Ohio lawmakers square off on Issue 1 in televised statewide debate
Two state lawmakers on opposite sides of the proposed constitutional amendment to make future amendments took their arguments to the airwaves in a statewide debate Thursday night.
Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) didn’t pull out any big zingers out during the half-hour debate.
Hoops said lawmakers have been looking at the issue of making it more difficult to amend the constitution for more than a decade.
“What we were seeing was outside groups coming in and looking at how can we change the constitution by putting things on the ballot,” Hoops said.
Issue 1 backers such as Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose have connected the need for the higher threshold to a reproductive rights and abortion access amendment likely to appear on the November ballot. However, Hoops didn’t mention that amendment as the reason why he and his fellow Republican lawmakers voted to put this issue on a August special election ballot, just months after they passed a Republican-backed bill to do away with most August elections.
But Russo said it's clear the abortion amendment is why Republicans brought Issue 1 before voters now. Russo said the 60% threshold is “conveniently more than where the abortion amendment polls, which is at 59%."
Hoops said Issue 1 is not about keeping citizen-led initiatives from being successful.
“Issue 1 will not keep the constitution from being changed. It’s just that in order to change it, you have to have at least 60% of the vote of the people,” Hoops said.
But Russo noted another part of Issue 1 that won’t apply to November but will affect amendments in the future involves changes to the petition gathering process. Citizens who want to put a constitutional amendment before voters have to collect petitions from 5% of the total number of voters in the last gubernatorial election in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Under Issue 1, petitioners would have to collect signatures from all 88 counties.
“Effectively what that does is allow one single county to veto the other 87 counties if that threshold is not met,” Russo said.
And Russo said passage of Issue 1 would insure only future amendments would get to the ballot only through state lawmakers, who will still be able to bypass the petition process, or special interest groups with deep pockets who can afford to undertake expensive petition gathering efforts.
“This effort now goes well beyond simply raising the threshold," Russo said. "It also fundamentally changes the ability of citizens to do these citizen-led initiatives and it makes it nearly impossible so that only special interests with large funding can put these issues before voters."
Early voting is underway. Ohioans can vote by mail or in person at early voting centers in their counties until Aug. 6. Turnout for August elections is generally low - a reason cited for the law that got rid of most August special elections. But there have been lines at early voting centers and large numbers of absentee ballot requests in counties throughout the state.