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Commentary: Ohio GOP marches on with its plan to prevent 'the tyranny of the majority'

FILE - This Wednesday, June 9, 2021, file photo shows Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman discussing the Senate passage of Ohio's two-year, $75 billion state budget, in Columbus, Ohio. Advocates for Ohio's new school-funding plan say it should finally provide a level of fairness and reliability that past spending programs lacked. The Fair School Funding Plan approved as part of the state budget last month spends about $12.4 billion this year and $12.6 billion in 2023. At its core the plan changes how the base per pupil funding amount, or the money the state provides districts for each student, is calculated.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman in 2021.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman wants to railroad a constitutional amendment through the Ohio General Assembly and on to an as-yet nonexistent August primary ballot to, as he says,prevent "the tyranny of the majority."

With the Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would set a 60% threshold for constitutional amendments, Huffman is willing to replace it with the tyranny of the minority.

If Huffman gets his way, 41% of the voters on a constitutional amendment could thwart the will of 59%.

Proponents of minority rule when it comes to citizen-initiated ballot issues say it is about keeping greedy, deep-pocketed out-of-state special interests waltzing into Ohio and hoodwinking its good citizens.

Huffman and his cronies believe they know what is best for you poor, gullible voters.

But when they tell you it is about keeping out-of-state interests from changing the state constitution willy-nilly, they are being less than honest with you.

What it is really about is mortal fear and dread that a petition drive to put an abortion rights amendment into the Ohio constitution will be successful and that it will be approved by voters in November — by something short of 60%.

And Huffman and company think they can use the same dodge to scuttle future ballot issues on a host of other ideas they hate — redistricting reform, a minimum wage increase, gun control, just to name a few.

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They want an Ohio where there is no thought but their own.

Tuesday, House Speaker Jason Stephens, a Republican from Lawrence, cancelled a Wednesday House floor session where proponents of the 60% rule had hoped the resolution would pass the House.

That threw a monkey wrench into the works of Huffman's plan.

Now, the next opportunity for the full House to vote on this plan is Wednesday, May 10 — which Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who has been a vocal supporter of the 60% from Jump Street, says is the last day for the legislature to act if they want an August special election.

And, now, it's not even clear if there are enough votes in the House to approve SJR 2 and a companion bill setting an August election date.

Some GOP House members are not sure they want to vote for an August special election that will cost taxpayers $20 million — especially when, only five months ago, they voted to do away with August elections altogether.

All of this doubt and introspection makes proponents of the "60% solution" rather grumpy.

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State Rep. Brian Stewart of Pickaway County, the sponsor of the House version of SJR 2, reminded statehouse reporters the other day that many of his colleagues signed a letter circulated by Ohio Right to Life promising a "yes" vote on the 60% rule.

"It’s one thing to break your word," said Stewart in a story by Jo Ingles of Ohio Public Radio. "It's another thing to break your word when you also gave it in writing. And I hope some people aren't so flippant about their commitments."

Irony is generally lost on the Republican zealots who, thanks to partisan gerrymandering, hold sway in the Ohio General Assembly.

But here, for your edification, is exhibit A in the irony department:

A billionaire from Illinois — Richard Uihlein, founder of the giant Uline office supply company and funder of multiple candidates who believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, is also a donor to groups who organized the January 6 rally that led to the violent and deadly storming of the Capitol.

The same billionaire from the Chicago area who has given $120 million to pro-Trump candidates and conservative causes over the years is now the one and only contributor to Save Our Constitution PAC, an ad hoc campaign committee that is spending about $1 million of Uihlein's money to pressure Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens to bring House Joint Resolution 1 to a floor vote.

Now get this: Ohio Republicans who want this 60% resolution to be on the ballot in an August special election — Huffman, LaRose and Stewart — say they want to keep out-of-state special interests away from Ohio politics.

So the first thing they do is invite an out-of-state billionaire to throw his money around to influence Ohio politics.

The chutzpah is mind-boggling.

Here are more facts:

Over 240 Ohio organizations from across the political spectrum have come out against this.

Four former Ohio governors — Republicans John Kasich and Bob Taft, Democrats Ted Strickland and Dick Celeste — are telling legislators not to do this.

So too are a bipartisangroup of five former Ohio attorneys general: Republicans Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro, as well as Democrats Rich Cordray, Lee Fisher and Nancy Rogers.

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County elections officials from around the state are begging — pleading — with Huffman and his allies in the Republican caucus to not complicate their already over-worked lives with a needless primary in August — one, remember, that could cost Ohio taxpayers about $20 million.

But the Republicans backing this — including LaRose, who was against August primaries until he was for them — don't care a whit about what a burden an extra one-issue election will cause for 88 county boards of elections.

All they really care about is jamming this dubious 60% plan through and hope enough people will be napping by the swimming pool in August to not notice that it is a plan to make their votes count for less.

They want Ohioans to voluntarily disenfranchise themselves.

All in a desperate attempt to stop abortion rights amendment to the state constitution that will likely be on this November's ballot.

But these are desperate people.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.