To market members of the Grand Old Party as money-saving, by-the-book, principled conservatives must be a Herculean task in Ohio. Especially after state Republican officials blew a giant hole in their party brand with an election held for no good reason last Tuesday. Their part deux primary — that nobody knew about — destroyed any trademark concept that the Ohio GOP gives a damn about the rule of law, fiscal responsibility or election integrity.
Ohio’s second primary election on Aug. 2 was a colossal waste of taxpayer money for a vote on unconstitutional Statehouse districts designed to give unfair advantage to Republicans over Democrats in rigged elections. Check, check and check. Rather than obey the law and draw fair state legislative lines to reflect recent population changes, Republicans did the opposite.
They skewed the critical midterm elections in their favor with gerrymandered districts maps. Mission accomplished. The electoral deck is stacked for 2022. The GOP-controlled legislature and Republican-dominant redistricting commission chose not to comply with the Ohio Constitution as amended by two overwhelming referendums approved by Ohio voters.
The partisans broke the law to win by cheating. Republican commissioners on the redistricting panel — including Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and (gerrymandering kingpin) state Senate president Matt Huffman — voted for unfair district maps they expected would be struck down as unconstitutional. Which happened. FIVE times. Republican-serving state House and Senate maps were consistently rejected as unlawful by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Nothing stopped DeWine, LaRose, Huffman, et al., from rolling up their sleeves to draw the impartial district boundaries required by law months ahead of the first Ohio primary on May 3. But they chose not to perform their constitutional duty. Instead, they deliberately dragged the whole thing out for a year to ensure a default to ballot deadlines.
Ohio Republicans still could have delayed the spring primary until redistricting maps met the mandated bar of fairness and equitable voter representation. But again, they chose not to and ran with a partial ballot. They opted for two separate primaries using two separate (and illegal) district maps primed to produce a Republican wave for one election.
The GOP slow-walking and court-defying exploits were strategically planned to bypass public scrutiny. Republican officials knew ordinary Ohioans weren’t keeping score of all their shenanigans. Voters checked out at chaos. Apathy and confusion kept them away in May when primary turnout in the state was the third lowest on record. The August primary, at the height of summer vacations and back-to-school planning, beat that mark by a mile.
Less than 8% of the voting eligible population in the state showed up for an unnecessary and enormously costly election that went largely unnoticed. Poll workers sat for hours in empty voting precincts watching the clock. The extra primary to pick down ballot races missing from the May election didn’t motivate many citizens to bother. Voters had better wise up to the power of state legislators to influence quality of life in Ohio and call the shots on most of the critical issues facing Ohioans from abortion rights to redistricting.
The GOP supermajority in the General Assembly is responsible for holding the throwaway election and spending $25 million to do what didn’t need to be done. Our hard-earned taxes were squandered like chump change by game-playing Ohio Republicans leading the legislature and controlling the state’s redistricting process. While the rest of us are pinching pennies to pay more for gas, housing and food on the same incomes, the “fiscally conservative” party in charge is burning through millions in public money to benefit itself.
We are paying the price, both literally and figuratively, for unaccountable, law-breaking political leadership running the state as a personal fiefdom, not a constitutional republic. After egregious gerrymandering denied thousands of Ohioans a meaningful vote for a decade, we voted to demand fairer district maps by law following the 2020 census. We didn’t figure the governor, chief elections officer and top legislative bosses, among other complicit Republicans, would sabotage a legal injunction for reform so completely and at such expense.
But, thanks to imperious members of the Grand Old Party who embrace authoritarianism as an entitlement in Ohio, voters going to the polls in the fall will choose state and federal representatives from lopsided partisan districts tossed out by the supreme court as lawless. The outrage sanctioned by state Republican officials to retain dominance is alarming in its audacity.
But the bill has come due for those who throw tax money down the drain, thumb their noses at the rule of law — and the voters they ostensibly represent — and degrade Ohio democracy to a zero-sum game they alone control.
Ohioans can collect damages on Nov. 8 or not. It’s on us. This pivotal midterm election for the ages will either pull the state back from the abyss or let it careen wildly downhill.
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.
This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.
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