CLEVELAND — By now, most readers know there will be a special election on Aug. 8. This is a critical moment for all Ohioans, especially working families and those who enjoy union benefits. That is why the North Shore AFL-CIO and its affiliate unions have invested considerable time and resources in opposition to Issue 1.
Issue 1 is a sinister attempt by extremists in our state, funded by out-of-state monied interests, to change the Ohio Constitution. Since 1912, Ohioans have had the right to put constitutional amendments directly on the ballot and win voter approval with a simple majority. To get that amendment on the ballot, citizens must meet specific signature quotas in 44 of our 88 counties. Meeting the quota is not an easy thing to do by any means – but it is a fair and democratic way.
The extremists are trying to end majority rule by requiring a 60% vote for passage. That means a 40% + 1 minority of voters can determine the outcome of all proposed amendments. Even worse, extremists want to make it harder to get a proposed amendment on the ballot in the first place by requiring signature quotas be met in all 88 counties. That means you could meet the quota in 87 of our counties and have one county into which, perhaps, special interests dumped money to make sure the effort fell short, spoiling the entire process.
It is not easy to amend our state constitution. Collecting signatures in 44 counties and passing a citizen-led amendment is tough. As cleveland.com has reported, since 1914, only 71 citizen-initiated amendments have made it onto the Ohio ballot, and only 19 have passed. That is equal to a little more than one in four.
Now, Issue 1′s aim of increasing the number of counties so that all will require signature quotas caters to special interests with the financial means to meet these signature requirements.
At the 1912 Ohio Constitutional Convention, former President Theodore Roosevelt spoke about his belief in pure democracy, a value he shared with President Abraham Lincoln, whom he quoted: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it.”
Roosevelt added that, “unless representative government does absolutely represent the people, it is not representative government at all.”
I see no more concrete an example of a representative government failing to represent the people than the August election of a year ago. Ohioans were forced into a primary election to nominate legislators representing congressional districts that the conservative-leaning Ohio Supreme Court twice declared unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering. The extremists ignored the people of Ohio and the rule of law.
Ohioans must acknowledge that we have extremists in our legislature and executive offices. We cannot let them erode any more of our power as citizens. For organized labor, we were a House Speaker race away from having a pro-Right-to-Work leader in the Ohio House of Representatives. We got lucky, but since then, we have seen attempts to roll back child labor laws, prohibit university employees from striking, restrict union release time, and destroy prevailing wages.
All of this says nothing of the hypocrisy of the extremists in our state government who ended most August special elections last year because of the low turnout and the high cost of running such elections. Yet, today, those same extremists are ignoring the law they passed by forcing this Issue 1 constitutional amendment to the ballot.
Enough is enough. We want representative government – and the citizen-led constitutional amendment process is one of the last tools in the toolbox to lift our voices. On behalf of the North Shore AFL-CIO, I ask that you get your family, friends, and neighbors to make a plan to vote on or before Aug. 8, and to vote “no” on Issue 1.
Brian Pearson is political director of the North Shore AFL-CIO based in Cleveland.
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