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The plan to make it more difficult to amend Ohio's Constitution before voters decide on a reproductive rights.
Appears dead for now.
And a talk with the head of the Ohio Democratic Party about why Democrats can't seem to win statewide in Ohio and how they're trying to change that.
This week in the state of Ohio.
Welcome to the state of Ohio.
I'm Karen Kasler, a controversial Republican backed plan to make it harder to amend Ohio's Constitution before voters see a reproductive rights amendment this fall apparently won't go forward for now.
Concerned Ohioans packed a hearing this week on the resolution to require 60% voter approval for constitutional amendments, not just a simple majority.
Some Republicans tried to set a vote on that idea for an August special election, but August special elections were eliminated in a law that takes effect April 7th, which also requires voters to show photo ID and limits counties to a single secure ballot drop box.
So two Republican senators proposed a bill to revive the August special election for certain purposes, including voting on constitutional amendments from lawmakers but not from groups or individuals that have the support of Senate President Matt Huffman, who said he was okay with spending $20 million on an August election if it would stop abortion.
But House Speaker Jason Stevens quashed the plan.
Special election in August.
You know, we just voted to not have those anymore.
Just a few months ago in the county, election officials I've talked to are not interested in having it.
I'm frankly not interested in having an election in August as a cost to the taxpayers.
So are you saying that any bill that would do that would not go anywhere in the House?
Well, I certainly wouldn't be for it.
Meanwhile, a coalition is gathering signatures to put the reproductive rights amendment on the November ballot.
There is a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court that seeks to shut down the amendment with a claim that the Ohio ballot board made a mistake in certifying it as a single ballot issue.
No dates have been set in that case.
That situation is one of the things I want to talk about with the chairs of Ohio's two major political parties, along with lots of other stuff.
This week I sat down with Ohio Democratic Party chair Liz Walters to discuss that, along with next year's U.S. Senate race.
The role Democrats have played and the battle among Republicans for leadership in the Ohio House and the Democratic Party's continued struggles to win major elections in Ohio.
It's been said by Democrats over and over that Ohio's Republican led state government is the most corrupt in the country.
That comes from FBI investigators who were working on the case involving House Bill six that now has resulted in the convictions of Larry Householder and Matt Burgess, both Republicans and the bribery scheme to pass House Bill six, the nuclear power plant bailout scandal.
Of course, there are legal issues also against the Republican Party's most likely nominee for president in 2024.
So with all of this in mind, why have Democrats been unable to turn that into success in elections?
I think that ultimately Ohio families are focused on kitchen table issues.
And while they are incredibly sick of the Republican led government selling them out to the highest bidder continuously, they're busy.
They got jobs.
They got soccer practice for their kids.
They're working hard to keep their community healthy and whole.
And so it's really up to us to continue to communicate on these important issues.
But more importantly, I think what's I'm really encouraged by through these last couple of weeks is that justice has been served.
I think we're so obviously waiting for the sentencing hearing.
But I think it's important to note that no one is above the law.
And we really saw that with the outcome of the HB six trial, the verdict that came out a couple of weeks ago.
We'll see what happens from here.
I would I'm eager to hear AG Yost plan to actually investigate this through the state.
He was always saying, Oh, I can't do anything because the feds are leading.
Well, now's his chance to prove that he's on the side of Ohio voters.
So I think there's a lot of interesting things yet to unfold in this whole mess.
When you say that Democratic voters are focused on kitchen table issues, arguably so are Republican voters, how can Republicans get their voters to the ballot better than Democrats do?
Well, I think the the other real question is why are Republicans working so hard to repress Democratic voters or voters generally?
Ohio is one of the hardest states to vote, is one of the hardest states to register to vote across the country.
That's not something we should be proud of.
We make it challenging for working people to register and use their voice at the ballot box through unnecessary, antiquated rules about hours and how long we have to register before the deadline.
