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Commentary: I know I've sounded like a cranky old man here lately. Here's why

howard wilkinson sits at a diner counter with a cup of coffee and a notebook with a pen in hand
Ronny Salerno

I know I have sounded like a cranky old man lately in this column. Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the passing clouds.

But I have good reason.

I've been covering politics in Ohio for half a century and I have never seen a legislative majority in the Statehouse so willing to impose its will on the personal lives of Ohioans as this Republican supermajority that runs the Ohio General Assembly.

These Republicans — mostly from small towns, suburbs and farm country — apparently want complete control.

And they have the votes to get it.

You will hear Ohio Republicans, inside and outside of the legislature, crying about "indoctrination" of students and "wokeness." Yet they are the ones who have proposed specific plans to indoctrinate young people.

Their political opponents believe the conservatives who dominate the legislature won't be satisfied until they make all Ohioans live by their rules and their rules alone.

How did they manage to become so powerful?

Partisan gerrymandering, of course — the best friend of the Republican supermajority.

They have controlled the process for the last three cycles. Last year, when their plans for redistricting were found by the Ohio Supreme Court to be unconstitutional over and over again, they simply ignored the court and did what they pleased.

RELATED: A timeline of Ohio's redistricting saga

This is how we end up with legislation like House Bill 68, which would ban physicians from performing gender reassignment surgery on minors — even though there is no children's hospital in the state which actually does that on those under 18.

This legislation — called the Saving Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act — is the brainchild of State Rep. Gary Click, a Baptist minister from the village of Vickery in Sandusky County.

Vickery has experienced a population boom in recent years, going from 114 people in 2020 to 149 this year.

We have no information on how many Vickery-ites are trans folks.

That is by no means the only assault on transgender Ohioans.

Earlier in May, a House Committee passed legislation banning transgender athletes from participating in women's sports.

And, just last week, two Republican House members — Beth Lear of Galena in Delaware County and Adam C. Bird of New Richmond in Clermont County — introduced House Bill 183, which would ban transgender students from using school bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their assumed gender identity.

This would apply not only to K-12 schools; colleges and universities are included, too.

Look, you may agree with the Republicans view on transgender issues. That's your business.

But is that really why you send legislators to Columbus? To be thought police, making laws to govern individuals on matters of personal choice?

Transgender issues may not touch you personally, but these Statehouse Republican have something to control everybody.

Primary and grade school kids


They want your kids to learn an extreme right-wing interpretation of social studies.

It's House Bill 103. It would establish American Birthright, an ultra-conservative curriculum for K-12 students, as the official social studies curriculum, a curriculum supported by the far-right Heritage Foundation.

You can be assured that if they get their way, there will be no teaching about how slavery is still a stain on the American conscience or the suffering of Native American tribes at the hands of white politicians.

Sound like whitewashing to you?

College students and the higher education system in Ohio

Creative Commons

Senate Bill 83, and its companion legislation in the House, are a clear and present threat to academic freedom in Ohio.

Here are some of the things Senate Bill 83 would ban:

  • most diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) training for students and faculty.
  • strikes by employees, including the faculty.
  • "bias" in classrooms, with no hint of what the state would consider "bias."
  • forbidding programs that partnered with the People's Republic of China, "our enemy."

If it becomes law, critics say it will stop the flow of out-of-state students and faculty into Ohio. Who wants to be part of a higher education system where politicians call the shots?

COMMENTARY: Higher education in Ohio could be shipwrecked by Senate Bill 83

It could wreck Ohio's well-respected and fully functioning higher education system.

Everybody in Ohio

Yes, they are coming after you, too.

Their ultimate target is the abortions rights amendment to the state constitution that will likely be on the ballot in November, but they have to roll over you first — regardless of your views on abortion.

Republicans in the legislature — egged on by Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose — have created out of thin air a special election for August 8 where you will be asked to decide a most undemocratic constitutional amendment.

They want you to approve State Issue 1, which would raise the bar for passage of a constitutional amendment from 50% plus one to 60%, and add language that will make it incredibly difficult for any organization to gather the signatures to get on the ballot in the first place.

Huffman and LaRose will tell you this is necessary to keep out-of-state "special interests" from getting on the ballot and hoodwinking Ohioans to approve their self-serving ballot issues.

What they don't tell you is that an out-of-state Illinois billionaire is bankrolling their effort.

And, thanks to LaRose's ballot board, the language on State Issue 1 doesn't mention what the current standard, 50%-plus-one, is and has been since 1912. A coalition formed to oppose State Issue 1 has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the ballot board to try again.

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

Here's something else Huffman, LaRose and company don't want you to know about State Issue 1. It is on the ballot for one reason and one reason only: because they are scared to death an abortion rights amendment will be on the November ballot and they want 41% of the electorate to be able to stop it.

And, in the future, the Republicans could use that "minority rule" to stop other statewide ballot issues they oppose, from raising the minimum wage to meaningful gun control to adopting a redistricting system that would take elected officials of both parties out of the process of drawing lines.

They fear you, Ohio voters.

You have more control over them than you think.

But only if you use it.

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