Ohio’s Constitutions: An Historical Perspective Barbara A. Terzian Ohio Wesleyan University 2004
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 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)
Produced and directed by Thaddeus Barnette and Jack Babet for History Day 2013
The winner of the 2013 Teaching Cleveland Documentary award
COLUMBUS, Ohio — While the presidential election is getting most of the attention on this November’s ballot, Ohioans will also decide whether it’s time to tinker with some of the guiding principles of this state — Ohio’s constitution.
Issue 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot asks voters whether it is time to arrange a good old-fashioned constitutional convention.
But even if Issue 1 is rejected, the state’s constitution will get a thorough review soon.
In June 2011, the Ohio legislature voted nearly unanimously to establish the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, a bipartisan group of 12 legislative members and 20 non-legislative members who will serve two years unless reappointed. The commission will meet in November and offer a report of recommendations to the legislature in January on ways to improve the constitution. Any changes would have to be approved later by voters.
Democratic Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent, a member of the commission, said she especially wants to look at voting rights issues such as the redistricting process and the controversy over early voting this election season.
“I’m very concerned with voting rights in Ohio, especially with all of the voter suppression tactics that we’ve seen in the legislature now, out around the state and from Secretary (Jon) Husted,” she said. “I think it would be great if we could have a discussion about the right to vote, and to try to make sure it’s protected in our Ohio Constitution.”
Consider that this type of review is rooted in history that’s more than two centuries old before assuming lawmakers are needlessly meddling with the constitution. In 1789, founding father Thomas Jefferson said: “Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.”
The last Ohio constitutional convention occurred in 1912, though the question on whether or not to have one is put to Ohioans every 20 years. Republican House Speaker and co-chair of the commission, William G. Batchelder of Medina, said a constitutional convention today would consist of 99 elected members from all Ohio counties.
The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission is based on a similar group in the 1970s. Like that commission, this one will study the constitution and make recommendations to the Ohio legislature, only if two-thirds of the members approve. Legislators will then vote whether to bring the recommendations to voters, which would require a three-fifths majority of the General Assembly.
Steven Steinglass, an expert on the Ohio Constitution and dean emeritus at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, said the two-thirds majority requirement is an attempt to cut down on partisan recommendations.
Batchelder said he believes the commission is a better way to revise the constitution than a convention.
Legislative members of the commission were chosen by party caucus leaders, and non-legislative members were chosen via an application and review process by the legislative members.
Out of the 20 chosen, 14 gave contributions to local political campaigns within the last four years. Joseph Rugola, for example, gave nearly $20,000 to Democratic campaigns in 2010, and Frederick Mills, in addition to contributing to Republican campaigns in recent years, is a lobbyist for various oil companies, including BP.
Former Republican Gov. Bob Taft and former Republican House Speakers Jo Ann Davidson and Charles Kurfess are also non-legislative members. Members do not receive compensation.
Batchelder said contributions weren’t taken into account in the selection process.
“I think that probably shows that they’re very interested in what’s going on,” he said. ” But I never looked it up; I didn’t pay attention to that, frankly.”
Clyde agreed, saying Democrats’ main focus when recommending members was diversity. Batchelder said another one of his priorities was ensuring members were “capable with the law.”
The 1970s commission had 20 of its recommendations go before voters, and 16 were approved. Some of the amendments included affirming that the voting age had been reduced from 21 to 18 and revising the voting process so the governor and lieutenant governor would be jointly elected.
“The 1970s commission is widely viewed as having been very, very successful,” said Steinglass, adding that most of the topics the commission addressed were not the “high visibility, super-contentious issues,” but rather general procedures within Ohio’s government.
Most states have a recurring ballot vote on the need for a constitutional convention, but only a few have adopted the commission process.
Kate Irby is a fellow in Ohio Universitys E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse Bureau.
on January 01, 2012 at 8:19 PM, updated January 04, 2012 at 5:51 PM
Ohioans periodically are asked, by a statewide ballot question, if they wish to call a convention to revise or replace the Ohio Constitution, last overhauled in 1912.
Voters said no in 1932, 1952, 1972 and 1992. They’ll be asked again this November, and there’s at least a chance they’ll say yes. Either way, the timing couldn’t be better for the new Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, which met Wednesday for the first time.
The commission’s two chairmen are experienced legislators: Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, a Medina Republican, and Rep. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat.
