By The Associated Press
Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 28, 2023.
Editorial: Brazen attack on Ohioans’ 111-year-old voting rights draws deserved rebuke from ex-governors
In one of the most shameless power grabs in Ohio history, Statehouse Republicans — evidently, including Gov. Mike DeWine — are aiming to make it harder for Ohio voters to amend the state’s constitution.
Object: To derail an amendment, to be proposed by voter petition, that would guarantee the right of women to seek an abortion in Ohio.
Even worse, GOP legislative leaders seek to force their proposed constitutional change — requiring a 60% margin to ratify, compared to the simple majority in effect since 1912, and doubly difficult signature-gathering requirements to even get a citizen initiative on the ballot — onto a traditionally low-turnout August election. That would be the same kind of August election they recently abolished as too expensive and unrepresentative.
Last year’s Aug. 2 special election had an 8% voter turnout. The Nov. 8 election drew more than 52% of Ohio voters.
No wonder powerful precedents in law and practice have previously combined to put major constitutional changes before Ohio voters in the fall, when elections draw the most voters.
And this would be a consequential change — impacting Ohioans’ longstanding rights to propose and pass constitutional amendments as a brake against legislative corruption.
Yet, as with so much associated with this GOP legislative push to restrain Ohioans’ longstanding rights, past precedents don’t matter. The voters’ will doesn’t matter. And a law passed just months ago doesn’t matter.
Even Gov. DeWine, serving in what is likely his last term in office after a distinguished political career, and whose veto pen could derail this effort to silence the people via a low-turnout Aug. 8 election, shamefully has said he will not do so. He pledged this week to sign the special-election legislation, overriding a law eliminating such elections (except for fiscal emergencies) that took effect only 21 days ago.
The legislature’s current bid to crimp Ohio voters’ rights is so outrageous that four former governors — Republicans Bob Taft and John R. Kasich, and Democrats Richard F. Celeste and Ted Strickland — have all condemned it.
Why the 60% margin? Lawmakers assess — likely correctly — that a majority of Ohioans would ratify a reproductive rights amendment by a simple majority if given the opportunity to do so in November. But in states whose voters have constitutionally protected abortion, the range of “yes” votes for those rights has often been less than 60%.
Notably, these Statehouse proposals target citizen-initiated constitutional amendments with new signature-gathering requirements that could double the difficulty and cost of getting such amendments on the ballot. The required percentage of signatures must be gathered in all 88 counties, rather than 44 now, and a ten-day “cure” period to fix any signature shortfalls would be eliminated.
The state Senate, run 26-7 by Republicans, has already passed its proposed 60%-threshold amendment, which calls for an Aug. 8 special election to consider it. The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 2, and a companion bill to reinstate an August election, Senate Bill 92, are pending in the Ohio House.
The House is where the shell-game possibilities are especially ripe. The Ohio Constitution requires three-fifths of the members respectively elected to the Senate and House to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot — 20 (of 33) senators, and 60 (of 99) representatives.
In theory, Republicans hold 67 of the House’s seats. But because of a GOP caucus split between House Speaker Jason Stephens and a faction loyal to Rep. Derek Merrin, two GOP House seats remain vacant, leaving the 99-seat House with a net of 97 members.
By some interpretations, that could let the House place the proposed amendment on the ballot with 59 votes instead of (the previously assumed) requirement of 60 votes. That may sound like trivia but for two things: First, the House vote on the amendment is expected to be exceedingly close. Second, the GOP-run Supreme Court would likely have to decide the question — and if past is precedent, the court would let the House do whatever the House wants.
It’s nearly impossible to overstate how blatant these antics are. In effect, a majority of the state Senate, and likely but not certainly, a majority of Ohio’s House, aims to signal its contempt for the state’s voters by trying to rig rejection at the polls of the abortion-rights proposal as well as a likely 2024 anti-gerrymandering plan. This is politics at its grubbiest. Were its operatives capable of being ashamed, they should be.
Toledo Blade. April 26, 2023.
Editorial: Transparency award joke
Auditor of State Keith Faber can’t make up his mind on the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio.
This month the auditor honored STRS with the Highest Achievement in Open and Transparent Government Award. It is the third year in a row that Mr. Faber has given STRS his highest rating for transparency.
But in his Dec. 29 Special Investigations Unit probe of STRS (“No illegal activity in the $90B Ohio teacher retirement fund, special audit finds,” Dec. 29) Mr. Faber made lack of transparency in the alternative investment portfolio an issue of concern. The auditor said STRS should “strive for transparency” and recommended ending the practice of classifying dark market investments as “trade secrets.”
Transparency is also a huge issue regarding the highly controversial payment of bonuses to STRS investment staff. Mr. Faber recommended that the basis for bonus calculation and whether they should be paid at all, is ripe for review by the General Assembly. Incredibly, next month the STRS Board is set to vote on a 30-percent increase in the investment staff bonus budget.
Investment expert Richard Ennis wrote in a March 4 Saturday Essay (“STRS investment performance measure flawed”) that STRS bonus benchmarks are the antithesis of transparent by design.
“The convention among large public pension funds like Ohio STRS is for the staff and consultant to work together to contrive a benchmark that no one else could reproduce if their life depended on it: one that is opaque, complex, and purely subjective; one that is tweaked regularly by the staff and/or consultant; one that demonstrably understates a fair return for the risk assumed; and one that invariably gives the misleading impression that the fund is outperforming passive management — adding value — when it is not. That, unfortunately, is today’s convention.”
