Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman attacking voters to uphold state GOP’s patriarchy
“This is not what democracy looks like,” said state Rep. Anita Somani, D-Dublin. The new lawmaker, a practicing Ob-Gyn, had just listened to testimony on a proposed resolution to change the constitutional amendment process in Ohio. The reaction of the Columbus Democrat, shared by many in the packed hearing room, was spot on.
The Ohio House proposal under debate (HJR 1) plainly subverts the ability of ordinary Ohioans to pass a grassroots constitutional amendment on anything. It arbitrarily raises the threshold for passage from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority. It also sets a new bar for signature-gathering to make an already Herculean task that much harder.
But that’s precisely the point of the measure: Undermine citizen-led ballot initiatives to discourage them altogether. The ruling party in Ohio does not want voters circumventing its extremism to enact popular policy. People power threatens political entrenchment, especially when the gap between what voters want and politicians deliver is wide.
It’s a chasm in Ohio. Public opinion on issues from common sense gun laws to abortion rights starkly conflicts with the playbook of right wing policymakers. But rather than persuade voters on the merits of their out-of-touch positions, the powerful prefer to neutralize dissent.
They raise the bar to change the constitution guaranteeing that citizen-initiated amendments never get off the ground let alone succeed at the ballot box. The bogus new standards being rammed through the legislature — that are next to impossible to meet — will effectively remove voters as a check on one party tyranny in the state.
That’s how the partisan demagogues (running Ohio into the ground) plan to erode our last best hope of passing broadly supported policies the “culture war” crowd won’t. But they will undercut the power of voters to exercise direct democracy, person to person, petition to election. They will upend the ballot initiative process Ohioans have used for a century if voters let them.
Ohio Republicans have introduced parallel resolutions in the state House and Senate to increase the approval rate needed to pass constitutional amendments. Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman is determined to get one of them through the General Assembly and onto a special election ballot before voters get a chance to codify abortion rights in the constitution with a citizen-initiated amendment in November.
The anti-choice legislator, arguably the most powerful politician in Ohio, makes no bones about his motivations for putting new barriers to constitutional ballot initiatives on the fast track.
“If we save 30,000 lives as a result of spending $20 million (on an August election lawmakers eliminated last session because of high cost and low turnout) I think that’s a great thing.”
The Lima Republican is certainly free to think and believe whatever he wants about abortion. But so are we the people. Huffman disagrees. He doesn’t trust what a majority of us think and believe about a woman’s right of self-determination.
He knows what happened in other GOP-dominated states, including neighboring Kentucky and solid red Kansas. When given the opportunity to vote what they believe about abortion rights, Republican and Democratic voters resoundingly picked choice over forced birth mandates. Huffman won’t take a chance on Ohio voters following suit.
That’s why he is leading the charge to stop abortion rights advocates from even attempting to amend the constitution through a ballot referendum. A groundswell of support is building for the citizen-launched initiative to enshrine reproductive freedoms in the state constitution.
Polls consistently show that most Ohioans would vote to protect abortion access within limits. The repercussions of Ohio’s abortion ban, temporarily suspended by a court, are painfully evident. The trauma of a pregnant 10-year-old rape victim from Columbus sparked national outrage when the child had to travel out of state to receive emergency medical care.
Extreme government edicts denying women and girls the right to make their own choices about life-altering decisions have been exposed in Ohio for what they are — insufferable and denigrating. But Huffman and his caucus of Christian right extremists have decreed abortion should be outlawed and voters should have no say in the matter.
The senate leader alone will determine what medical care women in Ohio may receive as second-class citizens under the yoke of GOP patriarchy. He will ignore voters’ wishes the same way he ignored voter-approved constitutional mandates and court orders to comply with the rule of law on redistricting reform.
Huffman will revert to form with dirty pool (just like redistricting) to kneecap citizens’ groups fighting to make fundamental rights constitutional law. A hastily introduced bill in the Ohio Senate slyly fashioned a loophole to allow August elections for statewide ballot issues — like the constitutional maneuver Huffman is spearheading to derail an abortion rights amendment.
That citizen-launched proposal would insert into the constitution the right of individuals to make their own reproductive decisions from contraception to fertility treatment to continuing or terminating a pregnancy. It’s about affirming choice. It’s also about not letting arrogant politicians change the rules to avert a majority vote on abortion rights.
“There is overwhelming opposition” to this underhanded legislation designed to sink grassroots ballot initiatives, said Dr. Somani. Dirty pool to retain power is not what democracy looks like.
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.