Republicans overplay their hand

Democrats in the Ohio General Assembly will be held up to public ridicule if they’re taken in by the conciliatory tone Republicans have adopted with regard to the contentious new elections law. The GOP, which controls the House and Senate, isn’t holding out the olive branch to the Democrats, who are in the minority, because of bipartisanship. Since January 2011, when Republicans took over every statewide office, including governor, and took control of the legislature, Democrats have been little more than an afterthought — if that.

The majority has ridden roughshod over the minority on the major issues, starting with the biennium budget, and there is nothing to suggest that Senate President Tom Niehaus and House Speaker Bill Batchelder will be making room at the table for their Democratic counterparts any time soon.

So, what was behind the decision last week by the chairman of the Senate government oversight committee, Bill Coley of Middletown, to delay a vote on a measure to repeal controversial House Bill 194? Coley, who is the sponsor of the repeal legislation, said he wanted to give minority Democrats a chance to review it.

It’s clear that Coley and his GOP colleagues are attempting to play the Democrats because they want to get out of a sticky political situation.

Here’s some background: Last year, Republicans in the House and Senate rammed through HB 194 that makes major changes to the state’s elections laws — changes that would have the effect of dampening Democratic voter turnout.

In response, more than 200,000 Ohioans signed petitions to put HB 194 up for a referendum vote in the November general election. As a result of the issue being on the ballot, the elections reform law has not taken effect.

No law to repeal

In other words, there isn’t a law that the General Assembly can repeal, even though that’s what the Senate is attempting to do.

In fact, House Speaker Batchelder offered this thoughtful observation: “ … 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 [sponsored by Chairman Coley] may not be constitutional.”

That was last year. Last week, a spokesman for the speaker said that while his concerns remain, “at this point, the speaker is in support of the repeal effort.”

It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out what’s going on. With an eye to the November presidential election and Ohio looming as the must-win state, Republicans have realized that having the referendum on the November general election ballot will bring out the voters that President Obama needs to win the Buckeye State — senior citizens, minorities and the young. They are the ones who would be most affected by the reforms in voting that Republicans are insisting on implementing.

Since turnout in November will be the key to victory, the last thing the GOP wants to see is a coalition of voting advocates and other grass-roots organizations, led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio, pounding the pavements on behalf of the referendum issue.

All they have to do is tell Ohioans that Republicans are attempting to put up roadblocks to voting and the polls will be jammed. The GOP certainly doesn’t want that to happen.

And so, Republicans in the General Assembly are attempting to repeal a law that isn’t a law. Democrats should stay far away, or they’ll be covered when the political fur hits the fan.

Higher stakes

The League of Women Voters raised the stakes last week by indicating that it wouldn’t be satisfied with the repeal measure as it is currently written.

“If the legislature is serious about restoring the law to what it was before HB 194, then they must also restore early voting the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election, which SB 295 does not do. Legislators should take a hint from the hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens who signed the HB 194 referendum petitions that the people of Ohio will not settle for anything less than a full restoration of early voting.”

It is no accident that President Obama’s re-election campaign was among the organizations that gathered signatures to get an elections-law repeal referendum on the fall ballot.

Democrats in the Ohio Legislature who have been ignored by the majority should go for blood on this issue.

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