The fight over election results in the 98th Ohio House District, in Holmes and Tuscarawas counties, is not over, but it’s not looking good for Democratic challenger Josh O’Farrell. He trails Republican incumbent Al Landis by eight votes.
This week, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor denied a request by O’Farrell for a hand count or inspection of absentee and provisional ballots in 13 Tuscarawas County precincts.
More evidence will be submitted. Ultimately, the case will be decided by the Ohio House, something that has not happened since 1972. Because the House is controlled by Republicans, it’s not too hard to guess that the result will be another term for Landis.
The case has drawn unusual attention because a Landis victory would give Republicans a supermajority of 60 votes in the Ohio House, enough to override a veto or place an issue on the statewide ballot. Republicans already have a supermajority in the Senate, where they control 23 votes.
The ability to override a veto isn’t such a big deal because John Kasich, a Republican, sits in the governor’s office, but being able to take an issue to the ballot without a single Democratic vote could be.
A single Democratic vote in 2011 blocked Republicans from placing a constitutional amendment exempting Ohio from federal health-care mandates on the ballot. Instead, a much more difficult petition drive had to be organized. (The issue passed, but failed to stop the Affordable Care Act, its intended target.)
Democrats fear the possibility of a right-to-work initiative. While Gov. John Kasich has said right-to-work isn’t a priority, he hasn’t ruled it out, either. When he and Republican legislative leaders were pressed on the issue at a year-end news conference, Kasich responded, “Next question.”
Reaching the supermajority threshold required the GOP to pick up only one additional seat. Still, reaching the goal reinforces how isolated Democrats have become in important policy debates.
That can skew legislative priorities toward hot-button issues that appeal to the far right. In the past legislative session, for example, more than a dozen bills were introduced to weaken the state’s gun laws.
Democrats and their allies do retain a powerful tool — the referendum — to fight against Republican excesses, as they did after passage of Senate Bill 5.
The trouble is, a successful referendum campaign diverts an enormous amount of time, energy and money from other efforts, so it must be used sparingly.
Ohio’s cyclical style of politics used to act as a brake on partisan excesses, the majority party restrained by the realization that it was soon likely to be in the minority. At the legislative level, decades of Republican gerrymandering have eroded that sense of restraint, and even encouraged excess, by putting GOP lawmakers in districts so lopsided that what they really fear are primary challengers from the far right.
The Republican supermajority in the Ohio House serves as a reminder of how skewed the playing field has become, gerrymandered districts distorting the will of the voters.
Democratic candidates for Ohio House seats gained, in total, some 56,000 more votes than Republicans, but won only 39 seats.
Late last year, the Senate, with strong bipartisan support, passed a resolution to place an amendment on the ballot that would establish a bipartisan redistricting process. The House did not have time to act, so the measure must be reintroduced this legislative session, a test for Speaker Bill Batchelder and his caucus.
House Republicans have sent signals of their willingness to work with Democrats. Summoning the will to repair fundamental flaws in the way Ohio chooses its legislative and congressional representatives would go a long way toward meeting that goal.
Unfortunately, supermajorities are becoming more common across the country, the product of gerrymandered districts and population movements tending to make red states redder and blue states bluer.
Half of state legislatures now have veto-proof majorities, most of them Republican, up from 13 four years ago, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The result is a fragmented, highly partisan political system, making compromise in Congress even more difficult than it has already become, representatives driven toward the extremes by the political realities back home.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at slhoffmanthebeaconjournal.com.
2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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