Restaurant association won’t comment on its allies in fight to lock down Ohio Constitution

By: - May 10, 2023 4:55 am

An empty restaurant. Photo by Karen Ducey | Getty Images

Ohio’s restaurants have some strange bedfellows that their industry representative would rather not talk about — including a billionaire out-of-state election denier.

The Ohio Restaurant Association’s members depend on patronage from a broad swath of Ohioans. But in joining the battle to make it a lot harder to amend the Ohio Constitution, it’s taking a position that’s anathema to many — if not most — of the state’s restaurant-goers.

Republicans in Ohio’s unconstitutionally gerrymandered legislature are pushing a change that would make it much harder for voters to gather the signatures needed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. It also would raise the portion of the vote needed to pass it from 50% to 60%.

And, just months after eliminating low-turnout August elections as wasteful, House members seem poised Wednesday to approve an August election on the matter. The Senate has already passed a resolution of its own.

Opposition to the move has been strong. A bipartisan group of former Ohio governors has come out against it, as has a bipartisan group of former Ohio attorneys general. They join more than 200 groups from across the political spectrum who also oppose the measure and a vote in the House was delayed last week after opponents thronged the Statehouse in protest.

In addition, a poll released Tuesday said that only 21% of respondents said they’d vote for the measure, as opposed to 52% who said they would vote against. Among the most motivated voters, 70% said they’d vote no, according to the poll by Change Research, which received a B minus in The 538’s pollster ratings.

Against that broadly based opposition are some narrowly interested opponents taking positions that don’t seem very popular.

 The Buckeye Firearms Association, which fears gun-control amendments, is backing the measure, even as mass shootings pile up in Ohio and across the country — and as strong majorities support stricter gun laws.

There also are legislative Republicans worried that a tighter anti-gerrymandering amendment will be passed after a GOP-dominated redistricting commission ignored seven state Supreme Court rulings saying its congressional and legislative maps violated earlier amendments that had passed with more than 70% of the vote.

Ohio Right to Life is advocating to lock down the Ohio Constitution in the face of a likely vote in November to build abortion rights into the Constitution. After harsh abortion restrictions like Ohio’s took effect last summer, abortion rights measures have passed easily in other states, and six in 10 voters think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Joining the groups trying to restrict voter access to the state Constitution is another with an agenda that doesn’t seem to enjoy broad popular support — the Ohio Restaurant Association. It’s against an amendment to eliminate the state’s tipped wage by 2029 and to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

As with abortion rights and stricter gun laws, about 60% of Americans support a $15 federal minimum wage. Jennifer Bushby, the association’s communications manager, said the group wants to protect against “anti-business” amendments to the Ohio Constitution, such as an increased minimum wage, which she said would make meals more expensive.

“The Ohio Restaurant Association is a pro-business organization focused on growing Ohio’s hospitality community,” she said in an email. “Our organization has long held the position that Ohio should safeguard its Constitution by requiring broader public support for proposed amendments. The Ohio Constitution should not be an easy target for anti-business policies, such as the current effort to fast-track the state minimum wage and eliminate the tipped wage.”

Bushby wouldn’t comment on some of the other supporters of the push to keep voters from putting stuff that seems popular into their Constitution.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose — a major supporter of restricting voter access to the document — has given shifting reasons for why it’s necessary. One has been that it’s vital to keep out-of-state special interests from meddling in what LaRose has called the state’s “founding document.” But then came news that in addition to the in-state special interests supporting his effort, an Illinois billionaire had put up more than $1 million to fund advertisements pressuring Republican lawmakers to support it.

And it’s not just any millionaire. It’s Richard Uihlein, who helped fund the rally that preceded the violent Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and who has since spent billions funding candidates who falsely claim Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

LaRose won’t talk about Uihlein. Neither, apparently, will the restaurant association.

Asked three times about Uihlein, Bushby said, “Our interest in this measure is narrow in scope, relevant to specific business policies that could negatively impact our members. It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment beyond that, as we are focused solely on impacts to the restaurant community.”

But it’s wrong for the restaurant association to just focus on its agenda and not address whom it’s working with, said Mia Lewis of Common Cause Ohio, a group working to stop gerrymandering and the restrictions the special interests want to place on amending the Ohio Constitution.

“It is hard to figure out who is funding political advertisements,” Lewis said in an email. “The restaurant association now knows that something they are working on is connected with a direct assault on the U.S. Capitol. That’s not OK – not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s unseemly. It’s disturbing. They need to make it clear they repudiate this money and this connection.”



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.