Ohio Republican Party committee votes to support amendment change, oppose abortion rights
The Ohio Republican Party central committee gathered in a downtown Columbus ballroom Friday morning. Ahead of the pledge of the allegiance, one committee member urged her fellows not to pause before “under god.”
The members dutifully took her advice; some even ad-libbed “born and unborn” at the end. Party chairman Alex Triantafilou joked “we take orders very well,” and voiced hopes it might be a harbinger of things to come.
The impromptu inclusion of abortion policy in the pledge of allegiance certainly foreshadowed the day’s debate. As for members falling in line though, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Born and unborn
The first significant issue party members considered was a resolution in opposition to a reproductive rights amendment. The proposal could appear on November’s ballot. Gloria Martin argued “we have to fight this ballot initiative tooth and nail,” and opposing the measure would be “the most important decision of our term.”
“It’s our duty,” she said, “to take a stand as Republicans, as God-fearing Americans as decent people who say no to a constitutional amendment that will protect abortionists.”
Melanie Leneghan took aim at Ohio House Republicans, including Speaker Jason Stephens, who have dragged their feet on advancing a ballot issue requiring a 60% supermajority for future constitutional amendments.
The proposal, which lawmakers initially tried to get on May’s primary ballot, is seen by supporters as a way to hurt the abortion rights amendment’s chances by imposing a higher threshold for passage.
“We needed to get that on the ballot,” she argued. “We had 22 Republicans, who the Republican voters of this state elected to do the work of the Republican Party, and promote our policies, who instead chose behind closed to partner with Democrats, lie to the rest of their caucus and kill the bill.”
The resolution passed unanimously.
Later that afternoon, the committee took up a resolution imploring lawmakers to get the supermajority measure on the ballot and to pass another bill establishing an August special election.
Supporters want to ensure the supermajority proposal gets a vote in August before the abortion amendment goes to voters. Otherwise, they’d get no benefit from the higher threshold. The plan’s sponsors initially argued the effort had nothing to do with abortion. Any pretense to that effect is gone.
The snag is lawmakers got rid of August elections just a few months ago. So they’d first need to pass legislation restoring them, and the clock is ticking. The deadline to get something on an August ballot is May 10.
“I think it’s absolutely pathetic that we are standing here five days before the deadline,” Barbara Holwadel complained. She argued they wouldn’t be in such dire straits if not for Speaker Stephens and his Republican supporters.
“The 22 who voted with the Democrats,” she described, “which in my opinion is unforgivable.”
Leneghan called those reluctant Republicans “The blue 22.”
“Even though this body voted to censure them, they basically flipped us off and said, we’re gonna continue on this road of hellfire setting this party back 40 years, and we don’t care what you say or what you do, we’re killing this bill.”
The resolution directs lawmakers to approve the Senate legislation, which is only waiting on a House floor vote. The emphasis on SJR 2 came at the recommendation of the measure’s sponsor.
David Glass represents the central committee district that covers Speaker Stephens’ House district. Regardless of the outcome, he argued Stephens must hold a vote.
“If we don’t have the votes, let’s see which legislators are against this motion,” he said.
Before voting to endorse the supermajority ballot measure, though, Republicans got bogged down in familiar territory.
Last year in a different hotel ballroom, with a different party chair, a splinter of party members furiously opposed an endorsement of incumbent statewide GOP candidates. The insurgents insisted GOP primary voters should decide who to back without the party putting a thumb on the scale.
Friday, the party weighed a recommendation to endorse a slate of 2024 Supreme Court candidates. That slate included Justice Joe Deters, and supreme court candidates Hamilton County common pleas judge Megan Shanahan and Frankin County common pleas judge Daniel Hawkins.
Some committee members pushed to require a two-thirds vote before endorsing Shanahan and Hawkins because they aren’t incumbents. Others expressed misgivings about Deters, noting he hadn’t made an effort to earn their endorsement.
One member argued Deters had no judicial experience when Gov. Mike DeWine appointed him.
“If Joe Deters ends up on that slate card,” they said, “I’m going to have to vote the whole thing down.”
Others, like Orlando Sonza, insisted if they don’t fall behind Democrats, the party needed to act.
“No matter how we do we do that,” he said. “Pick your top three and we go from there, but we must endorse today — we absolutely have to.”
Despite the handwringing about pre-primary endorsements or Justice Deters in particular, the committee approved the judicial endorsements with ease.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.