Editorial: Fairer districts would be refreshing twist Columbus dispatch 4/30/17

Editorial:
Fairer districts would be refreshing twist

The districts cynically split counties, cities, villages, townships and neighborhoods. The current map splits county boundaries 54 times. Seven counties are split among three or more congressional districts.

The districts twist and turn like snakes and other creatures, none more blatantly than the 9th Congressional District, which slithers along the Lake Erie shore from Toledo to Cleveland.

Central Ohio’s three congressional districts also are geographic absurdities, needlessly dividing neighborhoods, school districts, other governmental units and their concerns. Ohioans deserve congressional districts that respect them and the communities in which they live.

Contorted, meandering districts, in Ohio and other states, are a prime reason congressional politics are poisonous — as partisan and ugly as ever in modern times. They encourage extremism, discourage bipartisanship, and sabotage efforts to find common ground.

Fortunately, Ohioans soon might have an opportunity to support a statewide ballot issue to end gerrymandering in our state.

A coalition of nonprofit organizations, called Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio, has submitted a plan to the Ohio attorney general to place an issue on the statewide ballot in November 2017 or November 2018.

Once the attorney general’s office validates the summary language as fair and truthful, it goes to the Ohio Ballot Board for certification.

The reform coalition then must gather at least 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters — 10 percent of the number voting in the most recent election for governor.

The plan should win wide acceptance, chiefly because it mirrors the reform plan for state legislative districts overwhelmingly approved by Ohio voters (71.5 percent) in November 2015. It won big in all 88 counties.

The current districts were drawn in 2011 and will stay in place until after the 2020 census. New districts must be drawn in 2021 in time for the 2022 elections.

The proposed plan would take the map-drawing job away from the state legislature and give it to the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission. The commission would be required to draw districts that are compact, do not favor or disfavor any political party, and keep communities together as much as possible.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio, one of the coalition partners, has been working doggedly on this issue for four decades, through Democratic and Republican administrations and legislatures. The league deserves widespread support for its steadfast efforts to add Ohio to the ranks of states putting citizen interests ahead of power politics.

Details of the proposed amendment, and information on getting involved, can be found at fairdistrictsohio.org.

Fortunately, in the past year some of Ohio’s leading Republicans have challenged their party to take a lead role in ending gerrymandering. They include Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted and former governors Bob Taft and (the late) George Voinovich.

Several years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — an appointee of Ronald Reagan — said of gerrymandering: “It is unfortunate that when it comes to apportionment, we are in the business of rigging elections.”

Ohioans of every political stripe should embrace this opportunity to slay the gerrymander and end rigged elections.

Editorial: Protect integrity of Ohio’s constitution Columbus Dispatch 4/2/2017

Editorial: Protect integrity of Ohio’s constitution
Columbus Dispatch 4/2/2017
The link is here

Ohio voters should be given the opportunity to ease the process of initiating state laws.

They also should be given the chance, in a separate ballot issue, to decide if initiating constitutional amendments should be more difficult.

Both would require amending the Ohio Constitution, which only voters can do.

For nearly three years, a committee of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission has studied possible changes in initiated statutes and initiated amendments.

Only 15 state constitutions give voters the right to initiate both laws and amendments. The Ohio Constitution has provided those rights since 1912.

Since then, Ohioans using their constitutional rights to engage in direct democracy overwhelmingly have favored the amendment over the statutory route.

Of 80 attempts to initiate policy, petitioners have chosen to try to amend the constitution 68 times (85 percent). Initiated laws have been adopted only three times, most recently in 2006 to restrict smoking in public places.

Statehouse Democrats and Republicans agree that petitioners usually choose the amendment route for two reasons.

First, the requirements for getting on the ballot are nearly as difficult, and therefore nearly as costly, for a proposed law as for a proposed amendment.

Qualifying a proposed law for the ballot requires petitioners, as a first step, to collect signatures equal to 3 percent of the electorate. The proposal then goes to the General Assembly, which has four months to adopt, reject or modify it.

If the legislature rejects or modifies the proposal in a way unacceptable to petitioners, they must restart the petition drive and collect an additional 3 percent, totaling 6 percent of the electorate.

Second, even if Ohioans proposing an initiated law are successful in the election, nothing prevents the legislature from later repealing or amending the voter-approved statute.

Given these disincentives, petitioners rationally choose the amendment route. Voter-approved amendments, like the rest of the constitution, can only be changed by a public vote.

As a result, over time the Ohio Constitution becomes weighted with ornaments more suited to the Ohio Revised Code, such as livestock-care standards and casinos.

