Issue 1 supporters, opponents debate merits of limiting changes to the constitution

Credit: Courtesy- WDTN-TV

Credit: Courtesy- WDTN-TV

High-profile supporters and opponents of Issue 1 spent an hour Tuesday night debating their side of the sole issue on the Aug. 8 ballot, a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for Ohioans to amend the state constitution in the future.

The debate pitted Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis against Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, and former state representative and longtime Columbus Dispatch editor Mike Curtin.

State lawmakers authored and passed Issue 1 with nearly unanimous Republican support. The measure seeks to require a 60% vote threshold to pass all future constitutional amendments, including the abortion-rights amendment on the ballot this November.

Issue 1 would also significantly increase the signature-gathering requirements for citizens to get a proposal on the ballot.

LaRose in the debate characterized Issue 1 as about “protecting the Ohio Constitution (from) what may be to come.”

LaRose argued that, with Ohio’s laws on amendments as they are, special interests can target the state and use the constitution as an effective means to change the state’s fundamental law. He cited his concerns with potential amendments on minimum wage, livestock standards of care, gun control and abortion access.

“I think a ‘Yes’ vote on Issue 1 is one of the most consequential votes that an Ohioan can cast, maybe this decade, maybe in their lifetime,” LaRose told reporters after the debate.

Russo characterized LaRose’s concerns about the Ohio Constitution’s vulnerability as unfounded.

“I think voters have been very judicious with this right that they have had for 111 years,” Russo said. “Let’s be clear, Issue 1 simply takes power away from voters and it gives more power to the politicians, and that’s it.”

Russo argued that Issue 1 was primarily a response to the abortion-rights amendment that Ohioans will get a chance to vote on this November.

“The only reason it is being attacked at this moment is the timing of a November ballot initiative,” Russo said. She characterized the August election, created by the legislature just months after the legislature eliminated nearly all August elections, as an attempt to “change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”

Issue 1 supporters

LaRose, who urged the legislature to eliminate August elections, argued that a special election for small local matters is inherently different from an election for a constitutional amendment.

“There’s nobody not aware that there’s an important question on the Aug. 8 ballot and they’ve got the opportunity to get out and make their voice heard,” LaRose said. “This isn’t about process, this is about the question that’s in front of us.”

Issue 1 has major implications on the November abortion-rights amendment. If Issue 1 passes in August, the amendment would need at least 60% approval in order to pass; if Issue 1 fails, the amendment would pass with a simple majority. Polling suggests that Ohioans favor protecting abortion rights, but not necessarily 60% of them.

For Gonidakis, Ohio Right to Life, and many other supporters, Issue 1′s chance to block an abortion-rights amendment in the state constitution is critical. Gonidakis and LaRose both believe that the abortion-rights amendment would go further than just guaranteeing abortion access, asserting that the amendment would entirely remove a parents’ say over their child’s medical care.

“(The abortion-rights amendment) absolutely takes away parental consent if they’re successful, which they won’t be in November,” Gonidakis said. “That’s how dangerous it is, it absolutely allows for a late-term abortion up to and through the ninth month of pregnancy.”

The proposed amendment allows the legislature to outlaw most abortions after fetal viability, generally around 24 weeks. It also doesn’t mention parental consent. Previous reporting from Dayton Daily News found that legal and political science scholars were skeptical that the abortion-rights amendment would have any impact on parental consent.

During and after the debate, LaRose and Gonidakis continually referenced their belief that the Ohio Constitution should not be used for public policy.

“Controversial public policy shouldn’t be done via constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments should be things we broadly agree on. Leave the controversy — the 50% + 1, the 52%, the 53% issues — leave that to the general assembly,” LaRose said.

Issue 1 opponents

Russo said the constitutional amendment process allows citizens to have a say over the constitution when the legislature is unresponsive to the citizenry.

“Trying to say the legislature somehow reflects the values of Ohio voters … is a bit outrageous. When you look at the extreme policies that are being passed in the statehouse and where Ohioans really are on some of these issues, they are vastly out of step,” Russo said. “Ohio has this right that when (lawmakers) are that out of step or (when) they are corrupt, (Ohioans) can go to the ballot box and demand changes that reflect where they actually are.”

Curtin argued that the powers Ohioans wield over the state constitution should be applauded and preserved, not diluted.

“Ohio has the best state constitution in the nation right now. Why? Because the bedrock principle is and always has been ‘trust the people,” Curtin said. “No other state constitution respects ‘trust the people’ more than the Ohio Constitution.”

LaRose adopted that same argument about Issue 1.

“That’s what Issue 1 is all about. It’s about trusting the people of Ohio to reach a supermajority of 60% if we’re going to change the constitution. If you get 51 or 52% who like your idea, change the revised code.”

The debate was broadcast to the Dayton market via local station WDTN-TV.

Early voting has been going strong and remains available in person through Aug. 6 and through absentee. On Aug. 8, Election Day, polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

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