There is little incentive for STRS or the General Assembly to seriously consider Mr. Faber’s concerns and recommendations on transparency when he hands STRS an award for the highest achievement in open government. The damage is compounded when a purposefully complex benchmark is used to pay six-figure bonuses to investment staff for performance that lags a market index. The December audit concluded STRS would have improved results by a stunning $90 billion by using a low cost S&P 500 index.
Mr. Faber’s transparency award is worse than undeserved.
It crosses the line to harmful by validating the myth that STRS is open and transparent, when in reality it is still closed and self-dealing.
Youngstown Vindicator. April 27, 2023.
Editorial: Education and economy links good for Ohio
Politicians are masters of the “flattery will get you everywhere” strategy. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is no exception. Still, it was nice to hear his take on the good things happening here during his visit to the Buckeye State last week.
“What I saw here today is something that I want to bottle up and I want to spread across the country,” Cardona said, according to a report by the Ohio Capital Journal. “When we talk about investing in America, this is what we’re talking about.”
Rehearsed or not, there is truth in Cardona’s assessment that Ohio is doing important things by linking education to economic development.
“We’re talking about investing in programs that provide bridges for K-12 students to go into two-year community colleges, to go visit the workforce and be employed, but also go back to four-year schools to get advanced degrees,” Cardona said. “They’re doing that exceptionally well here.”
He’s right. And he was correct to point out the need to spread that message, as students and parents may still need help adjusting their thinking on education and employment.
“The more we do that proactive outreach … the more they’re going to understand how this is not only good for the economy, but this is good for families, this is good for kids,” he said.
That means it’s good for Ohio. Lawmakers, public officials, educators and employers must take note. The choice to work together and move forward is making a difference.
Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. April 28, 2023.
Editorial: DeWine is being awfully deferential to GOP lawmakers
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine might as well mount his veto pen over the fireplace because he sounds as if he won’t need it much anymore.
At least that was one possible takeaway from a comment DeWine, a Republican, made when asked whether he would veto bills working their way through the Ohio General Assembly to revive August special elections to allow for votes on amendments to the Ohio Constitution.
“I think that if both houses approve this, that’s the direction they want to go, I’m going to sign it,” he said Monday. “I think that there is some advantage to having these matters over with and August will do that.”
Well, if the Republican-dominated Ohio Senate and House agree on something, who is DeWine to argue?
The Plain Dealer reported Monday that DeWine dodged a slew of questions from reporters seeking his rationale for supporting the idea. He might as well have dropped a smoke bomb and vanished for all the explanation he was willing to provide.
“I’m done,” the governor said. The Plain Dealer reported that he was “chuckling as he stepped away.” He also said he wanted to focus on mental health and the state budget.
We’re sure he did, but the matter DeWine didn’t want to talk about is serious business.
Republican lawmakers want to bring back August special elections — they were largely eliminated in a bill DeWine signed into law a few months back — for a very specific reason. Their goal is to win voter approval of an amendment that would make amending the state Constitution harder, including by raising the threshold for passage of future amendments from 50 percent plus one to 60 percent.
It’s an anti-democratic measure that Republicans are hoping will appeal to anti-abortion voters, bringing them out in droves to pass it in what is usually a low-turnout election in the dog days of summer. The cost of such an election could run north of $20 million.
Republicans are in a hurry because another proposed constitutional amendment, which would protect reproductive freedom in Ohio, including abortion access, will likely appear on the November ballot. Other amendments Republicans oppose, including reform of redistricting in the wake of their unconstitutional gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts, also loom in coming years.
The GOP’s immediate concern, however, is stopping passage of the abortion-rights amendment. Republicans are hoping that if they’re successful in August, pro-choice voters won’t be able to make it over the higher threshold in November.
If the GOP plan fails, there’s a good chance the abortion-rights amendment will pass. A Baldwin-Wallace University Community Research Institute poll, released in October, found that 59.1 percent of the Ohio voters polled favored an amendment to make abortion a fundamental right. That’s compared to 26.7 percent who would oppose such an amendment.
Under the current rules, those are not good odds for Republicans, most of whom are keen on making it all but impossible to obtain an abortion in the Buckeye State.
DeWine’s comment about deferring to the will of the legislature aside, we don’t truly believe he intends to sit by the fire like a former hunter gazing at his rifle mounted above the mantle and recalling the good old days.
No, DeWine has used his veto power before and will likely use it again.
He doesn’t want to exercise it regarding August special elections because he’s staunchly pro-life. He probably wants the Constitution to be harder to amend to prevent passage of the proposed abortion-rights amendment.
If that’s the case, he should just say so.
Some Republicans, such as Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, have been up-front about their intentions to make protecting abortion rights harder.
Others have engaged in, let’s say, some rhetorical sleight of hand.
The explanation from those Republicans, such as Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, is that the Constitution needs to be harder to amend to protect it from “out-of-state” special interests.
As we’ve noted before, Ohio voters, not special interests, are the ones who ultimately decide whether a proposed constitutional amendment should pass.
The proper way to amend the state Constitution, however, is not by trying to slip through a consequential change when few voters are paying attention.
Politicians should defer to the will of the voters, not each other.