Republicans are poised to capture a super majority in the Ohio House of Representatives that would put the party in position to override Gov. John Kasich’s vetoes and place constitutional amendment issues directly on the statewide ballot.
The issue hinges on the final outcome of two close House races in northeast Ohio where automatic recounts are being conducted today and tomorrow. If the Republican candidates win, it will give the party 60 votes in the 99-member House.
If the Republicans win a supermajority, Ohio will follow a trend from the Nov. 6 election. Half of state legislatures now have veto-proof majorities, up from 13 only four years ago, according to figures compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
All but three states — Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire — have one-party control of their legislatures, the highest mark since 1928.
Republicans currently have a firm grip on Ohio state government, controlling all five statewide executive offices (governor, treasurer, secretary of state, auditor and attorney general), six of seven Supreme Court seats, a majority in the House and a super majority, 23-10, in the Senate.
Without a super majority in the Ohio House, Republicans were forced to circulate petitions statewide — which typically costs between $2 million and $3 million — to get Issue 3 on the 2011 ballot. The constitutional amendment to preserve Ohioans’ ability to choose their health care coverage passed by a 2 to 1 margin. A super majority would allow them to avoid the petition process.
“Given that Mitt Romney lost Ohio and Josh Mandel lost the Senate race in Ohio, we would be grateful to expand the majority in the Ohio House. We certainly think this is a good thing,” said Ohio House Republicans spokesman Mike Dittoe.
Ohio House Democrats spokesman Keary McCarthy disagrees, saying Ohio’s diversity is not being reflected in the legislature.
“To have the consolidation of power that Ohio has now does not serve the state’s interests in a healthy way,” McCarthy said.
In Ohio’s 98th House district, which covers Tuscarawas and Holmes counties, Al Landis, R-Dover, holds a 14 vote lead over Josh O’Farrell, D-New Philadelphia. In the 7th House district, which is in Cuyahoga County, Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, leads by 119 votes over Matt Patten, D-Strongsville.
Recounts in the two races might not settle the question of who represents these districts for the next two years. McCarthy said the House Democratic caucus is considering legal action over the rejection of 114 provisional ballots in the Landis-O’Farrell race but he did not provide specifics about what maneuvers may be employed.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern sent out a fund-raising email, seeking contributions to help finance a fight.
“If we don’t win the recount, Gov. Kasich and House Republicans will gain a super-majority and will be able to pass any extreme piece of legislation whenever they want,” Redfern wrote.
Despite Redfern’s rhetoric, history shows a super majority does not equal partisan over reach. Assistant House Clerk Thomas Sherman said the legislature typically uses its power to put non-controversial constitutional amendment issues before the voters, such as the Third Frontier program renewal.
And rarely does the General Assembly override a governor’s veto — it’s happened just twice in the last 26 years. Last time the GOP had a super majority in December 2006, lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Bob Taft to push through a law that would implement statewide gun regulations that would supersede more stringent restrictions adopted by local municipalities. The GOP super majority had little bearing on the vote: Taft is a Republican and Democrats and Republicans voted to override.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.