Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate are spoiling for a political fight — just like the one that was triggered by the collective bargaining reform act — if they proceed with the constitutionally suspect repeal of a controversial elections reform law that hasn’t even taken effect.
The GOP Senate ignored the warnings of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Democrats in the General Assembly and last week passed a measure to repeal House Bill 194, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich. But before HB 194, which would change voting procedures, could take effect, a referendum campaign by Democrats and grass-roots organizations secured 300,000 signatures to put the law on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
In other words, voters in Ohio will decide if the reforms instituted by the Republicans should stand. Given the controversy HB 194 has already generated, a huge turnout in the general election of Democrats and independents who oppose Republicans’ heavy-handed approach to governance is expected. But that’s the last thing Republicans want, given that Ohio is a swing state in the presidential sweepstakes.
Thus, Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, decided to short circuit the referendum vote by orchestrating the passage of the measure to repeal HB 194. Not one Democrat was taken in by this blatant effort to deprive the voters of Ohio their constitutional right to have a say on existing or prospective laws.
The repeal legislation now goes to the GOP-controlled House, where Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, has done a major flip-flop. Batchelder says he supports the measure, but not long ago he offered this observation of what his colleagues in the Senate were doing:
“ … there is no precedent for repeal of legislation that has not taken effect due to potential voter referendum. As such, it is possible that the passage of Senate Bill 295 [the repeal measure] may not be constitutional.”
A once honorable position has given way to partisan politics.
But this shameful attempt by the Republicans to undo their original unjustified attack on Ohio’s elections system will not stand. The same forces that came together to defeat the Kasich-led campaign to take away collective bargaining rights long enjoyed by Ohio’s public employees will rise up to stop the Republicans from trampling on the rights of Ohio’s voters.
Grass-roots organizations have served notice that if SB 295 is passed by the House and signed into law by Gov. Kasich, there will be another campaign to place the measure on the Nov. 6 general election for a referendum vote.
The Republicans in the General Assembly would do well to consider the damage they are doing to bipartisanship in state government with their steamroller politics.
They should let the referendum on HB 194 take its course, and then revisit Ohio’s elections system with an eye to making it better — as opposed to putting it out of reach of senior citizens, minorities and young people who by and large vote Democratic.