We are the the bill that Governor DeWine signed earlier this year requiring photo ID.
Man, that's a direct attack on students rights to vote because it is really hard for college students to always have an ID with their current address on it because they move from dorm to dorm.
And so I think the real important question that voters need to be asking and that we we work on every day at the Ohio Democratic Party to build programs that can educate voters about their rights, about using their voice.
But I do think it's worth the question why are Republicans trying so hard to keep so many folks out?
US Senator Sherrod Brown is easily the best known and most popular Democrat in Ohio.
He's up for reelection next year.
Last time he ran against the relatively unknown Republican, Jim Ryan, AC.
He beat him by eight points.
Some might say only eight points if there was a little bit of a surprise there.
The state has been moving more and more to the right since that election in 2018.
There will certainly be high pressure, big money campaigns by Republicans for the nomination.
We're already seeing that starting and then by the eventual nominee.
So what hope do Democrats have for Sherrod Brown without the intervention of an awful lot of out-of-state money?
Listen, Ohioans know for sure that Sherrod is on their side.
We all may have different ideas about where where the country needs to go.
But I think one thing Ohioans are united in is they want someone who's fighting for them in Washington every day.
And Sherrod's record proves that he is on their side.
He's been a tireless advocate for all Ohioans as part of why he's so popular.
I think here in Ohio, we believe that Sherrod Brown can and will win in 2024.
We're going to run a big, robust campaign.
It's going to be a I'm sure, when you have Alex Daniels's team is going to be a big year in Ohio.
Once again, Ohio is going to be on the national stage.
But we'll take Sherrod's record of fighting for working people in Ohio every day over the failed and out-of-touch policies and the what will inevitably be, I think, circus primary on the Republican side.
That'll focus more on culture wars than on kitchen table issues.
Is Sherrod Brown in support of the policies of Joe Biden going to hurt him in Ohio?
I think what shared what voters are going to see is that Sherrod Brown supports Ohioans the Infrastructure Inflation Reduction Act, the infrastructure bill.
These are all delivering real good jobs here in Ohio.
They're fixing things like the Brant Spence Bridge.
They're bringing broadband to rural Ohio.
And ultimately, that's what Ohioans are going to judge share it on is what he's doing to advocate for Ohioans.
Republicans have dominated statewide elections since the red tsunami of 2020 or 2010, rather.
So why can't Democrats seem to make inroads in those specific state elections?
I mean, is it money?
Is it message?
Is it lack of organization, grassroots support?
Our Democratic voters just not thinking that statewide elections are as important as national elections or maybe mayors elections?
I think that you're asking a great question, and the answer is kind of yes, and it's a little bit of a lot of these things.
I think the first and most important is that what you see is kind of the abject entrenchment of Republican power through corrupt means, $60 million from corporations funneled into their campaign accounts.
That's no small number.
So when you're able to rig the rules and pay for your campaign through bribes, it makes the playing field very uneven.
But that's not an excuse, right?
We know that We've got to go in there and work hard and organize voters.
I think what we also know is that statewide elections, whether you're in Ohio or Wisconsin or Michigan, insert state, they are really hard to succeed without support from your national infrastructure groups.
Vance, you know, raised and spent, I think a little over $20 million.
All the rest of the spending in his campaign came from outside national money.
On the flip side, Tim Ryan raised and spent $68 million, and that's what was raised and spent on ten because the national committee didn't come in for him.
They just had a really big national map to defend Democratic incumbents in other states.
So it's a little bit of all these things.
I think the important thing for us at Ohio Dems is to not let the grassroots kind of take a break where we're already full steam ahead this year.
We're working alongside of all of our friends across the state to put abortion access on the ballot, where people are already excited to get out and talk about Sherrod.
We do have 6000 municipal races across the state this year.
And so all of those are keeping the organizing apparatus focused, keeping it energized and helping us grow it even bigger.
