Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft weighs in on hot-button constitutional amendment reform plan
Former Republican Ohio Gov. Bob Taft urged state lawmakers on Monday against advancing a measure that would make it harder to amend the state constitution or reviving August special elections to do it — calling the combination ‘especially bad public policy.’
Taft, the scion of one of Ohio’s most famous political families, sent a letter of protest to General Assembly members as a faction of GOP legislators and a coalition of powerful lobbyists scramble to get ahead of an amendment guaranteeing Ohioans’ access to abortion that organizers hope to get on the November ballot.
The Ohio Senate approved a resolution last week that would raise the threshold for citizens to pass future changes to the Ohio Constitution from 50%-plus-one to 60%, but the measure’s fate in the politically fractured Ohio House has not yet been determined.
A plan devised by Republican Senate President Matt Huffman and supported by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose involves setting a special August election to put the 60% question before voters.
The move comes only a few months after lawmakers passed legislation abolishing such elections in most cases. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed that bill in January, said on Monday that he would sign a bill to reverse it, should it clear both legislative chambers.
Taft, who served as both governor and Ohio secretary of state, said he knows from running Ohio elections that few voters show up at the polls in the summer.
‘For more than 100 years, amendments to the Ohio Constitution have been decided by a simple majority vote,’ he wrote. ‘The decision to change such a deeply embedded practice should not be made at a low turnout election.’ He said such a question belongs on a general election ballot, when there is maximum turnout.
But Taft said he also opposes raising the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments at all.
Taft noted that two of his own signature initiatives as governor — the Clean Ohio Fund and the Third Frontier Project — would not have been approved under the higher threshold. The former passed with 57.4% of the vote, the latter — after an initial defeat — with 54.1%, he wrote.
‘Both measures have stood the test of time, contributing importantly to the economy and quality of life of our state,’ Taft wrote.
Taft, governor from 1999 to 2007, also warned that Ohio can’t raise its debt limit above $750,000 without a vote of the people. Raising the threshold to 60% could mean that raising the debt limit to fund highway or school construction, environmental protection or job creation programs ‘may become impossible in the years to come,’ he wrote. A similar argument was made in January by a coalition of voting rights, faith, labor and other organizations lined up to fight the measure.
But Taft’s last-minute opposition may do little to deter the 60% measure from moving forward, possibly as soon as this week. Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said the necessary 60 representatives have committed to voting yes, and that list has been shared with Stephens.
Gonidakis let lawmakers know that their votes on the resolution, as well as the bill setting a special August election, will be counted toward their ‘pro-life’ records when scorecards are issued at election time, he said. The Buckeye Firearms Association, which supports raising the threshold to 60% to keep Ohioans from passing future gun control amendments, will use the same approach on its gun rights scorecards, Gonidakis said.