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Cows and Casinos Don't Belong in Ohio's Constitution

By Senate President Matt Huffman
September 19, 2023
On The Record

Editor’s Note:  Even though the vote on Issue 1 did not go our way, we posted this piece on OTR so readers can see how the author's predictions following a "no" vote are coming true. A shorter version of this editorial appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on July 24, 2023, under the headline, 'The rabid opposition to State Issue 1 is the height of hypocrisy'.

They were for it before they were against it.

The rabid opposition to State Issue 1 is the height of hypocrisy by Democrats and the Dispatch.

State Issue 1 would require the consent of 60% of voters to change the Ohio Constitution. It is a much lower threshold than the one enshrined in the U.S. Constitution but it is designed to build upon the American tradition that protects the rights of all, not just the frenzied mob, special interests, and the wealthy. 

The Ohio Democratic Party even agrees with the wisdom of not allowing a simple majority to change its founding document. Hidden deep within its own Constitution and Bylaws, Article 4 states, “The Constitution may be amended by 60% of all delegates to any convention.” 

Democratic Senator Vernon Sykes actually co-chaired the bipartisan committee that recommended raising the threshold for adopting amendments to Ohio’s Constitution to at least 55%. Based on the committee’s recommendations, Rep. Glenn Holmes, a Democrat, then co-sponsored a resolution in 2018 to raise the threshold to 60%.

Now? Sykes is one of five Democratic lawmakers who submitted arguments against Issue 1 to the Ohio Secretary of State. He says it “Shreds Our Constitution” and “Takes Away Our Freedom.” Maybe he didn’t get a copy of his own party’s constitution?

In a 2017 editorial, the Dispatch actually endorsed the idea of raising the threshold, saying, “There is much to commend efforts to make initiated laws easier and initiated amendments harder.” The paper declared it should be up to voters “to decide if initiating constitutional amendments should be more difficult.” 

The Dispatch even criticized the current amendment process, noting how “over time the Ohio Constitution becomes weighted with ornaments more suited to the Ohio Revised Code, such as livestock-care standards and casinos.” They were correct, then.

Now? The Dispatch has done a complete about face. The paper now declares raising the threshold would be “reckless, reprehensible and disrespectful to democracy.” 

The vitriol is more than two-faced, it gets personal. The Dispatch calls Republicans "untrustworthy and dishonest lawmakers"..."despicable and disappointing"..."dangerous and disingenuous"..."abhorrent" and "cowardly" because, they claim, we are "willing to lie to and cheat voters...to seize ultimate control."

All this because Republican lawmakers put an issue on the ballot that the paper supported just a short while ago. The rank hypocrisy of yet another far-left meltdown from our state media reeks to high heaven. 

The idea behind putting State Issue 1 on the August ballot is simple but crucial – to protect the Ohio Constitution. From what? From special interests and the forces of tyranny. 

Simple but essential. Its importance can't be overstated. How important? The Founders of the U.S. Constitution declared it job one. Their greatest fear was a democracy would lead to mob rule, the tyranny of the majority. 

Democrats and critics in our left-leaning state media don’t have that fear. They embrace the prospect of realizing the Founders’ greatest nightmare. And they do it with the hyperbolic zeal and fury of the mob.

  • “This is an attack on democracy … (an) underhanded, hypocritical, and sinister move by Ohio’s Republican lawmakers.” – Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “…majority rule would be chucked … This entire effort slaps voters in the face and betrays our democracy.”– Columbus Dispatch

  • "State Issue 1 is a sucker punch to the face of majority voter rule and democracy." – Ohio Capital Journal

  • “…working overtime to dismantle democracy as we know it … against the foundational American idea of majority rule.” – Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio

  • "Should Ohio permanently abolish the basic constitutional right of majority rule?" – Ohio Democratic lawmakers

Makes you wonder how they ever passed a history test. Do you know how many times the word democracy and the phrase majority rule appear in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Not once. 

It is stunning to witness these critics fully embrace the two concepts the Founders most feared. To say the Founders despised majority rule and direct democracy would be a serious understatement.  

  • “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” – John Adams

  • “Democracies have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death.” – James Madison

  • “The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.” – Alexander Hamilton

  • "An elective despotism was not the government we fought for." – Thomas Jefferson

  • “A simple democracy … is one of the greatest of evils.” – Benjamin Rush

This is why the Founders created a republic instead of a democracy – to prevent the tyranny that simple majority-take-all rule would bring. 

It was THE problem the U.S. Constitution is designed to prevent. That is why they made it so difficult to change our founding document. They ensured that any changes were carefully considered and had wide support and bipartisan consensus, NOT just a simple majority. Otherwise, amendments would just keep changing back and forth as the political winds shifted. Consider this – it took 202 years to ratify the 27th Amendment. 

No one sincerely believes a 50% threshold will protect Ohio’s Constitution. Critics now say the Ohio Constitution is different than the U.S. Constitution but they never explain exactly how, other than to say the former has many more amendments than the latter. But they don’t say why, exactly, that is a good thing.

Why would it be good to let more rich out-of-state special interests and businesses write more of our laws? It took $50 million in advertising but only 52.9% of the vote for the casinos to literally buy a law and put their own financial interests into our state constitution.

Emboldened by the casinos’ success, an increasing number of outside groups not located in Ohio, or even associated with the state, have launched and funded ballot issues. These partisan outfits and big business interests see a proven way to buy their way onto the statewide ballot and put their wishes into our law. 

Failing to raise the amendment threshold will ensure a never-ending procession of attempts to subvert our law for financial or partisan gain. As Ohio Secretary of State Frank La Rose has observed, “All it takes to ratify an amendment is a well-funded, dishonest political campaign and a simple majority vote.”

We already know the big money behind the legalization of recreational marijuana is preparing for an assault on our constitution. Forces looking to restrict Second Amendment rights or expand minimum wages costs on small businesses won’t be far behind. And, of course, the billion-dollar abortion-on-demand machine of Planned Parenthood lurks anxiously in the wings.

Contrary to the shrill claims of critics, passage of Issue 1 would not remove the ability of Ohioans to offer amendments to Ohio’s Constitution. We will still enjoy a freedom not available in the vast majority of other states that don’t even permit petition-initiated constitutional amendments. 32 states do not allow constitutional amendments to be proposed by outside groups. Of the 18 that do, half of them require more than a simple majority vote. 

Ohioans will still be able to easily pass constitutional amendments that enjoy genuine broad and bipartisan support. A prime example would be Marsy’s Law protecting victim’s rights that passed in 2017 with 82.59% of the vote.

State Issue 1 will also ensure that all Ohio communities are represented when amendments do make the ballot by tightening the signature requirements. It will require signatures from every county for proposed amendments, so that special interests can no longer cherry pick their base of support. And it makes sure special interests would play by the rules when gathering signatures, by not giving them endless do-overs. 

State Issue 1 is specifically designed to protect our state from wealthy business interests and the whims of current trends, and to keep politics out of our Constitution.

It’s really quite simple. A 60% threshold proposed in State Issue 1 would significantly increase the protection of the Ohio Constitution. And here’s the real bottom line – if an idea isn’t popular enough to unify three-fifths of Ohio voters, it doesn’t belong in our state constitution.

Matt Huffman represents Ohio Senate District 12 and is President of the State Senate