Ohio Republicans ramp up their attack on democracy
Ohio voters protest MAGA attack on democracy. | Twitter

The Ohio House of Representatives, dominated by MAGA Republicans, rammed through a bill May 10, making it nearly impossible for Ohioans to directly amend the state constitution. They ran roughshod over massive public opposition, including protests that packed the state Capitol.

The State Senate, also under a GOP supermajority, passed a similar bill, and, once combined, the measure heads to Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who vowed to sign it. The legislation is the bitter fruit of extreme gerrymandering carried out by the MAGA Republicans, their contempt for the majority will and unaccountability to voters.

The bill, which passed 62-37, sets a special election for August 8 to amend the state Constitution, requiring a supermajority of 60% of voters to approve future constitutional amendments. For 111 years, Ohioans needed only 50% + 1 to pass an amendment. Democratic and Republican-dominated state governments abided by it until MAGA came along.

MAGA Republicans openly admit to rushing through the legislation to block a grassroots campaign to put a citizen-initiated abortion rights amendment on the November ballot, which a majority of Ohioans support according to polls, and future efforts for fair redistricting maps and winning other democratic rights.

GOP legislators silenced vocal opposition by booting onlookers from the gallery after they booed passage of an amendment to the bill and then briefly shut down the live video feed. But when legislators resumed debate, chants of protesters in the rotunda could still be heard in the chamber.

After the final vote, Democratic lawmakers held an impromptu protest on the floor chanting “one person one vote” and carrying signs saying “Freedom over Fascism.” They vowed to continue the fight.

The MAGA war on democracy may have awoken a sleeping giant. Nearly 250 grassroots organizations, labor unions, people of faith, reproductive rights, voting rights, and other groups, four former governors, including two GOP governors and five former Democratic and Republican attorney generals, and bi-partisan county election officials opposed the legislation.

Right wingers lobbied for bill

“Out-of-state special interests lobbied to create this August 8th special election, just so they can permanently rig Ohio’s Constitution in their favor, ending majority rule as we know it. It would destroy the sacred principle of “one person, one vote” by allowing a small group of voters to make decisions for everyone else. It’s a special election for special interests,” declared the Vote No in August Campaign.

Opponents blasted the bill as a MAGA Republican power grab, an attempt to enshrine permanent minority rule and eliminate the last instrument of direct democracy by which Ohio voters can check the power of an unaccountable legislature. They immediately launched a massive voter mobilization to defeat the amendment.

“The entire labor movement in Ohio stands in opposition to this attempt to circumvent voters. We will mobilize and defeat this attack and protect the sacred principle of one person, one vote and preserve majority rule in Ohio,” declared Ohio AFL-CIO president Tim Burga.

The bill’s passage was called a violation of Ohio law on two counts. Representatives from illegal legislative district maps twice struck down by the state supreme court voted for it. The August date violates a statute passed just five months ago by the same GOP legislature eliminating August special elections. But any legal challenges will end up before the state supreme court, now dominated by MAGA Republicans.

“For those not there, let me tell you how stomach churning it is to watch a group of politicians, seated in illegal districts they designed, attacking democracy so fiercely,” tweeted David Pepper, former Ohio Democratic Party chair. “Never stop fighting back. All of these hacks are unfit to lead. And represent nothing but a broken system.”

Republicans are cynically counting on a low voter turnout in the dead of summer to fatally cripple a major democratic right. Equally cynically, the August vote to impose a 60% supermajority will only need a 50% + 1 majority to pass.

Ohio MAGA Republicans, operating in one of the country’s most gerrymandered and corrupt legislatures, have been running roughshod over democracy for years, passing repressive legislation creating a “laboratory of autocracy” and thumbing their noses at the courts. Meanwhile, they are embroiled in the largest bribery scandal in state history resulting in the $1.3 billion bailout of the nuclear operator First Energy.

“This will end majority rule in our state and snuff out the concept of one person, one vote. For over 111 years, the people have had the freedom to change their government,” said Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Columbus. “You’re taking power away from the people so you can give it to yourself.”

Russo blasted the blizzard of lies and hypocrisy Republicans used to hide their real motives, including the claim they were protecting the Constitution and democracy from outside interests. Republicans exhibited no shame when reports surfaced that Illinois billionaire Dick Uihlein, a major MAGA funder and backer of the January 6 insurrection, gave $1.1 million to the Save Our Constitution PAC, a dark money group behind the legislation.

“How stupid do you think the voters of Ohio are? You are afraid of your own party. Are you with the people of Ohio or extremists?” asked Russo.

SJR2 also requires a minimum of signatures to be collected in all 88 counties instead of the current 44. This setup favors wealthy interests, like Uihlein, who can easily fund the passage of amendments they want.

“Democracy will not die in Ohio without a fight. Ohioans protesting here are heroes,” declared Rep. Dontavius Jarrells, D-Columbus. “This bill is a clear attempt to shred our Constitution. It is undeniably undemocratic and a clear attempt at silencing the voices of those we all serve.”

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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.