Originally posted November 6, 2005:
In a little less than 36 hours, polls will open in Ohio, and voters will begin to give their decision about a set of proposals called collectively “Reform Ohio Now” (RON). There are other important issues, of course: Cleveland voters will choose a mayor, and in the community where I live, voters will fill most of the seats on the board of education. And yet Issues 2 through 5 represent the most far-reaching decision to be made in this state this year.
What set the stage for RON is six years of unchecked one-party rule. Ohio is a fairly evenly-balanced state, but Republicans achieved total control of state government several years ago. They used that control to solidify their political advantages. They reapportioned legislative districts to guarantee Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. They “reformed” campaign finance by quadrupling the individual contribution limit and limiting the political involvement of union members. And Ohio elections are supervised by a Republican Secretary of State who is an announced candidate for governor in the 2006 election.
The four issues address these problems.
- Issue 2 makes absentee voting easier.
- Issue 3 rolls back individual contribution limits.
- Issue 4 puts reapportionment in the hands of a bipartisan panel.
- Issue 5 puts elections in the hands of a bipartisan elections authority.
I am not convinced that these proposals are perfect, and I am not convinced that they are the only solution to these problems. I am convinced that they are the best solution available to us at this time.
Republican one-party rule has been so abused—a convicted governor, a state investment scandal, allegations of influence peddling, the continuing embarrassment of an unconstitutional system of school funding—that Democrats, despite their habitual campaign incompetence, may capture several top state offices in 2006. Without passage of Issues 2 through 5, Democrats in 2010 may be in a position to gerrymander the state their way. One or two legislative elections could give this evenly-balanced state a one-party rule in which the same kinds of abuses are practiced by a different party. RON would impact Republican rule now, but it would limit Democratic governments in the future.
So it’s easy to see why RON has been opposed by most Republicans and ignored by many Democrats. Support for RON comes not from parties but from unions, including the Ohio Education Association, and a wide variety of nonpartisan organizations.
That in turn explains why we’re not seeing many ads in favor of the issues: the Reform Ohio Now campaign is poorly funded. In contrast, the opposition is well-funded, and includes the most strident Republican allies: right-wing religious groups, business groups, and gun-rights supporters. They’ve been able to put together a slick, misleading media campaign that may sink all four issues.
As it’s sometimes pointed out, “what goes around comes around.” Even without RON, Ohio’s political life is likely to change. Whether that change will be managed for the common good or whether it will take the form of cyclical partisan power shifts will largely be determined by whether RON passes or fails.
I believe that these four issues represent a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change a system that promotes abuse and corruption. I’m voting for Issues 2-5, and I hope you will too. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s worth the climb.