Television ads are hitting local airwaves and volunteers are knocking on doors in an effort to sway local voters in the leadup to the Aug. 8 election.
Both campaigns mobilizing for and against Issue 1, the only thing on the ballot, say they are motivated by protecting Democracy. The group backing Issue 1 is called Protect Our Constitution. The group against it is One Person One Vote.
While that message is consistent on both sides — and might be the actual motive for some — both campaigns are endorsed by special interest groups with vested interest in either keeping the option of changing the constitution within reach, or making the constitution harder to amend.
If Issue 1 passes, it would require all future constitutional amendments to receive over 60% of the vote in order to pass — up from the current simple majority requirement — while mandating that canvassers for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments hit signature quotas in all 88 counties, up from the current 44 county requirement, in order to get an initiative on the ballot.
While Issue 1 wouldn’t flat-out ban citizen-initiated amendments, it would make them exceedingly harder to get on the ballot and harder still to pass.
Ohio lawmakers will still be able to put amendments before voters, but any amendment would need more than 60% of the vote. Of the 227 constitutional amendments put on the ballot since 1913 — most of which were submitted by lawmakers — only 75 of the 127 that passed did so with 60% of the vote.
The most imminent example of Issue 1 being more about specific issues than abstract democratic ideals is the reason it’s on the ballot in a special August election in the first place — abortion.
Abortion rights groups on Wednesday submitted petitions to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution. Abortion foes include lawmakers who put Issue 1 on the ballot to make it harder for the abortion measure to pass and instead keep Ohio’s more restrictive abortion laws that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
On either side, endorsers who spoke to Dayton Daily News shed light on what they stand to gain, or lose, through Issue 1 and its consequences.
On the “No” side, officially called One Person One Vote, over 200 organizations have signed on in opposition, including niche groups, local and national unions, citizen action groups, education and healthcare associations and policy organizations.
“If you look at those groups or those organizations, they’re Ohio,” said One Person One Vote campaign spokesperson Dennis Willard, who described the opposition lineup as bipartisan and inclusive of the entire state.
Among those, several have active interest in getting amendments on the ballot, whether it be to protect abortion access up to 20 weeks, raise the minimum wage, or create an independent redistricting committee to address gerrymandering in Ohio.
The “Yes” side, officially called Protect Our Constitution, doesn’t boast as many organizational endorsements as the opposition, but its eight endorsers include “many of the groups that represent Ohio’s business community,” according to campaign spokesperson Spencer Gross.
Those groups, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, span from grassroots Ohio farming advocates to to national pork special interests, along with the nation’s leading small business advocate and the state’s leading restaurant and hotel associations.
The measure also found support from billionaire donor Richard Uihlein, an Illinois Republican who spent over a million dollars on Ohio TV ads to urge Republican lawmakers to put the issue on the ballot earlier this year, according to investigative watchdog Documented.
At the time of reporting, Protect Our Constitution declined to comment on its current TV strategy, while FCC public inspection files for Dayton-area TV stations show ad spots purchased by One Person One Vote in the Dayton market for over $100,000.
Both campaigns declined to comment on funding. The public won’t know how much money is behind either effort until campaign finance reports are due to the Secretary of State by July 27.
Duane Stateler, the vice president of the National Pork Producers Council Board of Directors, said the Ohio Pork Council’s primary concern in this fight regarded making it harder for citizen-initiated livestock standards of care to get on the ballot and pass.
“Our position is, we don’t like to see a small majority of someone being able to bring an issue forward that would complicate things in the way we can individually farm. That is the basis of where we’re at,” Stateler, a fifth-generation pig farmer in northwest Ohio, told the Dayton Daily News.
Stateler, along with Whitney Bowers, the director of state policy at the Ohio Farm Bureau, cited California’s Proposition 12, a citizen-initiated amendment that mandated certain practices on livestock and blocked producers who didn’t meet those standards from the California market.
“There’s so many uncertainties in agriculture that the potential of ballot initiatives from guiding our practices instead of proven research, we always hope to not be part of the equation,” Bowers said. “Groups that are partnering with agriculture to develop and implement best practices to support food production in Ohio are generally not the same groups that seek ballot initiatives to mandate very specific practices.”
Ohio’s most recent amendment regarding livestock standards was 2009′s legislature-initiated vote to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which passed with 63.8% of the vote. Lawmakers put it on the ballot to pre-empt a more extensive measure sought by the Humane Society of the United States.
The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police came out in opposition to Issue 1 because the union wants to reserve its ability to bring an amendment to the ballot if the legislature were to ever chip away collective bargaining power or pass “right-to-work” laws that would weaken police unions’ position.
“We don’t get involved in issues that don’t relate to law enforcement. All the rhetoric that’s been out there about why this amendment is coming up now, we’re not interested in that. Our members are on both sides of pretty much every fence, and we’re only concerned about the things that affect us,” said Gary Wolske, president of the Ohio FOP.
Wolske referenced the 2011 fight over limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers.
“It’s a whole lot easier to get 50% of something than it is to get 60% of something; if this comes up again, it’s huge for us,” Wolske said.
The Ohio FOP was joined in its opposition to Issue 1 by the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, the state’s leading firefighter union.
The Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade group which represents a majority of the largest contractors across the state, supports Issue 1.
“We don’t have anything directly to gain or lose with Issue 1. We are in favor of Issue 1 because we believe that the state of Ohio is one of the states in the nation where it’s far too easy for a special interest group to bypass the traditional legislative process to negotiate and work with the legislature to form laws,” said John Morris, CEO of the association’s Ohio Valley branch.
Morris said lawmakers often do nothing on controversial topics like right-to-work because of the lingering threat of a citizen-initiated amendment, which could more-or-less act as a referendum on any law passed in the legislature. He hopes a passed Issue 1 would eliminate that excuse.
“We believe this is going to empower our legislators to act better, to do what we elected them to do, because many of them sit back and do nothing, and they sit back under the auspices of, ‘Well, if we passed it it would just get overturned,’ or, ‘We think you should just do this on the ballot instead of legislatively,’” Morris said. “It allows an elected official to essentially get a pass, take a target off their back and avoid any controversial issues.”
July 10: Voter registration deadline for Issue 1 election
July 11: Early voting begins
August 8: Election day