I think the one thing I'll add, though, too, is that when we look at where the Ohio Democratic Party has come from over the last couple of years, to your point, we're very aware that this is a long term path for us.
The Ohio has changed.
There's been a lot of geographic realignment, a lot of population shifts, a lot of just kind of demographic shifts within both parties.
And for us really being able to say to all of our volunteers as to all the people that come out and support us is progress.
Progress is important.
And so in 2022, Ohio Democrats did something we haven't done since 2008, which was win a competitive congressional race.
And we didn't just win one.
We won three.
We ousted a 20 year incumbent in Cincinnati.
We protected Marcy Kaptur in a seat that was absolutely drawn for her opponents and sent Amelia Sykes to Congress in the new 13.
So we're really proud of that progress that I think for us shows that important mix of good candidates who are fighting for Ohioans who have a strong state party apparatus working with them and then also have national investment to support that operation.
So that's for us kind of that magic formula that we're working to replicate in 2024.
Tim Ryan, when he campaigned, talked about going out into rural areas and really reaching some people that have have I mean, when you look at the Ohio electoral map, it really changed from blue to red pretty dramatically in those rural areas.
Did that work?
I mean, he lost, of course, But did that work and did it work at the expense of urban voters?
That's a great question.
I think that the answer for Tim is yes.
Tim succeeded wildly in connecting with voters all over Ohio.
It wasn't enough.
It didn't get quite far enough.
What we saw for Tim is he actually improved performance in 84 of Ohio's 88 counties for Democratic performance, comparative to the last election in some of those biggest swings were in rural Ohio, in places like Tuscarawas County, in Lake County.
It's kind of a mix now.
It's a growing suburban county, but places where we've been mindful that we want to rebuild some support or really push our gains where we're continuing to grow our support.
So as that map of the future realigns for us, it's important that we fight for every part of Ohio.
There's no voter that doesn't in any geography in Ohio that doesn't hear from us.
But also knowing, to your point that ultimately population is continuing to shift and move into those big urban regions across the state, particularly along the I-70 one corridor, whether that's climate that is in Columbus.
And to tell you right, the world is changing here even more.
And so for us, that's a huge part of our focus moving forward.
We just didn't get enough done in those communities over the two the two years of the race to get the turnout where we wanted it to be.
Did having two mayors with records that many Democrats saw as good records help or hurt you in 2022 in the governor's race?
I mean, could things have been different if Nan Whaley had run unopposed in the primary and not had to spend that money and maybe John Cranley could have run in another race.
Or in the end?
Karen, you're asking me to speak about party primaries.
It's like talking about a fight inside your family.
I think that listen clear.
There's an argument for both clear fields help money pile up.
They make him more well resourced.
Good primaries make you a better candidate.
They help you refine your message.
They help you get around the state more earlier.
So there are pros and cons to that primary structure.
I think ultimately at the end of the day, what we saw not just here and across here in Ohio but across the country, was voters were willing to give credit to Republican governors who they didn't view as the Doug Mastriano is in Pennsylvania.
And while I don't agree with Mike DeWine's policies and I don't necessarily agree with that perspective of him, a lot of voters did.
And I think as we move into 2024, don't you know, DeWine's in the rearview.
The fight is the future and who those candidates are going to be in the Senate and that what is brewing to be even nastier fight this time around than it was two years ago.
But for Mike DeWine, J.D.
Vance would not be a senator.
They're not going to have that this year.
They're going to have to go up against the best fighter that working Ohioans ever had on their side in Washington, who's been a consistent, strong performer on the ballot.
The leadership battle in the Ohio House.
I want to talk a little bit about that.
That's still going on.
Democrats did help Jason Stevens become speaker over Derek Marin.
Republicans in the Ohio House, though, are still very conservative.
And there are bills that both Stevens and Marin want the Democrats certainly do not want.
So do Democrats who are in the super.
My super minority feel that they have a rare opportunity to effect change on legislation.
Or is it really just the lesser of two evils for them?