Other Northeast Ohio legislators on the panel are Sen. Michael Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat, and Reps. Lynn Slaby, a Copley Republican, Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat, and Sen. Larry Obhof, a Republican who represents Medina, Holmes and Wayne counties and portions of Ashland County.
All told, six state senators and six state representatives — half from each party — are members of the commission. The 12 legislators will pick 20 nonlegislators as commissioners, for a grand total of 32.
The aim of the commission is to make recommendations to the General Assembly for potential constitutional amendments. And if Ohio voters do call a constitutional convention, the commission is required to recommend potential amendments to the convention.
‘Any commission recommendation for an amendment would have to be supported by at least two-thirds of the commission’s 32 members. And no recommended amendment could become part of the Ohio Constitution without supermajority votes of the General Assembly, followed by a statewide referendum.
Through General Assembly grandstanding and voter-petitioned special-interest amendments, the constitution is bloated with arguably unnecessary verbiage. For example, the constitution specifies, by tax-parcel numbers, the exact locations of the four casinos under construction in Ohio. That meant that re-siting the Columbus casino across town required a statewide referendum. That’s just one of the legal absurdities the Constitutional Modernization Commission needs to address as it moves forward.
It’s sure to find others.
From the Plain Dealer Sunday November 3, 2013
The flaws behind the issues that confront voters on Ohio ballots: Thomas Suddes
That’s direct democracy for you, the fruit of three threads woven into Ohio politics. Thread One was Andrew Jackson’s (stated) belief in the common person (unless that person was black or Native American). Thread Two was the belief of Ohio Progressives in so-called “direct democracy.” History also wove a third thread into Ohio ballots, a legacy of Prohibition: Local option liquor elections. There are 308 local-option liquor questions on Tuesday’s ballot.
Those factors give Ohioans lots of choices several times a year. For instance, on Tuesday’s ballot are 1,055 proposed tax levies and 65 local income-tax questions. That ocean of yeses and noes means voters get direct say over how they’re taxed and governed. That’s a lot more say than voters in some other states get.
Of course, there’s a school of thought that Ohio voters are too dumb or stingy to make good choices. The school crowd, in particular, hates levy elections. Levy elections give Ohioans what amounts to a veto over school property taxes.
In contrast, unless a lobby, or ballot petitioners, mobilizes statewide, at great expense, to gather hundreds of thousands of voter signatures, Ohioans — usually — aren’t given ballot-box say over state taxes (e.g., income and sales taxes).
That can make school levies lightning rods for voter anger over other taxes (set in Columbus and Washington) or other public officials. (True, if all parents did their jobs, Ohio schools could do their jobs — at less expense, and with less hassle.)
Meanwhile, thanks to Progressives. who fashioned much of today’s Ohio Constitution in 1912, Ohioans can propose laws (the initiative); veto laws passed by the legislature (the referendum, such as 2011’s, on union-busting Senate Bill 5); or unseat local elected officials (the recall). According to Husted’s tally, Tuesday’s ballot includes 20 local initiative and referendum issues.
Most ballot questions — bond issues, Sunday liquor sales — are routine as standard time. Some, though, are high-octane. And direct-democracy reformers forgot that a mob can be a mob whether it uses streets or ballots, especially in statewide campaigns. Example: The gay-bashing 2004 initiative that aimed to ban same-sex marriage in Ohio, a vote that had far more to do with suburban southwest Ohio’s need to kick somebody — anybody — around than it had to do with sexuality.
And Ohioans were told loud and clear that 2009’s casino initiative would do far more for Dan Gilbert and Penn National Gaming than it would ever do for Ohio. But the casino crowd spent $50 million; their issue passed.
Advocates of direct democracy tended to come from comfortable backgrounds. But, then and now, most Ohioans are so hard-pressed rearing families, working jobs and trying, somehow, to relax, they don’t have the time to study up on issues or debate the constitution, or fine points of school funding.
Raymond Moley, a famed Greater Clevelander who landed in Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust but later became conservative, once looked back on the era of direct-democracy reforms. Moley decided the power given voters to legislate directly — through referendum and initiative — fell “far short of the romantic notions of the Progressives.”
One notion Ohio reformers had: The power of direct legislation would break the backs of special interests at Ohio’s city halls and courthouses, and especially on Capitol Square in Columbus.
Today, 101 years later, Ohioans know how that worked out.
Thomas Suddes, a member of the editorial board, writes from Athens.