That’s why the modernization commission is considering how to ease the process of initiating state laws, and how to make the amendment process more difficult.

An idea gaining momentum is to create a 5 percent signature requirement for initiated laws, eliminate the supplementary petition requirement, and prohibit the General Assembly from changing any voter-enacted law for five years, except by a two-thirds vote.

Such a proposal has merit standing alone. However, majority Republicans appear intent on marrying it to a proposal requiring proposed amendments to receive 55 percent approval to win passage. Republicans also want to restrict initiated amendments to general elections in even-numbered years.

Some states have supermajority requirements for voter-initiated constitutional amendments. Florida, for example, requires 60 percent approval. Nevada requires a majority vote in two consecutive elections.

There is much to commend efforts to make initiated laws easier and initiated amendments harder.

However, the cleanest way to present these alternatives to voters is in two separate issues, not a combined one. When dealing with proposed changes to fundamental constitutional rights, voters should have an opportunity to judge each on its own merits.

Originally appeared in Columbus Dispatch. Reprinted with permission

Editorial: Ohio Constitution deserves bipartisan review Columbus Dispatch 3/23/2107

Reprinted by permission
Original link is here
Editorial: Ohio Constitution deserves bipartisan review
Columbus Dispatch 3/23/2107
Thursday 

State lawmakers should grant a reprieve to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission. The 32-member body, diligent but underappreciated, is set to expire prematurely at the end of this year.

The unapologetic executioner is state Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, who — as Senate president last session — slipped a poison pill into the state budget to kill the commission.

Now that Faber again is a House freshman, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and Senate President Larry Obhof have an opportunity to redress Faber’s petulance, show prudence, and allow the commission to fulfill its original promise.

Under the leadership of former Speaker William G. Batchelder, the commission began in October 2011. It was given a decade to work, to expire July 1, 2021.

The Ohio Constitution deserves a periodic, methodical and bipartisan review, which is what has been occurring since the commission got rolling in 2014.

The late start was largely attributable to Faber’s reluctance to help get commissioners appointed and staff hired.

The constitution, 166 years old, is the nation’s sixth oldest. At nearly 57,000 words, it’s the 10th longest. With such age and length comes obsolete provisions and archaic constructions.

Because the state is not likely to hold another state constitutional convention in the foreseeable future (the last was in 1912), a bipartisan commission of respected individuals should be impaneled once every two decades to examine potential amendments for a public vote.

Since 2014, the commission has performed valuable service. It paved the way for two amendments approved by Ohio voters in November 2015, providing for apportionment reform and anti-monopoly safeguards.

Near the end of last year, the commission sent to the General Assembly proposals to eliminate several obsolete sections of the constitution. If sent to the ballot and approved by voters, they would eliminate:

‒ Courts of conciliation, created in 1851 to allow resolution of disputes outside the traditional legal process. They’ve never been used, and long ago were replaced by modern arbitration proceedings.

‒ The Supreme Court Commission, created in 1875 to relieve backlogs of cases. It has not been used since 1885.

‒ Sections authorizing specific debt and bonding authority for projects long ago accomplished with debts long ago paid off.

‒ Provisions on the Sinking Fund Commission, whose responsibilities long ago were taken over by the state treasurer.

Like the legislature itself, the commission works through standing committees, which hear testimony and compile research. The commission’s body of research, available on its website, is a model of objective, detailed analysis — a treasure for researchers and policymakers.

The commission has not yet dived into the constitution’s sections on the executive branch, the elective franchise, the militia, and a few other areas.

One of its committees is attempting to find compromise on an amendment that would make it easier for voters to enact initiated laws, but more difficult to enact initiated amendments.

This is highly sensitive territory, requiring bipartisan diplomacy and outreach to a broad spectrum of interest groups.

Since 1912, the Ohio Constitution has given voters the power to directly initiate constitutional amendments, bypassing the General Assembly. Ohio is one of only 16 states with that provision, and one of only 11 where enactment requires only a simple majority vote.

The committee has discussed requiring a 55 percent vote to amend the constitution. This deserves patient, extensive review. Pulling the plug on the commission sends the opposite message — one of callous indifference.

“Redistricting and Voting Rights in Ohio” forum August 25, 2016

“Redistricting and Voting Rights in Ohio” August 25, 2016

Panelists:
Representative Kathleen Clyde (D), Ohio House District 75
Dr. John C. Green, Director, Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics
Senator Frank LaRose (R), Ohio Senate District 27

Moderator: Thomas Suddes, Editorial Writer, Cleveland.com

Overall Theme:
As with weather, everyone talks about gerrymandering — drawing legislative districts to favor one party over another — but until recently, few in Ohio were prepared to do anything about it. Nonetheless, Ohio has recently reformed how its draws General Assembly districts — and reform of congressional “districting” is on some Columbus agendas. This panel explores the hows and whys.

