Commentary

Issue 1 exposed the rot in Ohio government. And the people now still have the power to fix it

August 15, 2023 4:30 am

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

When former Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich got his hat handed to him by incensed voters over a restrictive collective bargaining law he championed, he was duly chastened. Ohioans sent a loud message to the overreaching first-term governor on Senate Bill 5 in 2011, the anti-union legislation that would have gutted the political power of public sector unions. 

Voters turned out in record numbers (during an off-year election) to overwhelming repeal Kasich’s brash attempt to limit the collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions. They saw SB5 for what it was — an extraordinary attack on ordinary people. A humbled Kasich took his public drubbing at the polls without equivocation.

“It’s clear the people have spoken. I heard their voices. I understand their decision. I respect what people have to say in an effort like this. It requires me to take a deep breath and to spend some time to reflect on what happened here.”

Contrast that chagrinned response in 2011 to what the champions of Issue 1 said after their extraordinary attack on majority voter rights was trounced by Ohioans last Tuesday. There was no such magnanimity among the campaign poster boys for rescinding a century of majority rule in Ohio to prevent a majority of voters from enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution.

They didn’t acknowledge that 57% of voters had called their bluff on instituting minority rule. They complained, blamed, and insulted the Ohioans who defeated Issue 1. Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman whined about time constraints on an election he scheduled, scoffed at former statewide Republican leaders for not putting party over democracy, and arrogantly suggested he’d try to cancel citizen-initiated constitutional amendments again. 

Lessons not learned.

But the Lima Republican (and mastermind of the unlawful gerrymandered supermajorities in the Statehouse) has been immune from democratic accountability for so long he can’t process a stinging rebuke by voters, especially in solid red counties. So his interpretation of Issue 1’s thrashing at the ballot box conveniently glosses over the flood of Ohioans who rallied to preserve their 111-year-old right to circumvent corrupt politicians through direct democracy. 

In Huffman’s telling, failure was due to extenuating circumstances, such as fundraising, not Ohio voters who overwhelmingly rejected his transparent ruse to remove their check on government. Similar dismissal of the majority will also came from Ohio’s self-destructing secretary of state whose contempt for opponents of Issue 1 was unconcealed.

Frank LaRose, who foolishly became the face of a losing charade, lashed out at the “radical activists” and presumably vast bloc of furious voters who crushed the Republican scam referendum to dilute direct democracy in the state. Rather than affirm the overriding consensus of Ohioans with candor, LaRose dove into disinformation. 

He warned about what the “radical left” would plan next and wildly distorted proposed citizen-led initiatives on abortion access, minimum wage, and police reform that would lead to “an assault on our Constitution.” 

The teetering Republican candidate for U.S. Senate placated the MAGA base with duplicity at the expense of election integrity. But LaRose dropped all pretense of impartiality with his advocacy of a devious amendment he pretended was about “protecting the constitution” before admitting it was “100% percent” about thwarting a majority of Ohioans from approving an abortion rights initiative in November.

The brazenly partisan elections chief sidled up to Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis, who leaned heavily into the same apocalyptic fantasy as LaRose. The anti-abortion lobbyist counted on Catholics to surrender their majority rights for the cause — like lemmings going over a cliff. But when Issue 1 went over the cliff instead, Gonidakis had the audacity to suggest voters were confused, like children, muddled by too many TV ads.

Helping to fund some of those ads for the pro-Issue 1 camp, were the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and Diocese of Columbus. In a profoundly disturbing and undemocratic move, they contributed a combined $900,000 to rob all Ohio voters of their right to self-rule by majority vote. For the dioceses, apparently, ending everyone’s right to direct democracy was simply a means to an end of imposed beliefs. 

For the Republican state lawmakers responsible for wasting $20 million in taxpayer money to sneak an underhanded con past voters in an August election they outlawed, Issue 1 was a means to win minority rule by cheating. Many of these gems will be up for reelection next year. Is your state rep or senator among them?

Be grateful to the former Ohio governors and attorneys general, both Republican and Democrat, who denounced Issue 1 as an egregious power grab by unscrupulous legislators in a tour de force for democracy. Be proud of Ohioans from all walks of life who got angry and voted to save our majority rule from power-drunk politicians. 

But stay vigilant and know that the rot Issue 1 exposed in our state government has not been expunged. Still, as former Republican state attorney general, auditor, and state senator Betty Montgomery opined, the legislative scoundrels behind the stunt awakened “a sleeping giant.” The electorate is engaged. Power to the people. 

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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.

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