least, means big Democratic turnout. And that’s not an ideal scenario for Statehouse Republicans,.

The Kansas Legislature proposed the anti-abortion ballot issue. Whether Ohio’s General Assembly would do the same – propose to voters limits on abortion – is an open question. The Republican-run legislature certainly wouldn’t propose a ballot issue guaranteeing abortion access. That’s why a group of Democratic women in the legislature has said it wants to propose, by voter petition, likely in 2023, a state constitutional amendment to do that.

Meanwhile: Voters denied nomination Tuesday to just three General Assembly members – a Democrat and two Republicans,

The Democrat is Rep. Monique Smith, of North Olmsted, in Greater Cleveland’s redrawn 16th House District. She lost Tuesday to fellow Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney a Westlake Democrat. The Republican nominee for the 16th District is Michael Lamb, of Westlake.

Before a federal judicial panel imposed the current boundaries, Smith and Sweeney lived in separate districts. They moved into the 16th at least in part to avoid potential challenges against other incumbents. The House Democratic caucus – unfairly, Smith said – supported Sweeney.

Republican primary voters meanwhile denied nominations to two incumbents. One is Rep. Mark Fraizer, of Newark, of the 68th District, composed of parts of Licking County. The other GOP incumbent is Rep. Shawn Stevens, of Sunbury, of the 61st District, composed of parts of Delaware and Knox counties.

On Tuesday, GOP voters nominated challenger Thad Claggett, also of Newark, for the House seat Fraizer holds. House Republicans appointed Stevens to the House on March 9 to fill a mid-term vacancy. Also Tuesday, the 61st District’s Republicans nominated primary challenger Beth Lear, of Galena, not Stevens, for the House.

You’d think the next hurdle for Ohio House Republicans would be Nov. 8′s election. Actually, unless even more sleaze surfaces in the House Bill 6-FirstEnergy scandal, Republicans are set to keep their Ohio House majority, come what may. The current districts were drawn precisely for that purpose.

No, for House Republicans, Nov. 8 is just a mile-marker on the road to this year’s main event: The election by Republicans of the House’s next speaker who, when she or he decides to exercise power, can have as much as any governor.

Among potential candidates for the speakership: Republican Reps. Phil Plummer, of Dayton, of the 39th District, once Montgomery County’s sheriff, and Jason Stephens, of Lawrence County’s Kitts Hill, in the 93rd District (Gallia, Jackson and Lawrence counties). What’ll be at stake is more than who holds the House gavel – it’s who’ll call the House’s shots.

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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