In America, the people are sovereign. But gerrymandered Ohio GOP lawmakers won’t respect that

November 14, 2023 4:30 am

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

Members of Ohio’s domineering political party have forgotten that we the people are sovereign. The ultimate power in the state rests with us, not them. Ohioans overwhelmingly endorsed enshrining reproductive freedom in the state constitution and legalizing marijuana in a new state law. That should have been the last word on two popular statewide issues that drew passionate consent of the people last week.

But as soon as a healthy majority of Ohio voters said YES to abortion rights and legalized marijuana, Ohio Republicans (who campaigned against both Issue 1 and Issue 2) arrogantly announced they would not accept the results of the election and would disregard the will of the people. 

Before the new marijuana statute takes affect Dec. 7, Gov. Mike DeWine wants GOP lawmakers to hurry up and water down the new law with changes to specific provisions favored by roughly 57% of Ohio voters. He has also not ruled out messing with the resounding voter mandate for constitutionally protected abortion access in the state. 

Neither has Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, who allowed that the legislature has “multiple paths that we will explore” to chip away at the new abortions rights. Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, who simply ignored voter-approved amendments to end partisan gerrymandering, suggests he’ll do the same with the abortion rights amendment or devise ways to undermine, repeal, or replace what nearly 57% of the electorate demanded.   

In a truly unhinged press release posted on the Ohio House of Representatives website, a group of Ohio House Republicans ranted about “foreign interference”(??) tainting the outcome of Issue 1 and insisted the newly codified abortion rights in Ohio’s constitution do not invalidate the state’s six-week abortion ban because “no amendment can overturn the God given rights with which we were born.” 

House Republicans also promise “to prevent mischief by pro-abortion courts” by granting judicial powers to themselves through (probably unconstitutional) legislation. They envision cutting the courts out altogether on abortion law “so they cannot misapply Issue 1 for the benefit of the abortion industry.” The power grabbers are out of control.

Ohioans who got fired up over both Issue 1s in 2023 must stay fired up about their state government. The severely gerrymandered politicians in the Statehouse do not fear or respect voters — or they would not be subverting majority will so flagrantly on the heels of a hard-earned citizen victory for fundamental rights.    

State Republicans live in bubble that reinforces their autocratic impunity. “We can kind of do what we want,” the imperious Huffman famously smirked. But Ohio voters punctured that GOP bubble of invincibility in August and November. They saw through the BS pushed by extremists in two elections.

I could not be more proud — or relieved. Ohioans were clear-eyed about what state politicians were trying to pull on voters they grossly underestimated. But, it’s a funny thing. When core human rights are on the line, as they most definitely were in the summer and last week, the truth will come out and people will focus. 

Republicans tried every trick in the book to dupe voters into giving up their century-old right to direct democracy. They tried to deny Ohio women the right to bodily autonomy. An angry and motivated electorate called their bluff. If GOP overlords had succeeded in crushing the ability of citizens to circumvent their corruption — by raising the threshold for passing grassroots ballot initiatives to 60% — the emphatic YES of 57% of Ohioans to protect abortion access in the constitution would have been meaningless.   

The underhanded politics in play were apparent. People aren’t stupid. Ohioans pushed back against the fear-mongering and fabrication in urban, suburban, rural counties — and 18 counties that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020. They paid attention to the ruthlessness of one party rule and absolutely rejected it. 

Many were dismayed to see the state’s election chief work against voters when Secretary of State Frank LaRose spearheaded a partisan campaign in August to rob voters of a vital tool in self-government. When his subterfuge to squash the majority rights of Ohioans failed, LaRose schemed to torpedo the November abortion rights amendment by manipulating ballot language and omitting actual text to prejudice outcome.

After the right-wing majority on the Ohio Supreme Court basically blessed LaRose’s weighted wording, Republicans were off to the races with their patriarchal subjugation of women. There would be no middle ground. No compromise. No choice about whether or not to bear a child. 

In his closing pitch of deceit, the governor dangled the proposition that he might pursue a less draconian abortion ban than the one he signed into law, if Issue was defeated. Nobody believed him. 

To their everlasting credit, Ohio voters found their voice. They rediscovered their democratic resolve to be heard. Hundreds of thousands of them signed petitions, far more than needed, to get the proposal for abortion rights on the fall ballot. It was that important.  

But now, Ohio Republicans are counting on you to move on. Go back to apathy and indifference. Forget about what happened in 2023 when 2024 rolls around. Don’t you dare. Stay engaged and enraged, Ohio. The sovereignty of the people in a democracy is supreme but vigilance against government abuse of power is essential to keeping it.



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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.