Ohio Issue 1 isn’t about any one issue — It’s about every issue and the power Ohio voters have

July 11, 2023 4:30 am

Voting location. (Photo by the New Jersey Monitor/States Newsroom.)

Proponents of State Issue 1 frame it as a referendum on abortion to drive single-issue voter turnout in the August 8 election. For the record, Issue 1 is not a referendum on abortion or “Protecting Ohio’s Preborn,” as the Ohio Right to Life website claims. 

It’s about your right to have your say about abortion, or any other issue, the way Ohioans have done for 111 years though a majority vote of the people. Issue 1 asks you to give up that right three months before we will likely vote on whether abortion should be a constitutionally protected choice in Ohio .  

This is a patent attempt by Ohio Republicans and anti-abortion lobbyists to tip the scales on a citizen ballot initiative before voters ever get a chance to weigh in. The powerful are afraid of the majority. Nullifying majority rule in Ohio, which is what Issue 1 will do if passed, removes the threat that we represent as a check on power. 

To those in state government hungry for unconstrained sovereignty, the GOP ballot initiative is a cynical means to an autocratic end. 

We’re almost there. Passage of Issue 1 would finish the job. The undemocratic scheme by Republican leaders and their allies to drastically curtail the right of citizens to petition their government for change trounces all over fair. Over truth. It is blatantly dishonest to profess that Issue 1 would stop “the abortion lobby” from enshrining “abortion up until birth with zero restrictions” in Ohio’s constitution. Not true. 

But expect the disinformation campaign by state Republicans and their anti-choice partners to get loud in the next few weeks and be amplified on the religious right. These folks have no qualms about subverting Ohio’s democratic process to sabotage a citizen-initiated amendment on abortion.

Never mind that passage of Issue 1 would sabotage all future citizen-backed ballot initiatives on anything with rules designed to be insurmountable for anyone but wealthy, outside special interests—like the Illinois billionaire and far right donor funding the push for Issue 1. Supporters spread the invented narrative that the state constitution needs to be “protected” from “radical agendas” and “unacceptable” changes wrought by nefarious outsiders.

Never mind that nefarious insiders are conspiring to steal our power to circumvent corrupt, unrepresentative government. If unscrupulous powerbrokers in Ohio can dupe enough voters into giving away their rights with a flimsy smokescreen about safeguarding the constitution they can ban abortion, make partisan-rigged districts permanent, table minimum wage increases, and relax or repeal every last gun law in the state without fear of reprisal at the polls.

On the Ohio Right to Life website, a vote for Issue 1 is promoted as “restoring trust and confidence in our state’s guiding document” which was “created to protect Ohioans’ liberty and freedoms, not take them away” with “a mere 50% plus 1” majority—the standard since 1912 without problems or power grabs to rescind it. 

Until now. 

What’s being asserted by the Ohio RTL falls into the “alternative facts” bin. No one has trust issues with the state constitution that need to be restored. Liberty and freedoms are precisely in danger of being taken away by those who infer that a “mere” majority decision of voters doesn’t “give every Ohioan a voice.”  It gives voice to a preponderance of those who vote, which is how elections have been called forever.

The reality is a majority of us hold the power to bypass the wildly unpopular policies of an out-of-control legislature and fanatical lobbyists itching to turn Ohio into a theocratic dystopia. Issue 1 could mitigate that risk to the powers that be by crushing the citizens ballot initiative with insurmountable criterion.

The already Herculean task of amending the constitution with a statewide campaign would be unachievable for many under rules that would boost the threshold for passage to a 60% supermajority and double the hundreds of thousands of petition signatures required to get on the ballot in the first place.

COLUMBUS, May 10, 2023 – Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis watches the Ohio House floor as House Republicans prepared to pass a resolution for an August election proposal to make it harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis — the guy who did his Republican pals a solid with a federal lawsuit to keep their unconstitutional districts in play last year — even suggested voters should butt out on some issues (maybe abortion access?) because the politicians trying to take away our rights to direct democracy know what’s best for us.  

“That’s why we elect state reps, state senators, and governors to make those policy decisions and if we don’t like their decisions we could vote for the other guy the next election,” said Gonidakis in Lima last week. Mike speaks with a forked tongue. 

He knows we’re stuck with the guys making repugnant Statehouse policy — including the draconian abortion ban that forced a pregnant 10-year-old rape victim to flee the state for medical care — because they insulated themselves from accountability with gerrymandering.  His disingenuous argument reveals a desperation to silence voters unaligned with his views.

Gonidakis is entitled to his beliefs. But so is every Ohioan. For over a century we have had the right to act on those beliefs without elected (and unresponsive) representatives as proxies. Through citizen-led initiatives we have made binding majority vote decisions for self-determination. Issue 1 is a referendum to end that history. 

Framing it as a vote on abortion is to obscure truth as a means to tyrannical end. 



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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.