The shame of Ohio: Corrupt, gerrymandered Statehouse Republicans assault voters, again

April 19, 2023 6:30 pm

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, oversees the Senate session on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Just moments after I watched Ohio Senate Republicans pass a resolution for 41% minority rule over the Ohio Constitution on Wednesday, I walked past a field trip of Ohio children touring the Statehouse.

Seeing those kids’ faces as their eyes explored the beautiful Ohio Statehouse Rotunda, a sharp, stabbing pain of shame for our once-great state pierced into me, knowing what the unscrupulous, morally, ethically, and intellectually bankrupt GOP lawmakers and Senate President Matt Huffman in the nearby chamber just did.

In so many ways, from higher education to the power of voting, those children were touring our historic Statehouse while Ohio Republican lawmakers were busy assaulting their futures.

Ohio Republicans are in a full-court press on their attempt to make it harder for voters to amend our Ohio Constitution by raising the threshold for passage from 50% to 60%.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Senate passed their version of the resolution and made way to put the question to voters on a special August ballot. These same lawmakers just eliminated August special elections months ago, but they need to put it on the ballot in August in an attempt to undermine an abortion-rights amendment slated for November. Abortion-rights amendments were passed in 2022 by voters in Kentucky with 52.3%, Montana with 52.5%, Michigan with 56.6%, and Kansas with 59%.

Ohio Republicans eliminated the August elections originally, they said, because it’s expensive with low turnout. The August 2022 election cost $20 million and had 8% turnout.

That low turnout has now become not a concern, but part of their strategy, as they know their best shot at asking voters to bow down and kneel in subservience to them by relinquishing our democratic powers is for as few voters as possible to participate in that decision.

Over on the Ohio House side, Republicans on one committee passed their version of the proposal in a 7-6 vote and referred it to Rules & Reference in preparation for making a push to put it on the House floor.

Alongside the Senate’s passage of their version, everything now still hinges on the decisions of Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, who will face enormous pressure from all sides.

“If I bring it to the floor, I’m going to vote for it,” Stephens reportedly said Wednesday.

The House version is sponsored by Republican state Rep. Brian Stewart and was conceived in coordination with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose with the support of the religious fanatics at the extraordinarily influential special interest group, the Center for Christian Virtue.

LaRose denied that he wanted to block abortion protections or anti-gerrymandering measures when he announced plans to overhaul the direct democracy over our constitution that Ohioans have enjoyed responsibly since 1912. But in a letter to Ohio House colleagues in December, Stewart listed only two reasons for Republican lawmakers to support attacking voters’ ability to amend our constitution: abortion and gerrymandering.

In the Ohio Senate chamber Wednesday, Republican Senators made clear they share Stewart’s priorities: Proposed amendments to increase Ohio’s minimum wage and protect abortion rights, as well as the prospect of further anti-gerrymandering reform, were all cited by the GOP lawmakers attacking the power of Ohio voters.

Preposterously, these gerrymandered lawmakers — who won their seats by running under unconstitutional maps that they forced onto voters — claim they want to protect Ohio from special interests.

Ohio has a government that has been captured by massive utility company special interests robbing ratepayers of hundreds of millions of dollars; charter school scam artists ripping off taxpayers by hundreds of millions of dollars; drug companies that admitted defrauding Ohioans by tens of millions of dollars; predatory payday lenders skirting accountability to fleece vulnerable Ohioans; a nursing home industry peddling campaign donations and influence for sweetheart lawmaking, special interest groups writing legislation; lobbyists writing lawmakers’ testimony, and lawmakers creating standards that benefit their privately-owned businesses.

And they want to warn us about the influence of special interests? They get led around by special interests like dogs on a leash.

Ohio Republicans have now: Gerrymandered the legislature; used their gerrymandered legislature to indulge all manner of corruption and criminalityattacked a majority of Ohio voters’ ability to hold that gerrymandered legislature accountableclaimed that accountability is available through unconstitutionally gerrymandered electionsstacked the courts to sanction gerrymandering as well as extremist laws; if one court didn’t play ball, shopped cases to friendly judges who would; and fear-mongered about dark money, out-of-state special interests while working in concert with dark money, out-of-state special interests.

Meanwhile, amid the rampant corruption of the billion-dollar bailout, money laundering, political bribery, and racketeering scandal that netted federal felony jury trial convictions of the former Ohio Republican House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges, many of these same Ohio Republican lawmakers have stood silent, or even voted to protect Householder from expulsion out of the chamber.

Now they want us Ohioans to trust them and protect ourselves from special interests… by attacking ourselves.

Trust politicians who ignored 75% of voters and seven bipartisan Ohio Supreme Court rulings so they could force Ohio to vote under unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps, who now say they want to protect us from special interests, after they stood silent during a billion-dollar bribery scandal?

Trust these people who have been flagrantly abusing our government, our constitution, and our rule of law to give away billions of dollars in our money to their campaign donor special interests?

You know what would be a great protection from special interests buying Ohio politicians for pennies on the dollar?

Having representative government and fair elections instead of illegal, unconstitutional gerrymandering that keeps corrupt lawmakers in power and unaccountable.

You know what would be the opposite of protecting Ohio voters from corrupt special interests?

Attacking voters’ ability to have final authority over our constitution, and our ability to implement meaningful anti-gerrymandering reform after they flagrantly and unconstitutionally violated voters’ last efforts.

What makes sense to try to stop corrupt special interest from controlling Ohio government?

Campaign finance reform; Ending gerrymandering; Strengthening ethics and disclosure laws; Stopping regulatory capture.

What doesn’t make sense?

Attacking voters and the power of voters.

These lawmakers who indulge and tolerate all manner of corruption, bribery, sweetheart lawmaking, and nepotistic hiring and appointments, are just oozing condescension out of every pore when they point their fingers at Ohio voters as the ones who can’t be trusted to protect ourselves from special interests.

This is a naked power grab to remove any last vestige of accountability for them to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want, no matter the consequences, a majority of voters be damned.

They have been seduced by the prospect of their own total, unadulterated power, and are scheming to slit the throat of representative government in sacrifice to it.

As the Ohio House committee voted forward Stewart’s proposal Wednesday, the many dozens of Ohioans who showed up from across the state to testify against it chanted “shame” at them.

No other word fits quite so well.

These people are the shame of Ohio, and they represent the most feckless, irresponsible, corrupt, contemptible, rigged, un-American, anti-science, anti-fact, anti-intelligence, anti-democracy, anti-voter, and anti-Ohioan general assembly I’ve seen in my lifetime. Which is really saying something.



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David DeWitt
David DeWitt

OCJ Editor-in-Chief and Columnist David DeWitt has been covering government, politics, and policy in Ohio since 2007, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt