Youngstown voters won’t have to contend with the pesky anti-fracking issue in next month’s general election. The Ohio Supreme Court made sure of that with a 4-3 ruling handed down last week.
The ruling upheld a decision by the Mahoning County Board of Elections not to place two charter amendments, including the fracking ban, on the Nov. 7 ballot. Proponents of the amendments had filed an appeal with the high court.
The elections board is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats.
Had the proponents been successful in their appeal, Youngstown voters would have been asked for a seventh time to approve a misguided, self-aggrandizing ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city.
We have been consistent in our opposition to this effort for the simple reason that the so-called Community Bill of Rights would not have given city government many of the rights envisioned in the proposed charter amendment.
We have argued that the ban would have been unenforceable under current state statutes. Indeed, the Ohio Constitution gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources exclusive authority to oversee the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from beneath the earth’s surface.
Organized opposition from the business and labor communities has centered on the practical aspect of the Bill of Rights. Jobs tied to the drilling industry in the city, including hundreds at Vallourec Star, would have been threatened.
Finally, the amendment has been pulled out of thin air because there are no companies with serious plans to drill for oil and gas within city limits. That is why we characterized the effort as self-aggrandizing.
The other proposed charter amendment that will not appear on the November general election ballot deals with how elections are conducted in the city.
It would hav e restricted political contributions to $100 per ballot measure and candidate, and only permitted city residents to contribute.
The amendment also would have banned corporations, labor unions, political action committees, political parties and other campaign-funding entities to give money to city candidates and ballot issues.
We shared the opinion of those who contended that such restrictions would have been unenforceable given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on money and political campaigns.
There was one provision in the proposed charter amendment dealing with city elections that had merit.
It would have eliminated political party primaries, replacing them with nonpartisan ones in which the top two vote getters would face off in the general election.
Youngstown is a predominantly Democratic city, which means that the winner of the Democratic primary more often than not ends up winning the general election.
As a result, voters who aren’t registered Democrats have little say in the outcome of elections.
In rejecting both proposed charter amendments, the elections board focused on a new state law, House Bill 463. It requires boards to invalidate local initiative petitions if they determine that any part of the petition falls outside the constitutional authority of the local government to enact it.
However, the Ohio Supreme Court did not deal with the constitutionality of HB 463 in upholding the board of elections’ decision. Instead, the four-justice majority relied on case law.
Reaction from one of the architects of the proposed amendments was predictable:
“The ‘corporate state’ is alive and well and doesn’t work for the people,” said Susie Beiersdorfer. “I agree with the minority [the three justices] that House Bill 463 is unconstitutional.”
To be sure, debate over the new state law will continue to rage. However, Beiersdorfer is ignoring the fact that “the people” of Youngtown voted six times against the anti-fracking amendment.
Indeed, last year, some 22,000 city voters had their say on the matter. It was the largest chunk of the electorate, and the result was unequivocal: 55 percent voted against the anti-fracking amendment.
It’s time for the self-appointed watchdogs of society to concede that a ban on fracking in the city of Youngstown will not become a reality anytime soon.