Community Conversation: Hear from both sides of Issue 1

To help answer questions our audiences have had about the upcoming Aug. 8 special election and Issue 1, the Dayton Daily News hosted a Community Conversation at noon Wednesday, July 26.

The discussion was co-hosted by Community Impact Editor Nick Hrkman and reporter Avery Kreemer and included Jen Miller, Executive Director of the Ohio League of Women Voters, and Sen. Theresa Gavarone, co-sponsor of SJR2 that put Issue 1 on the ballot.

Editor’s Note: The transcript below has been edited for brevity and clarity. You can watch a recording of the full Community Conversation on the Dayton Daily News Facebook Page or on our website.

Miller: Ohioans have had the ability to pass constitutional ballot initiatives since 1912. That’s been done through a simple majority, which is 50% plus one. Issue 1 would change that passage rate to 60%. Additionally, it would make it harder to get on the ballot. It would require signatures to be collected in all 88, rather than 44, counties and get rid of the grace period or the cure period where, if a campaign comes up short on signatures, they would no longer have the ability to correct them.

Gavarone: Ohio’s constitution is the most important document for protecting and preserving the rights of all Ohioans, we need to look at what we can do to protect our founding document from well-funded, out-of-state special interest groups who come to Ohio and manipulate our constitution for their own gain. If you’re going to change our founding document, it’s important that there’s broad consensus that a change should be made. And so by requiring signatures in 88 counties, everyone has a say in whether or not that’s a good idea. We’ve seen our constitution be manipulated time and time again. The most glaring example was with the casinos. When that issue came to town, they bought land and put the real estate parcel numbers of where casinos can be located in our constitution. They spent $50 million running that campaign in Ohio, and it passed with 52% of the vote. And now our constitution has real estate parcel numbers in it. That’s not what our constitution is all about. There can still be citizen-initiated constitutional changes, but we need to have a higher threshold to make sure there’s broad consensus across the state before we make such a change to our founding document.

Miller: I completely agree that our constitution is sacred. It is the people’s document. Some of the best policies that have been passed in Ohio have been a done for and by the people through the constitutional process. We have passed pensions for war vets, established local control, reformed the tax code, repaired roads, bridges, sewer systems, built 1,200 schools, integrated the Ohio National Guard and more. The League of Women Voters was opposed to the casino ballot initiative — we often are opposed. And when those things pass, we don’t try to change the rules of the game by making it harder for all citizen groups to amend the constitution. Keep in mind, on the casino issue, Ohioans actually addressed that in 2015 with a constitutional ballot initiative to prohibit monopolies or cartels from using the constitution for their own financial gain. If Issue 1 had been law at that point, that would not have passed. It passed by just over 51%. It’s already incredibly difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution. Since 1912, only about 27% of those initiatives pass. Ohioans are very judicious, they tend to vote “No.” It’s also already incredibly difficult to get enough signatures to get on the ballot. Most campaigns do collect in all 88 counties, but by having a threshold in all 88 counties rather than 44, essentially one county can have a veto. If a campaign is short by one county because the county decided not to participate in the process, they veto the the ability for the rest of Ohio to decide if an issue should pass — that should be of considerable concern for everyone.

Gavarone: When there’s broad consensus, change can happen. Look at Issue 1 and Issue 2 last year. Both of those issues passed with 77% of the vote. Because they were good ideas. And that’s when we should change the constitution, when there’s broad consensus. We have a lot of smaller counties in our state that feel that they don’t really have a voice that they’re not really heard. If it’s a good idea, every county should get on board. The Ohio Constitution was never intended to be a second policy document — we have the Ohio Revised Code. That’s where policy belongs. But that’s what we see, more and more policy issues being proposed in our constitution. As a result, we have a very lengthy constitution. Issue 1 in no way changes the ability of the public to to pass initiatives to change legislation, to change the Ohio Revised Code. That still passes with a simple majority. Issue 1 says, when you’re talking about our founding document, there should be a higher threshold. Look at the organizations that oppose this issue, including the League of Women Voters. They require 60% or more before changing their founding document, their bylaws. I don’t see why these private organizations documents are any more important than our state constitution.

