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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Should earning 59% of Ohioans' votes be considered a loss? Frank LaRose thinks so

frank larose
Paul Vernon
/
AP
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose speaks to the Fairfield County Lincoln Republican Club in Pickerington, Ohio, Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Imagine for a moment that there was an Ohio constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot earlier this month that would have codified Roe v. Wade and restored women's right to abortion in Ohio.

And imagine, for the sake of argument, that 59% of Ohio voters cast ballots in favor of that amendment, while only 41% opposed it.

Mull this over as well — what if the 41% who voted "no" were declared to be on the winning side? Imagine if the amendment had failed with 59% of the vote in favor.

Yes, it is the very definition of Bizarro World.

Yet that is exactly what Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, wants to see happen.

He and his sidekick, State Rep. Brian Stewart of Pickaway County, are pushing something they call the "Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment," which would require that all state constitutional amendments brought to the ballot by petition initiative would require a 60% "yes" vote in order to be passed (50% plus one is the standard now).

They'd like to see this constitutional amendment fast-tracked through the Ohio General Assembly and placed on the May primary ballot, which will likely be a low turnout election and, thus, much easier to organize a "yes" vote. It would need a 60% vote in the Ohio House and Senate to be approved for the primary ballot.

Of course, the "Ohio Constitution Protection Act" would only require 50%-plus-one to pass.

"You can't change the constitution until you change the constitution," LaRose said at the Columbus press conference rolling out the 60% plan. (He declined an interview with WVXU on the topic.)

But, by getting the plan passed by a bare majority in May, you can move the goalposts for any future organizations going through the costly and time-consuming process of a petition initiative for a constitutional amendment.

And what are the potential constitutional amendments that could land on the Ohio ballot in the next few years?

  • Codifying abortion rights
  • Possibly raising Ohio's minimum wage
  • Substituting the current constitutional amendments on drawing legislative district lines with a process that takes elected officials out of the process.

All of them ideas which the vast majority of statehouse Republicans abhor.
You can, in fact, make it much easier to crush any idea that you do not agree with, which seems to be the only working plan the statehouse Republicans have these days.

LaRose said the proposed amendment is "about making the Ohio constitution less susceptible to special interests."

"Special interests" is the LaRose-Stewart mantra. "Special interests" — unnamed by the two Republicans — must be stopped before they shove more dangerous ideas down the throats of Ohio voters who, quite often, side with the "special interests."

In other words, LaRose wants to protect Ohio voters from themselves.

Desiree Tims, president and CEO of Innovation Ohio, a progressive policy group, said the LaRose-Stewart proposal "weakens the power of Ohio citizens."

"Columbus politicians didn’t like it when Ohio voters of all parties used ballot measures to create term limits, prevent gerrymandering, or challenge federal encroachment on our individual health care freedoms," Tims said. “Now, instead of a majority of Ohio voters deciding what’s best for our state, this ridiculous proposed alteration to our constitution would allow just 41% of voters to block what the majority wants. In Ohio, the people should rule, not lobbyists and politicians."

Tims' organization isn't the only one against the idea. So is the League of Women Voters of Ohio, as is The American Policy Roundtable, which tends to advocate for more conservative-leaning issues.

"We're fortunate as Ohioans to have a say in what we put in there or what we remove in there. And we believe in protecting that right," Rob Walgate, vice president of The American Policy Roundtable, told the Ohio Statehouse News Bureau.

Walgate’s group has been pushing for a different change to constitutional amendments — requiring ballot issues to only appear in the fall, during even-numbered year elections. Those tend to get the largest turnout of voters.

In his press conference, LaRose rattled off the names of nine states that already have some form of "super-majority" for passage of constitutional amendments, including blue states like Massachusetts and Illinois.

Raise your hand if, when you were a kid, you tried to get your mother to let you do something weird by saying that all your friends were doing it. And Mom responding with, Would you jump off a cliff if all your friends did it?"

Everybody? Fine. You may lower your hands.

There were a number of disingenuous arguments made in the LaRose-Stewart press conference, but this one by the secretary of state takes the cake: "If you don't think your idea is popular enough to muster support of 60% of the people, then maybe you should reconsider bringing it to a vote."

Well, maybe. But, Mr. Secretary, shouldn't they have a chance to find out how popular their ideas are?                                                                            

My friend and colleague, Darrel Rowland of WSYX TV, found that this 60% threshold for passage would have stopped only two constitutional amendments on the ballot in Ohio over the past 65 years — increasing the minimum wage in 2006 and the casino gambling issues in 2009.

Still, LaRose and Stewart may get their way. Their constitutional amendment could be put on the May primary ballot without a single Democratic vote, given the Republican supermajority in the Ohio General Assembly.

If they do, once again, Ohio Republicans will have to try to sell a solution without a problem. They seem to specialize in that lately.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.