Taft among former Ohio governors who say Ohioans should get to decide on abortion

By: - May 5, 2023 5:00 am

Voters casting ballots. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

Former Ohio governors are speaking out against the proposal to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution and the bill to allow for an August special election, telling the current GOP that voters should decide if abortion should be legal. Gov. Mike DeWine’s team responded, saying the governor did not ask for the legislation, nor is it a priority.

Fast Facts

House Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 2 would make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution. They would require constitutional amendment initiative petitions to receive a 60% supermajority vote to pass, instead of the simple 50% +1.

Lawmakers also put forward S.B. 92 to reinstate August special elections, hoping to get their resolution on a ballot ahead of the November abortion vote. The legislators just voted a few months ago to get rid of them because they cost the state $20 million and have low voter turnout.

This resolution is being streamlined to an August special election and is meant to stop abortion from becoming legal, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers say.

What supporters are saying

The supporters of the resolution say the current system is easily influenced by special interest groups and outside organizations.

“We must protect our Constitution from being bought and sold by out-of-state wealthy interests,” said Rob Sexton, a lobbyist for Buckeye Firearm Association.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman. Official photo.

Sexton joined Ohio Right to Life, the Center for Christian Virtue and the conservative Washington D.C.-based organization American Center for Law & Justice in testifying in favor of S.J.R. 2.

Both H.J.R. 1 and S.B. 92, the election addition bill, passed in the Ohio Senate last month.

“The greater good here is that we give some predictability and stability to focus on what the Constitution is going to say,” Senate President Matt Huffman said on the day the resolutions passed.

Citizens don’t always know what they want, he added.

“We don’t want a temporary emotion of a majority to change or take away folks’ rights,” he said. “That happens all the time — it’s called the tyranny of the majority.”


Left to right, former Ohio Republican Gov. Bob Taft (Getty Images), and John Kasich (Official photo), and Democratic Ohio governors Dick Celeste and Ted Strickland (Creative Commons photos).

Hundreds of protestors marched outside and rallied inside the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday. More than 240 bipartisan groups have found allies among former state leaders.

Former Republican Gov. Bob Taft is adamantly opposed to both measures.

“We should not ask the voters in an August election with extremely low voter turnout to make a decision on such a serious, profound, lasting change to the Constitution,” he told OCJ/WEWS in an interview.

Changing the constitution, one which has worked well for more than 100 years, doesn’t make sense, he added.

“It shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Taft said.

He finds himself in the company of other governors like fellow Republican John Kasich and Democrats Dick Celeste and Ted Strickland.

“It’s a very transparent effort to subvert the will of the people,” Strickland said. “I believe they are doing this in the most callous, politically driven way.”

This is all about reproductive rights, the Democrat said. Pro-abortion groups are collecting signatures to let Ohioans choose if abortion should be legal in the state. It may be on the ballot in November.

Conservatives are trying to vote on the proposed amendment changes in August to get out ahead of the abortion vote, he added.

Along with the former governors, a bipartisan group of former attorneys general also spoke out against it. The AGs submitted a letter to the General Assembly, saying it was “bad for Ohio.”

That letter was signed by Republicans Betty Montgomery and James Petro, and Democrats Richard Cordray, Lee Fisher and Nancy Rogers. Former AG Marc Dann was not on the letter but told OCJ/WEWS he also opposes it and thinks it is “dangerous to democracy.”

One of the major concerns from the officials is the voter turnout aspect, both Taft and Strickland said.

“Even if it’s on the August ballot, I think the people of Ohio will come out and defeat it,” he said.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Official photo.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose disagreed.

“Listen, I respect these senior statesmen and women, but they’re just wrong on this one,” LaRose said.

The secretary has been pushing for both measures and argues that there won’t be low turnout in August, since there will “potentially” be ads run about it and the press will cover it.

“You will have to be living in a cave to miss the fact that there is an August election to amend our state constitution,” the Republican said.

Taft, who is anti-abortion, said that putting up an election and resolution to change the constitution just so conservatives can prevent abortion access isn’t how democracy works.

“Let that issue be decided by a full-throated campaign where you’re going to have a large voter turnout and where you’re going to have a simple majority to approve it up or down,” Taft said. “That’s what we’ve done for a hundred years. It’s worked well in Ohio. I don’t see any reason to change the Constitution just because of one particular constitutional amendment that’s being proposed.”

Where the pieces of legislation stand

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Official photo by Vivien McClain Photography.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Official photo by Vivien McClain Photography.

DeWine is taking the former leaders’ views into account, the governor’s spokesperson, Dan Tierney, said.

“I think it’s fair to say that the governor has an agenda that he put forward that he was pushing in the budget, which he states in the state of the state,” Tierney added. “These are things outside of that.”

The lawmakers have every right to have “different priorities,” he said.

“This is one of those issues where it’s not one of the governor’s priorities,” the spokesperson added.

Tierney made sure to differentiate between the resolution and the bill. The resolution can get passed without the governor’s approval or disapproval — but the election bill needs DeWine’s signature.

That being said, the governor still plans to sign S.B. 92 if it gets to his desk, he said.

“The governor understands under the constitution, the Legislature has a right to set a special election — that power is specifically granted to them,” Tierney said. “That’s why he would sign the bill.”

The deadline for the legislation to pass the full House is May 10, so the General Assembly only has one more session to get this through.


This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.