Miller: Comparing how a private organization amends their their governing documents to how the people of Ohio manage our constitution of 12 million people is like comparing an apple to a bowling ball. There is nothing in common. We’re talking about the people’s document, we are setting forth rules here for the people of Ohio that affect voters and non-voters today, tomorrow, 10 years, 30 years from now. And cementing in minority rule is not the way to go. The statutory process, the ability of citizens to collect signatures and pass a law, is almost never used in Ohio. And the reason is that it’s still very, very expensive, it’s still very difficult. Even if a policy passes with a wide majority, the Ohio legislature can just come in and undo that policy. That’s why no one does it. We wouldn’t take thousands of volunteers and travel the state to get signatures to pass a law knowing that the next time the legislature is in, they can undo it immediately. And so the League of Women Voters believes that the Ohio Constitution is sacred. We have said for a long time that the best way to protect the Ohio Constitution is actually to improve the statutory process. We’re not seeing any of that.

Gavarone: Ohio is one of the few states in this country that even allow a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment. Most states don’t. And of the states that do allow citizen initiated constitutional amendments, no one has a lower threshold than Ohio at a simple majority. Ohio is an easy target for these out-of-state groups that want to effect change. So we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to protect our founding document.

Miller: I don’t think being one out of 18 means one of the only. 18 states allow constitutional amendments, and only one state requires a 60% threshold for all constitutional amendments. And that’s Florida. I don’t want to be Florida. I want to be Ohio. I want to be the best Ohio we can be. Every living Ohio governor, Republican and Democrat, as well as five former attorneys general, Republican and Democrat, are opposed to Issue 1. Our movement is bipartisan. We have third-party groups like the Libertarians because what we have here is an attempt to rig the game to trick Ohioans into voting our own rights away. This is our check on power.

Gavarone: Issue 1 does not take away the rights of citizens to make changes to Ohio’s constitution. And I wouldn’t want that. It’s an important check. But what it does do is protect and preserve our constitution. There’s a reason that the Ohio Restaurant Association, the Ohio Farm Bureau, the Ohio Chamber and the National Federation of Independent Businesses all support Issue 1. When businesses come to Ohio, they want stability, they want to know that that changes to our rights aren’t going to be made with by a whim. And certainly not made by out-of-state special interest groups who are coming in, throwing money at an issue to manipulate our constitution. 60% is far less of a threshold than changing the United States Constitution. When you look at our Founding Fathers, they wanted to protect our founding documents, and we that’s what we need to do in Ohio. We wanted to make sure it’s something that is achievable with broad support. And 60% seemed to be the sweet spot. I listened to hours of testimony and that’s what one of the experts said, that 60% is a reasonable threshold where issues with broad consensus across the state can get to that level and still effect change. It applies to the legislature as well. And there again, there’s small counties in our state who feel like they don’t have a voice. If everyone can get all their signatures from the big cities, then there’s a concern that they don’t really have a say. It’s also important to get the signatures and get it right the first time.

Miller: The requirement of having signatures in 44 counties certainly can’t just be done in the big cities. 44 counties is a nice broad swath. Secondly, this idea of getting rid of that cure period is really a problem, especially for citizen groups. It’s actually a lot easier to get on the ballot if you have a lot of money already, because you can pay signature gathers. But for groups like mine, where folks are doing it on weekends or evenings, to get a good government policy on the on the ballot, it takes many, many months. And when you get a signature, it might be completely valid. But then when you turn it in, that individual passed away, or they’ve moved, and they’ve updated their registration as they should, and through no fault of the campaign. So those signatures grow stale. Getting rid of the “cure period” and requiring 88 counties, what that means is that a campaign could have thousands of volunteers and they could come up one signature short in one county and it would be all for naught. I’m from rural Ohio and I’ve been traveling the state, and I have members in every county of the state. And I have to say that one county being able to veto with the rest of Ohio once in terms of being able to just decide on an issue is really a problem that’s resonating in rural Ohio as much, if not more, than in some of the larger cities.

Gavarone: I want to thank everyone out there who’s joining us here today. It’s an important conversation. And I really appreciate you getting educated on the subject. And I do want to encourage everyone to get out and vote early. Vote now through August 8 and vote “Yes” on such an important issue to protect and preserve our founding document our constitution.

Miller: I talk to farmers and CEOs every day, and I know that many are opposed. We have such a broad try partisan coalition from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Because ballot initiatives give Ohioans the freedom to make laws when politicians fail us. We all want the freedom to be able to improve our daily lives and some of the best policies that have passed in Ohio have been done for and by the people. We urge everyone to vote “No” because 40% of the people would be able to block the will of the majority. One county could block the will of 87 counties. Please make sure that you vote. Please make sure that you check in on your family and friends and that you do your research because there are new voter ID laws as well as new logistical deadlines for both absentee voting and early voting.