Gerrymandered Ohio Republican lawmakers are already scheming to attack voters over election results
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, speaks with reporters. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
Ohio voters just took firm positions on abortion and reproductive rights and adult-use recreational marijuana Tuesday, but gerrymandered Ohio lawmakers are already planning to flout, ignore, challenge, and abuse the voters’ wishes. This is what gerrymandering brings. This is why it’s a fundamental poison in the lifeblood of our republic.
Mere hours after Ohio voters passed the Issue 1 reproductive rights amendment with 56.62%, according to unofficial results, and the Issue 2 recreational marijuana law with 57% (both getting nearly 2.2 million votes), Ohio Republican legislative leaders signaled they would not respect the will of the people.
“This isn’t the end,” Republican Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman said about Issue 1. “It is really just the beginning of a revolving door of ballot campaigns to repeal or replace Issue 1.”
On Issue 2, Huffman has a host of changes to the law he says he wants to make, which gerrymandered lawmakers can do because Issue 2 was an initiated statute, not an amendment. “The General Assembly may consider amending the statute to clarify the questionable language regarding limits for THC and tax rates as well as other parts of the statute,” Huffman said.
Republican Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens leveled similar warnings that lawmakers would not respect Tuesday’s election results. On Issue 2, Stephens said that the lawmakers should reallocate revenue from marijuana toward building jails and funding law enforcement. “Now is the time for the legislature to lead,” Stephens said.
Gerrymandered politicians who opposed the law should now be the ones to take the lead? Give me a break.
On Issue 1, Stephens said Tuesday’s vote isn’t the end of the conversation: “The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life.”
This is an entitled, arrogant, gerrymandered general assembly snarling in contempt of voters and democracy, Ohio. They do not respect you. They do not wish to serve you. They seek to rule you.
Both Stephens and Huffman preside over unconstitutionally gerrymandered legislative chambers. Ohio Republican politicians ignored five bipartisan Ohio Supreme Court rulings against the Statehouse district maps Ohio is currently being forced by a Trump-appointed majority on a federal court to use.
Just this year, these politicians implemented one of the most restrictive voter laws in the country. In 2022, they politicized our state supreme court by adding party labels, and this year they have proposed to do the same to our state board of education. They have also proposed to increase hyper-partisanship in Ohio by closing our primaries.
Ohio Republican politicians spent most of this year trying to attack Ohio majority authority over the constitution itself, and failed in August.
They then spent the next three months trying to lie Ohio voters into convincing us to give up our rights to bodily autonomy in favor of their extremist six-week abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest. They failed again, but won’t accept it.
Rounding unofficial results, Ohio Issue 1 and Issue 2 were passed with 57% of the vote. The summer attack from Ohio Republican politicians on constitutional voter power was rejected by 57% of voters.
After that August rejection, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said, “When you win with that kind of majority, you know, don’t fault the campaign. Don’t fault your strategy. It just wasn’t going to happen.”
He seemed to accept then that 57% of the vote represented the will of the people.
After DeWine failed to gaslight Ohioans into rejecting Tuesday’s Issue 1, my big question now is whether he will be consistent on that. Does DeWine still respect the will of 57% of voters? Or will he sign on to Ohio legislative attempts to undermine voters?
On Wednesday, DeWine stood silent. In the morning, he put out yet another press release about how he’s allocating funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. That was it. Nothing on Issue 1. Nothing on Issue 2. What leadership.
Under these threats from lawmakers and DeWine’s silence, many Ohioans are wondering what happens next. I am not trained in the law, but I have spent three years as a court reporter and 16 years covering politics and civil litigation, so while I do not know what will happen next, I will give you my best educated guess on the possibilities.
On Issue 2, the lawmakers will likely go forward with whatever changes they’re determined to make in defiance of the voters, and DeWine will choose whether or not to sign those changes.
Issue 1 is much more complicated. First, it becomes part of the constitution. But also it will provoke legislative and/or court action. Both sides of Issue 1 are either strategizing right now, or have already. The “yes” on Issue 1 folks did not reveal any decided legal strategy on Wednesday.
Currently, the Republican-controlled Ohio Supreme Court has a decision to make on whether health clinics have standing to challenge the state’s six-week abortion ban law on behalf of patients. That’s one thing. That decision could decide next-strategy on both sides from there.
Doctors and health care providers can breathe a big sigh of relief right now, because they can pretty much continue along with the same health care they’ve been providing under Ohio’s current 22-week ban without doom and uncertainty over the six-week ban hanging over them.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court currently has an injunction on the six-week abortion ban. Plaintiffs could file a motion to dismiss or ask for declaratory judgment, though the issue of standing remains outstanding before the Ohio Supreme Court, muddying the waters. But those are the two courts to watch.
Ohio lawmakers could try to legislate. They do have the power of action right now. They could try to legislate something that conforms to the fetal-viability-outside-the-uterus standards of the new amendment (around 24-26 weeks), or try to flout the amendment entirely. They seem to be indicating they want to bring yet another amendment on abortion rights to voters.
If they try to flout the amendment entirely through law and not another amendment, they are banking on a very right-wing, anti-abortion majority on the Ohio Supreme Court. One can not exclude the possibility of anti-constitutional partisanship on the court majority’s part, which would set up a federal case.
Any federal case would be a big roll of the dice, winding its way through court-shopping, and legal back-and-forth, and a right-wing U.S. Supreme Court that might not be itching to take up a case after they returned the issue to the states and caused massive political chaos.
Basically, what’s going to happen next is a lot of expensive lawyers are going to drag this through the courts for years, and there is going to be long, drawn-out legal fights between lawyers, court jurisdictions, and apparently lawmakers who won’t accept the people’s will.
In the end, under what voters just passed, abortion will stay legal in Ohio up to, at very least, between let’s say 22 and 26 weeks. What will not happen is any of the insane fear-mongering nonsense about parental rights and gender-affirming health care opponents tried to scare Ohio voters into believing.
If Ohio Republican politicians go the amendment route, their anti-abortion amendment may well be appearing in 2024 along with a bipartisan anti-gerrymandering amendment to kick politicians out of the redistricting process in favor of a citizen-led commission.
Democracy is messy, Ohio, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, but always precious. We decide. This is our self-government of the people, by the people, for the people. Politicians are our public servants, nothing more, nothing less. Holding them accountable for misrepresentation is the essence of a longtime great American spirit, and holding our politicians accountable never ends.
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