CWRU Siegal Facility, 26500 Shaker Blvd., Beachwood OH 44122
Cost: Free & Open to the Public

Co-sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland, Cleveland.com, Plain Dealer plus Lakewood and Cuyahoga County Library Systems
Corporate sponsor: First Interstate Properties, Ltd.

Ohio Constitution aggregation

1 The History of Term Limits in Ohio by Michael F. Curtin
2 The 1912 Ohio Constitutional Convention Documentary
3 The Ohio Constitution 
4 Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1912 by Landon Warner
5 Ohio Constitution Website from CSU-Marshall Law School
6 Ohio Constitution to get a thorough review (Plain Dealer 9/24/12) 
7 Constitutional editors gather in Ohio: editorial (Plain Dealer 1/1/12)
8  
9 The flaws behind the issues that confront voters on Ohio ballots: Thomas Suddes (Plain Dealer 11/3/13)
10 The Ohio Constitution – Is It Time For a Rewrite?
11 Mike Curtin commentary: Ohio Constitution could use some tweaking (Columbus Dispatch 11/15/10)
12 Information kept by our government should be presumed open to public (by David Marburger 3/10/13)
13 The Ohio Constitution (and Convention) of 1851 from the Ohio Historical Society
14 Evolution of the Ohio Constitution – Mike Curtain speech 2002

Ohio’s Home-Rule Amendment: Why Ohio’s General Assembly Creating Regional Governments would Combat the Regional Race to the Bottom under Current Home-Rule Principles

Cleveland State Law Review:

Ohio’s Home-Rule Amendment: Why Ohio’s General Assembly Creating Regional Governments would Combat the Regional Race to the Bottom under Current Home-Rule Principles

Law review paper written by Jonathon Angarola

The link is here

The History of Term Limits in Ohio by Michael F. Curtin

The pdf is here

The History of Term Limits in Ohio

By Michael F. Curtin

     Ohio is one of 15 states to limit the number of terms its state lawmakers can serve. However, this is a relatively recent development. For most of its history, Ohio imposed no limit on the longevity of state legislators.

     In the early 1990s, national conservative and libertarian organizations initiated ballot issues in more than 20 states to limit the terms of U.S. senators, U.S. representatives, state senators and state representatives.

     The most prominent of these organizations is U.S. Term Limits of Fairfax, Va. (http://termlimits.org)

     The high-water mark of this movement was 1992. On Nov. 3, 1992, voters in Ohio and 14 other states decided term-limit issues.

     In Ohio, by overwhelming ratios, voters approved all three term-limit issues on the ballot:

  • State Issue 2, approved by 66 percent of the voters, limited U.S. senators from Ohio to two successive terms of six years, and limited U.S. representatives from Ohio to four successive terms of two years.
  • State Issue 3, approved by 68 percent of the voters, limited state senators to two successive terms of four years, and state representatives to four successive terms of two years.
  • State Issue 4, approved by 69 percent of the voters, limited the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer of state, attorney general and auditor to two successive terms of four years.

At the time, most Republican and conservative organizations nationally and in Ohio supported the term-limit issues. Most Democratic and liberal organizations either opposed the issues or remained neutral, recognizing the overwhelming support the issues had in public-opinion polls leading up to the election.

     However, the voter-approved limits on U.S. senators and U.S. representatives never took effect.

     Term-limit opponents filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of states setting limits on the tenure of federal officeholders.

     On May 22, 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, by a 5-to-4 decision, ruled that states cannot impose qualifications for prospective members of Congress that are stricter than the qualifications specified in the U.S. Constitution.

     With that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated congressional term limits in 23 states.

     Left standing, however, were voter-approved term limits applicable to state executive officeholders and state lawmakers.

     Ohio’s new term limits restricted all statewide officeholders and state legislators to no more than eight consecutive years in office.    

     Because the state constitutional amendments were approved in November 1992, to take effect in January 1993, and because laws cannot be made retroactive, that meant any Ohio statewide official or legislator in office as of January 1993 could not serve beyond Dec. 31, 2000.

     Prior to adoption of these amendments, the only Ohio statewide office with a term limit was the office of governor.

     On Nov. 2, 1954, Ohio voters (55 percent to 45 percent) approved a state constitutional amendment to establish four-year terms for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state, and to limit the governor to two successive terms.

