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Commentary: Ohioans, you have a voice — for now. Be sure to use it

A crowd outside the Ohio House chambers on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, as members resume deliberations on a controversial resolution to hold a special August election to vote on whether to change Ohio's constitutional amendment threshold.
Jo Ingles
A crowd outside the Ohio House chambers on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, as members resume deliberations on a controversial resolution to hold a special August election to vote on whether to change Ohio's constitutional amendment threshold.

There's one thing you can always count on in this private club we call the Ohio General Assembly.

A Republican bigfoot like Senate President Matt Huffman will almost always get his way.

And lobbyists from Ohio Right to Life and the Buckeye Firearms Association will always be there to tell poor, confused Republican members of the House and Senate what to think and how to act.

Both happened Wednesday when the Ohio House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 2, which will put an issue on a special election ballot on Aug. 8, only five months after the same group of Republican lawmakers passed a bill doing away with August elections altogether.

You see, the GOP majority creates its own reality as it goes along. Reality, you might say, is fluid to these people.

Months and months of wrangling, cajoling, stacking the deck against the opposition paid off Wednesday, as the Republicans finally got the ball within field goal range.

So Ohio will have an election Aug. 8 to vote on a constitutional amendment to move the goalposts on citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. It would set a new standard for passing such amendments — they would have to pass by 60% instead of the 50%-plus-one that has been the standard in Ohio since 1912.

In other words, 41% of the electorate could thwart the will of 59% of Ohio voters.

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

Well, you got it on the ballot. Give yourselves a big pat on the back. Fire up a stogie to celebrate.

Good luck getting it passed.

Not only are there questions to its legality, but there's also this point to consider: Allison Russo, the Columbus Democrat who is leader of the minority caucus in the Ohio House, may have put it best in the floor debate Wednesday afternoon.

"How stupid do you think the people of Ohio are?" Russo asked the GOP legislators.

It was a rhetorical question, but a good one.

From day one last year, when State Rep. Brian Stewart, a Pickaway County Republican, first introduced a House resolution on the 60% requirement, it was a question that no one could answer adequately:

Why on Earth would the people of Ohio vote for an issue that would make their votes count for less?

It's as if they think the typical Ohio voter walks around like a school kid with a sign taped to the back of their shirt — Kick me, I'm stupid.

At first, people like Stewart, Huffman and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose made the argument that this 60% thing is about keeping "out-of-state special interests" from hoodwinking Ohio voters into approving constitutional changes that will benefit only the special interests.

Stewart, speaking on the floor of the House Wednesday, says that his amendment is "the continuation of a debate that has been going on for over 100 years."

Must have been a very quiet debate.

The present system, Stewart said, "is far too susceptible to outside groups. It's time for reform."

That argument blew up in the Republicans' faces when they found a special interest sugar daddy to finance their lobbying effort for the 60% amendment — an Illinois billionaire who routinely finances Trump-endorsed candidates and conservative causes.

So much for "outside special interests."

Maybe they mean outside the states formed from the Northwest Territory. That's the only thing Ohio and Illinois have in common.

RELATED: PAC backed by Illinois billionaire pushes for vote on making it harder to amend Ohio constitution

But when the GOP story on this got too complicated, they finally just said out loud what it is really about — stopping abortion rights in Ohio.

A coalition of abortion rights groups is out there now gathering the 414,000 or so valid signatures needed to place an issue on the November ballot that would guarantee the right to an abortion in Ohio.

It's a fight the Republicans are not sure they can win, so rather than take a chance, they put this 60% amendment on the ballot, which would not only raise the bar for passing a constitutional amendment but rewrite the law on petitions that would make it a monumental task to get an issue qualified for the ballot.

State Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, a Cleveland Democrat, nailed it during Wednesday's floor debate.

"They are now saying it out loud," Sweeney said of the Republicans. "This is about abortion."

The Republicans in the legislature managed to create this confrontation. Now they have to sell what seems to be an overwhelmingly unpopular idea.

Wednesday, hundreds of opponents packed the halls outside the House chamber while the House was "deliberating" on SJR 2. The gallery inside, too, was full of opponents who were shouting and making noise.

House Speaker Jason Stephens ordered the sergeant at arms to clear the gallery and The Ohio Channel's live coverage was cut while the protestors were ushered out.

As the cameras were shut down, The Ohio Channel started playingJohn Philip Souza's "The Liberty Bell." You'd recognize it as the Monty Python theme song. Oddly appropriate.

But the protestors inside were just a small slice of the opposition that has built up around this issue.

RELATED: Former Ohio attorneys general join fight against higher amendment threshold

Over 240 Ohio organizations, from across the political spectrum, have come out against it. And they are already in communication with their members, who will be organized and ready to vote on Aug. 8.

All the living ex-governors, Republican and Democratic, have warned against this. So too has a bipartisan group of five ex-attorneys general. The Ohio Association of Election Officials have begged legislators not to put the burden of an August statewide election on the already strained county boards of elections.

The Republicans have Ohio Right to Life, the Buckeye Firearms Association and their gazillionaire sugar daddy from Illinois on their side.

At stake is a fundamental question each Ohio voter will have to ask himself or herself: Do I really want to vote for something that will make my vote count for less?

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