Well, the lesser of two evils is an interesting statement.
I think that there's probably, you know, in an environment where your two choices are two Republicans who don't align with our values, it's a tough choice to make no matter what.
I think what we know for sure, what I know, that leader Rousseau is doing and all the leadership team in the House and the Senate are focused on is what is best for Ohioans.
What is the what are the things that are on their mind that we can fight for?
And what we're seeing right now in the State House is while they continue to do interparty fighting with personal vendettas and agendas and mudslinging, Democrats are working on rail safety.
Democrats in the House are working on building our infrastructure in communities across Ohio.
No matter what plays out over here, what you can count on is that the Ohio House Democrats are working every day for the concerns and cares of their community.
Is there any concern that Democrats are working with Jason Stevens?
I mean, certainly Derek Marin has talked about he's concerned about Democrats working with Jason Stevens.
Is there any concern by Democratic voters that Democrats have aligned with this Republican leader?
Listen, we're we're very clear.
We're in the super minority.
We're going to work with people who want to get things done for working Ohioans.
And if that's Jason Stevens, they will have conversations with him.
Leader Russo has been very clear that if if the other alternative caucus, if you will, has a bill that aligns with something we care about, she'll talk with them too.
It doesn't seem to happen very often, unfortunately.
But the leader Russo in Ohio, House Democrats in the Ohio Senate Dems, they're focused on what can we do to move the needle to help the people of Ohio.
And we'll work with whoever we have to to get that done.
How concerned are Democrats about the proposal that would require 60% voter approval for constitutional amendments?
That was one of the issues that Derek Baron had identified as a key issue for him as he became speaker.
What are Democrats thinking about this?
It is stunning to me, again, that in an age when Ohioans are focused on rising costs of food, on prescription drugs, on community safety, all that Derek Marron and his colleagues can think about is how to take their power away from them at the ballot box.
You talk about a party that wraps themselves in this concept of freedom.
I don't understand how this in any way does anything but remove the freedom of Ohioans to speak their voice at the ballot.
The Ohio constitutional amendment process is already very difficult.
It is not in any way easy.
There is a lot of hoops you got to jump through.
You have to check in with many state offices.
You got to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures in order to pass any amendment at the ballot.
So I think to assert that this somehow is going to protect the Constitution is so very wrong and is not at all based in reality.
What it is, is a naked power grab by Republicans to try and strip away the voices of working families all across Ohio to shore up their power.
I think that there might be some Republicans who say this is just about abortion.
You're sounding like it's about more than it.
Is about so much more than that.
If you believe in the right of people to organize a union, if you believe in the right of people to have a living wage, if you care about safe communities, if you care about having strong businesses, this could impact bonding issues in the state.
This has so many important questions whether no matter who you are, what you identify, how you identify, and in your life as a family member or a working person, as someone who cares about criminal justice, as someone who cares about community safety.
All of these things are at stake.
If we allow Republicans to strip Ohioans of their voices at the ballot box.
If this does make the August newly created special election because the special election was eliminated, then.
No one else can have specials anymore except these guys.
So how do you get your voters to come out and vote?
I mean, August is a tough time, and that's part of the reason why special elections were eliminated in the bill last.
Year that was so low.
Listen, if if if they move forward with this, I think they will find that Ohioans will be very motivated to speak out against it at the ballot box.
The coalition working against this bill is not one I often see in politics at the state or national level, whether it's business, labor, progressive groups and there are plenty of groups on the right.
The biggest funders who work to push this back in other states as they tried to do this in Arkansas, South Dakota, Arizona.
And Americans for Prosperity were one of the biggest funders against this move.
And so I think you'll find a very interesting coalition of people who believe in the freedom of voters to speak their mind at the ballot box.
There are two distinct paths.
I hear people talk about when they want Democrats to pursue success.
