The Ohio House of Representatives, 66-32 Republican (with one GOP vacancy), or the Senate, also GOP-led, may decide to strangle Ohio democracy by trying to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution.
Real goal: To stymie a bid by voter-petitioners to entrench in the constitution a right for pregnant women to choose abortion.
Ohio’s Bill of Rights says, “All political power is inherent in the people.” But it appears some GOP legislators think that constitutional pledge should be that political power in Ohio should be inherent only in a minority of the state’s voters.
Backdrop: Since 1912, the Ohio Constitution has guaranteed voters the right to propose constitutional amendments. Petitioners must gather a specified number of voter signatures in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
For 110 years, that was A-OK. Then abortion foes realized that a majority of voters (50% plus one) very likely would approve a voter-signature-initiated “Right to Reproductive Freedom” amendment. It would place in the state constitution a right to legal abortion in Ohio.
That proposed amendment sparked House Joint Resolution 1, a constitutional amendment the GOP-run legislature may put on the statewide ballot. HJR 1 would require future state constitutional amendments to win at least 60% of the statewide vote to pass.
That is, if HJR 1 took effect, even if 59.99% of those voting on the abortion-rights amendment voted “yes,” that latter amendment would fail to pass if Ohio voters OK’d the 60% amendment before the abortion amendment reached November’s ballot.
HJR 1 also would require amendment-petition signatures from voters in all 88 counties, instead of the current 44, and abolish a 10-day period for gathering additional signatures if the initial batch submitted were less than the required total, 413,487.
Consider this additional twist: The legislature’s Republicans, in a bill almost all backed late in 2022, virtually abolished August elections.
But the Columbus Dispatch reported last week that GOP leaders are nevertheless considering calling an August special election just to put the 60% amendment on the ballot.
If voters ratified it that month, it might effectively stymie the abortion rights amendment if the latter passed in November by less than 60% of those voting on it. Possibly reinstituting August elections three months after abolishing them speaks volumes about General Assembly Republicans’ panic over the abortion rights amendment.
Result: HJR 1, and, complete coincidence, the incredibly restrictive rules on testimony by anti-HJR 1 witnesses by House Constitutional Resolutions Committee Chair Scott Wiggam, a Wooster Republican.
That calls to mind another promise the Ohio Bill of Rights makes — “The people have the right to assemble together, in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good; to instruct their representatives; and to petition the General Assembly for the redress of grievances.” [Italics added.]
Those words should be stenciled on the wall of every Ohio House committee room. Reason: The gerrymandering of the legislature has made it more out of touch than it already was. The winner of a given Republican primary in a GOP-gerrymandered General Assembly district — or winner of a Democratic primary in a Democratic-packed district — is likely more attuned to the political pleas of committed party members back home than to constituents of the opposite party.
In packed districts, there’s no question of which party will likely win — but which party member will be nominated. Given that the most committed, never-miss-an-election voters tend to be ideologically rigid, that leads to the all-or-nothing representation that mars the Statehouse today, stoking current parliamentary acrobatics over the proposed abortion amendment.
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.
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