     The Ohio Supreme Court later interpreted the amendment to allow a former governor to run again for governor after being out of office for four years.

     Similarly, the amendments approved in 1992 allow officeholders to run again for the same office, as long as they have been out of office for at least four years.

     The debate over term limits is as old as the republic, although the popularity of term limits is largely a modern-day phenomenon.

     In 1781, the Articles of Confederation limited delegates to the Continental Congress to three years of service in a six-year period. This thinking, which traces back to ancient Greece, is rooted in the philosophy that those who govern should be reminded that they soon will return to the ranks of the governed.

     However, the framers of the U.S. Constitution considered and rejected term limits for members of Congress. This thinking is rooted in the philosophy that frequent elections give the people sufficient opportunity to oust officeholders.

     The Founding Fathers also imposed no limit on presidential terms, although for many decades it was customary for presidents to serve for only two terms.

     Following the fourth consecutive presidential victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, Congress moved to establish a two-term limit for presidents.

     On March 21, 1947, Congress passed an amendment, to submit to the states for ratification, declaring, “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice . . .” The ratification process was completed on Feb. 27, 1951.

     The modern-day popularity of term limits correlates strongly with voter disgust over official misbehavior, scandals, legislative gridlock, and highly-negative, highly-partisan campaigning and governing.

     Indeed, there is little sign that voters in Ohio are having second thoughts over the value of term limits. In April 2005,

the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, at the University of Akron (www.uakron.edu/bliss) , concluded a two-year study titled “Assessing Legislative Term Limits in Ohio.”

     The study concluded that approximatey two-thirds of Ohioans believe that term limits have fostered good government and improved the state.

     “On balance, the (poll) respondents felt that term limits brought fresh ideas into the legislature, increased the number of ‘citizen legislators,’ and had not reduced the effectiveness of the legislature, increased the responsiveness of the legislature to the public, and did not reduce the wisdom and experience of the legislature.”

     Interestingly, the study also found that those closest to state government – officeholders, lobbyists and those who study the workings of state government – are strongly critical of term limits.

     About three-fourths of the close observers of state government would favor the repeal of term limits, the study found.

     These close observers believe that term limits have weakened the legislative branch and increased the power of special interests, which are believed to have more expertise than relatively inexperienced legislators.

     Critics of term limits believe that state government is a complex business with many complex issues, and that it takes years for lawmakers to develop the necessary expertise to effectively evaluate policy alternatives.

     The close observers, according to the Bliss study, “report that (legislative) committee members are less knowledgeable about the issues, less willing to compromise, and less courteous to fellow committee members.”

     There is no question that term limits guarantee an inexperienced legislature. When the 124th Ohio General Assembly convened in January 2001, nearly half of the previous legislature – with 211 years of combined experience – were gone.

      Prior to 2001, Ohio was among the states with the most experienced legislatures. Today it ranks among the states with the least experienced legislatures and the highest turnover rate of lawmakers.

     According to the Bliss study, “When the Ohio General Assembly convened in January 2003, none of the 99 representatives or 33 senators had held his or her seat for more than six years. In the 1990s, the average length of service was 21.6 years.”

     With such a wide gap between the views of the general public and those of close observers of the Ohio legislature, some analysts have begun to explore the possibility of asking the electorate to extend term limits to 12 years, from the current eight, rather than asking voters to eliminate term limits altogether.

     The Bliss study found that about one-third of Ohioans who support term limits say they would consider extending them to 12 years.

     The forum in which that proposal is likely to get serious study is the recently-formed Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission. (www.ocmc.ohio.gov)

     The 32-member commission, created in 2012 by the state legislature, is charged with analyzing proposed changes to the Ohio Constitution and making recommendations to the General Assembly.

     The commission, composed of 12 state legislators and 20 persons appointed by those 12, can forward a recommendation for constitutional change to the General Assembly only if the the proposal obtains a two-thirds favorable vote.

     Like any proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution, a proposal cannot go on the statewide ballot unless it receives a three-fifths favorable vote in both the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives.

     Regardless of one’s personal opinion on term limits, it is clear that the issue will continue to receive considerable scrutiny in the near future, and the General Assembly will debate whether and when to ask voters to change the current eight-year limit.

Columbus native Michael F. Curtin is currently a representative (first elected 2012) from the 17th Ohio House District (west and south sides of Columbus). He had a 38-year journalism career with the Columbus Dispatch, most devoted to coverage of local and state government and politics.

Mr. Curtin is author of The Ohio Politics Almanac, first and second editions (KSU Press).

Finally, he is a licensed umpire, Ohio High School Athletic Association (baseball and fastpitch softball)