SUDDES: No chance of fixing General Assembly unless Ohioans require fairness in redistricting



Like people trapped in abusive relationships, Ohioans are at the mercy of a bickering, dysfunctional, gerrymandered General Assembly run by Republicans whose antics are enabled in part by Statehouse Democrats’ passivity.

Rivalries among and grandstanding by Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate mean that – at this writing – there’s no guarantee presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will appear on Ohio’s November ballot. And – again, at this writing – Statehouse Democrats seem indifferent to what amounts to a down-market coup d’etat, evidently thinking, as did Charles Dickens’s Mr. Micawber, that something will turn up.

True, there was last week’s slap-down of the General Assembly’s repeated violations of the Ohio Constitution’s promise of home rule to cities and villages.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott blocked a law passed by legislators over Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto, Substitute House Bill 513, sponsored by Republican Reps. Jon Cross, of Findlay, and Bill Roemer, of Richfield. It would have prohibited regulations by cities and villages of tobacco products and alternative nicotine products (i.e., flavored tobacco products).

The pre-emption was a bid by Republicans, allied with private interests, to force Ohioans to look to the Statehouse – good luck with that – rather than to city and village halls to resolve local problems.

Beginning roughly 20 years ago, the legislature went into high gear handcuffing municipal voters over local issues, notably in 2004, when it passed HB 278, sponsored by then-Rep. Thomas Niehaus, a suburban Cincinnati Republican, later Ohio Senate president.

The Niehaus bill denies Ohio’s 900-plus cities and villages any authority over “permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells.” You don’t fancy a fracking rig in your neighborhood? Don’t bother griping to your mayor; you must complain instead to Columbus, to the state’s oil-and-gas (promoting) bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, in what can only be called a breathtaking risk to Ohio’s parks and preserves, the General Assembly has allowed (and DeWine has implemented) fracking for oil and gas under state parks, something that – to his credit – Republican then-Gov. John R. Kasich stymied.

The chronicle of voter misfortune at the Statehouse rolls on and on, in part because of a split among Ohio House Republicans and rivalry between the legislature’s GOP leaders, House Speaker Jason Stephens, of Gallia County’s Kitts Hill, and Senate President Matt Huffman, of Lima. Huffman will be elected to the House in November and wants to grab its gavel from Stephens.

A sour fruit of that rivalry: Unwillingness by Huffman’s Senate and Stephens’s House to agree on a bill to make sure Biden will be on Ohio’s November presidential ballot, because of personal rivalry and the mulish, brainless partisanship of some rank-and-file General Assembly members.

Yes, the HB 6/FirstEnergy scandal sent an ex-House speaker (Republican Larry Householder, of Perry County) and former Republican State Chair Matt Borges to federal prison. The HB 6 affair also likely contributed to the suicides of lobbyist Neil S. Clark and former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chair Samuel Randazzo, a DeWine appointee.

But HB 6 still costs Ohioans millions of dollars in extra monthly electricity charges, benefiting AES (Dayton Power and Light), American Electric Power, and Duke Energy. (And HB 6 only became law because nine House Democrats voted for it.) The bill’s prime sponsors were now-Sen. Shane Wilkin, of Hillsboro, and Rep. Jamie Callender, of Concord, both Republicans.

Bottom line: There’s virtually no chance of curing the General Assembly’s irresponsibility unless Ohioans voters require fairness in how the state’s now-party-rigged legislative districts are drawn. Otherwise, the clowns will keep running the circus – and running Ohio into the ground.

Update: Late Thursday, a clearly irked DeWine ordered the General Assembly into a special session, to be held Tuesday and Wednesday, to address the Biden ballot issue. It’s likely, but not certain, that his move will get results. If not, everyone will likely see each other in court.

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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