Rachel Citak, Cincinnati Enquirer Opinion Contributor Piece
While “fly-over country,” or “Fly Over States,” may refer to the Midwest in a Jason Aldean song, it is also a political term. In the campaign world, “fly-over” refers to a state or region calculated as a guaranteed loss or guaranteed win − and thus not worth the time, effort, and resources it would take to possibly win the voters over.
I argue that there are also “fly-over” populations in our Ohio electorate. Why spend time courting Black voters if we only make up 13% of the population? Especially if our vote can be taken for granted by Democratic candidates. Why pursue rural voters when they reside in sparse populations? Especially if their region historically votes Republican. Why even try to woo voters in counties that are Republican or Democrat strongholds?
Issue 1 levels the playing field for these fly-over populations.
These populations have often been disregarded in times when discriminatory sentiments prevailed for the majority of our population. It was an Ohioan, Thomas Corwin, who lead efforts to ratify the 1861 Corwin Amendment, authored amidst the flaming passions of the day pushing the Union to prevent the South’s secession. So the Corwin Amendment was offered as a compromise to prohibit Congress from ever obtaining “the power to abolish or interfere” with the institution of slavery. This compromise picked up traction with ratification among five states, but a strong U.S. Constitution and difficult amendment process allowed our founding document to withstand such passions.
We need only to look to the not-so-distant injustices of our nation’s history to understand why our national and state constitutions should not fall to the whims and passions of the day. There was a time it would have been quite easy to collect votes from 50% plus one individuals in support of separate drinking fountains, schools and dining areas in many American towns during the Jim Crow Era. A major reason why motivated legislators are able now to repeal such defunct, prejudicial laws as relics of the past is because these laws were originally passed as legislative statutes − not constitutional amendments.
From the Ohio Civil Rights Act of 1959 to the 1895 suffrage success allowing women to vote in Ohio’s school board elections, many of the rights and privileges we associate with a civil and just Ohio have actually been granted by the legislature or Congress. In contrast, Ohio’s Constitution became a pay-to-play document so riddled with parcel numbers, business plans, and passing fancies that we had to protect it against monopolies. It is again time to protect the Ohio Constitution from opportunists who want to circumvent the legislative process.
Instead of getting valid signatures from half of Ohio counties and “flying over” the rest in order to pursue a constitutional amendment, Issue 1 will require petitioners to obtain signatures from each and every county. Not just the rural counties, not just the metropolitan counties, not just the red or blue counties − all 88 Ohio counties. And when every county has a voice, we move that much closer toward an Ohio where every citizen matters.
Issue 1 moves us towards a day when candidates and causes will be forced to court all citizens and counties in pursuit of passage. Since an amendment currently only requires 50% plus one vote and half the counties, out-of-state special interests can scrounge those numbers from any 44 counties. Add in a pay-per-signature effort bringing in petitioners from out of state, and you have an amendment that ultimately fails to represent all four corners of Ohio.
As a Black civil rights and constitutional law attorney, I want a constitution that is difficult to change and strengthened for the future. I serve those who have suffered from employment discrimination and consider remedies with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. This right was granted by Ohio Statute, enacted by our elected legislators − not citizen amendments. I serve fellow Black business owners in their pursuit of protection from crippling government overregulation and bureaucracy. I want them to be able to vote out the legislators who do not serve their purposes, and vote in the ones who do. I recognize it is much easier to vote out a politician or overwrite a statute than it is to repeal an amendment.
It is important to note the aspects of our political landscape and legislative process which will remain the same. There is nothing in Issue 1 which prevents citizens from overturning existing Ohio legislation by a referendum with 50% plus one majority of the vote. Additionally, citizens are still free to pass their own legislation by ballot initiative with a 50% plus one majority of the vote.
But for national organizations such as the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Ohio is just one stop in the effort to buy vulnerable state constitutions as BISC seeks to “leverage ballot measures across the United States.” In the effort to oppose Issue 1, BISC is joined by the Ohio Communist Party and the Ohio Democrat Party. How ironic, seeing as the Ohio Democrat Party Constitution requires 60% or more votes to amend. Additionally, HJR19 in 2018 boasted bipartisan sponsorship and support, proposing the same measures for the State Constitution then as Issue 1 does today.
Opposition to Issue 1 is joined by press and media outlets, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Enquirer. If Issue 1 passes, it won’t be the first time that many of the issue opponents have been on the “wrong” side of the electorate. The Enquirer also opposed last election cycle’s bail reform (77% passage) and Issue 2 prohibiting non-citizens from voting in Ohio (76.9%).
When it is time for Ohioans to do the right thing, we often pull through despite fierce opposition. I hope you will do the same by voting YES on Issue 1 with early voting or in-person on Aug. 8.
Rachel Citak, of Anderson Township, is a civil rights and constitutional law attorney and the new president of Cincinnati Right to Life. She is a member of the Enquirer editorial board. Twitter: @rachelrcitak