Groups To Defend Citizens' Power To Amend Ohio Constitution

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Foes of a proposal that would make it harder for citizens to amend Ohio's constitution vowed Tuesday to unleash the same broad activist coalition against it that delivered a scorching rebuke to a Republican-backed anti-union law last decade.

Opponents including the union-backed group We Are Ohio held a Statehouse news conference on Tuesday and criticized what Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose has dubbed the Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment as hypocritical, disturbing and “a slap in the face” to the people.

The Ohio Council of Churches, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Innovation Ohio and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative also were represented.

The joint resolution containing the proposal, sponsored by GOP state Rep. Brian Stewart, is scheduled for its first hearing Thursday.

It would place a constitutional amendment on 2023 ballots calling for requiring a 60% supermajority of voters to approve citizen-initiated amendments in the future. The same standard would not be applied to amendments advanced by the state Legislature, where the required supermajorities needed to make the ballot are controlled in both chambers by Republicans.

"As I look at this joint resolution, I see that there are a few people in this state who are determined to reject, and to stamp out, the voices of the rest of us, and we just cannot permit that to happen,” said the Rev. Amariah McIntosh, of the church council.

Opponents hope to quash the resolution before it leaves the Legislature, whose current session ends next month, rather than having to mount a campaign against it next year.

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said, ”“We’re trying to communicate to supporters of HJR 6 that a ‘yes’ campaign would be very difficult and very expensive, because we have the people on our side.”

Dennis Willard, of We Are Ohio, said that group will do what it must to see the measure defeated. He said a letter signed by 140 organizations opposed to the resolution was sent to LaRose and lawmakers Tuesday.

“We're just getting started,” said Willard. “We are only going to get bigger, stronger and more united.”

We Are Ohio led the 2011 charge against Senate Bill 5, an Ohio law signed by then-Republican Gov. John Kasich that would have baned public employee strikes and restricted collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers, state employees and others.

Marked by parades, demonstrations, sit-ins and and rallies across the state, the campaign ended in a 62%-38% vote to repeal the law. Kasich said he had heard voters and would regroup.

When he announced the supermajority proposal on Nov. 17, LaRose argued that requiring 60% of voters to amend Ohio’s constitution would be “a win for good government” and assure a broad base of support to make changes to the state’s founding document. He said that such a threshhold would assure bipartisan consensus and prevent special interest groups from buying their way in.

His effort comes as Republicans have been pushing back nationally against the citizen-led initiative process, which has allowed Democratic-aligned groups to force public votes on issues ranging from legalizing marijuana to expanding Medicaid to raising the minimum wage. A similar constitutional amendment failed in Arkansas on Nov. 8, while Arizona voters approved an amendment that will require future measures involving a tax to meet the 60% threshold.

In Ohio, increasing the vote margin for passing constitutional amendments comes as advocacy groups have been speaking openly about advancing measures to codify abortion rights and reform a redistricting system that failed to produce constitutional maps. Abortion rights measures passed in Kansas in August with 59% of the vote and in Michigan on Nov. 8 with not quite 57% of the vote.

The American Policy Roundtable, a conservative group that has promoted a host of successful amendments to Ohio's constitution — on subjects ranging from taxes to education policy to casino gambling to term limits — also opposes LaRose's proposal.

“The secretary’s proposal to the Legislature to amend the Constitution regarding constitutional amendments is more than short-sighted,” vice president Rob Walgate said in a statement. “Requiring a 60% voter supermajority to pass a ballot measure breaks the intention and balance of the Ohio Constitution, which has been working effectively since the early 1900′s. There is no citizen outcry for such a measure. This is strictly inside-baseball among the political elites in Columbus.”