Toledo Blade: Bring it on

The Ohio Gen­eral As­sem­bly has put on the bal­lot for Au­gust as Is­sue 1 a ref­er­en­dum that, if passed, would weaken the peo­ple’s power to con­trol their gov­ern­ment.

Op­po­nents of the pro­posal have filed a suit in the Ohio Supreme Court try­ing to block the planned Au­gust elec­tion as il­le­gal.

How­ever, it is un­likely that the Re­pub­li­cans in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly are go­ing to be de­terred from their goal to have an elec­tion in Au­gust, so Ohio­ans should be­gin plan­ning to de­feat this un­wise con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment by turn­ing out in large num­bers to vote.

We say, bring it on.

Who’s in charge in Ohio? The Re­pub­li­can su­per-ma­jor­ity in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, sup­ported by Gov. Mike DeWine and Sec­re­tary of State Frank LaRose, want to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the power of cit­i­zens by re­quir­ing 60 per­cent of the vote to amend the con­sti­tu­tion. For the past 111 years Ohio cit­i­zens have been em­pow­ered to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion through bal­lot is­sues with a 50 per­cent-plus-one re­quire­ment. It’s the em­bod­i­ment of Ohio’s con­sti­tu­tional lan­guage as­sert­ing all po­lit­i­cal power is in­her­ent in the peo­ple.

That long­stand­ing gov­ern­ing prem­ise is to be tested in an Aug. 8 elec­tion, picked in the cyn­i­cal as­sump­tion that Ohio­ans will be too pre­oc­cu­pied with sum­mer va­ca­tions to par­tic­i­pate in the most im­por­tant elec­tion of this cen­tury. The GOP only a year ago abol­ished the Au­gust elec­tion as a waste of money be­cause of his­tor­i­cal low turn­out.

Now it hopes low turn­out will be the key to en­act­ing a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment so as to head off pas­sage of an abor­tion rights amend­ment through a bal­lot is­sue in No­vem­ber. The be­lief is that a pro-abor­tion rights amend­ment might get a sim­ple ma­jor­ity but not 60 per­cent. That same think­ing has been joined by other spe­cial in­ter­ests who fear pop­u­list bal­lot amend­ments.

The Ohio Cham­ber of Com­merce, Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Inde­pen­dent Busi­ness, The Ohio Ho­tel and Lodg­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, and the Ohio Res­tau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion all fear a min­i­mum-wage bal­lot amend­ment. The Buck­eye Fire­arms As­so­ci­a­tion fears that fed-up cit­i­zens may im­pose re­stric­tions on as­sault weap­ons. Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers fear Ohio vot­ers will try to im­pose a cit­i­zen-con­trolled re­dis­trict­ing pro­cess through a bal­lot is­sue.

The im­me­di­ate fight is over abor­tion pol­icy, and some will equate a “no” vote in the Au­gust elec­tion as be­ing pro-abor­tion rights. The real is­sue be­ing de­cided is whose voice ul­ti­mately steers Ohio’s ship of state, the peo­ple or the pol­i­ti­cians.

State­house Re­pub­li­cans claim to be mo­ti­vated by the need to pro­tect the pro­cess from “spe­cial in­ter­ests.”

That is a shame­less de­cep­tion from pol­i­ti­cians who too of­ten be­come pup­pets for the spe­cial in­ter­ests who fund their cam­paigns.

In some con­texts, a su­per­ma­jor­ity is ap­pro­pri­ate and has served this na­tion well, as for ex­am­ple when the leg­is­la­ture over­rides a gov­er­nor’s veto or Con­gress con­firms a justice to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion has a fa­mously high bar for a new amend­ment, re­quir­ing a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, fol­lowed by rat­i­fi­ca­tion of three-fourths of the states.

But as Pres­i­dent The­odore Roosevelt — a Re­pub­li­can — pointed out in his 1912 speech to the Ohio Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion which es­tab­lished the right of cit­i­zen-ini­ti­ated amend­ments, checks and bal­ances only ap­ply to the dif­fer­ent branches of gov­ern­ment to whom the peo­ple have del­egated cer­tain por­tions of their power.

“The power is the peo­ple’s and only the peo­ple’s.”

Mr. Roosevelt’s words in sup­port of es­tab­lish­ing cit­i­zen-ini­ti­ated law were pre­scient: “I pro­test against any the­ory that would make the con­sti­tu­tion a means of thwart­ing in­stead of se­cur­ing the ab­so­lute right of the peo­ple to rule them­selves.”

Since cit­i­zens took the right to amend the state con­sti­tu­tion they have en­acted law when the Gen­eral As­sem­bly failed to act and re­pealed law when the leg­is­la­ture over­stepped pub­lic opin­ion.

There is al­ready a com­pli­cated pro­cess in place in Ohio. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of sig­na­tures rep­re­sent­ing at least 44 coun­ties have to be col­lected and ver­i­fied. The lan­guage of the pro­posed amend­ment goes through care­ful le­gal re­view by the at­tor­ney gen­eral and the state bal­lot board.

These pro­cesses frus­trate many pro­posed bal­lot amend­ment drives. And even when they make it to the bal­lot, pas­sage is far from guar­an­teed. Since 1912 there have been just 71 bal­lot is­sues and only 19 passed.

Now law­mak­ers want to raise the bar to re­quire a min­i­mum num­ber of sig­na­tures in all 88 coun­ties, as if Ohio vot­ers were abus­ing the elec­toral pro­cess.

There may be a case to be made for set­ting the bar for an Ohio con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment higher than it is now, but it should be af­ter a bi­par­ti­san con­ver­sa­tion and then ad­dressed in an elec­tion with a guar­an­teed high turn­out.

The cyn­i­cal mo­tives that have brought this elec­tion into ex­is­tence ren­der it ad­vis­able for de­feat.

The only way to do that is for cit­i­zens to stand up for their rights to de­ter­mine their own fu­ture and use the many op­por­tu­ni­ties to vote in the com­ing elec­tion.

Early vot­ing lasts 28 days, and vot­ing by mail is an op­tion avail­able to ev­ery reg­is­tered voter in Ohio.

The Aug. 8 elec­tion is an op­por­tu­nity to send a re­sound­ing mes­sage the Cap­i­tol needs to hear:

You work for us!