One is that the party that Republicans have done this and have found success in embracing the furthest ends of the ideological spectrum, the most extreme areas or whatever, and that Democrats should go ahead and do that because Republicans have had success with that.
But what's the problem with that?
Does that potentially alienate more people rather than bringing in more people?
Yeah, I think as you look at the historic voter rolls in Ohio, we're one of the only states that are what we call an open primary system.
So you don't have to preregister with the party to vote in a primary.
You can roll in any any primary election or request a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot.
So the rolls are always shifting.
But one thing we've seen consistently across both parties is that more and more and more people are identifying as independents.
And so I think what's most important is for parties, rather than catering to the extremes, have to focus on what is best for the most people in our communities, for the most people in our state.
And so from a policy standpoint, a values standpoint, what we focus most on is just making sure our candidates are out there talking to voters about what's on their mind, about what's what's what they're talking about at the kitchen table and making sure that are the fights we pick and the work we do is always reflective of what Ohioans need every day.
And that's the other side of it is becoming more moderate to do a big tent and bring as many people as possible in including frustrated Republicans.
But that hasn't worked, has it?
I don't know.
I think it's area by area.
I think if you.
Rural Ohio is probably a place where we've we've made a little bit of gains back.
But the swing hasn't been dramatic.
But I'd actually say that suburban Ohio white collar Ohio is a place where we've continued to see massive growth for our party.
Whether that was, you know, Medina County, we improved five points over the last election cycle where we've been seeing natural organic growth every single year for the last eight years.
Lake County, Delaware County, the suburbs outside of Columbus, the suburbs outside of Cleveland.
And these are communities that are also growing in diversity.
They're growing in educational backgrounds, all these different things that are making the communities and I think grow for good reasons, but also ask really good questions about who they want their representation to be.
So while there are some geographical parts of Ohio where we're making some gains but not as fast as I would like, there are other parts of the state where we are just going on an expansion path in a big, fast way.
As Democrats have worked to be inclusive in the issues that they talk about and they care about in the language they use.
Some Republicans have used that against them and saying very ugly things about Democrats, candidate support of LGBTQ rights, abortion rights and so on.
Are these inclusivity issues the wrong ones to use to appeal to people, especially Ohioans, who tend to be more center right?
Yeah, I guess my my question back would be like, who wants to live in a community where they don't feel that they can speak their mind and be who they are?
So for us, what we fight most for is the dignity of every person.
I think that Republicans use these like small things as culture war wedges to try to scare people, to try and create differences.
And really, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing, which is good jobs, safe communities, places where we can raise our families and raise our kids safely.
And whether we, you know, folks who want to get caught up in a pronoun debate about whether that's right or wrong, like not really material to folks paying their bills every day.
And Republicans have come at Democrats using a lot of fronts on these issues, and they often use misinformation and disinformation.
How do you battle back on that?
I mean, Democrats use dark money to, of course, but Republicans seem to use it a little bit more effectively.
Well, I think they just use it a lot more of it.
That's the other difference.
Again, going all the way back to basics.
We see that there's a kind of open funnel into this into the state house here to the Republican side of the aisle for any number of corporate interests who want people to sell out in not protect working people in order to promote their own personal agenda.
I think for us, what we continue to focus on is, one, our our grassroots game, getting out, getting out door to door, which is really important for us to focus on voter registration, to get people back on the rolls in Ohio.
And there's a really interesting article over the weekend in I forget the outlet, but I think Talking Points Memo that compared Ohio and Michigan because we're demographically very the same and it asks the question, what's up?
And one of the core things that they're identifying and I agree with this is we've seen an incredible drop in vote registered voters in the state of Ohio because of the voter suppression tactics that happen here, whether that's the voter purging that Secretary Larios has been leading and his predecessor before him, the arcane rules we have around voter registration in the state of Ohio.
We have a lot of work to do, and that's best done at the grassroots, door to door, which is one of the things we'll work on.
But on the other front, I think one of the things the other party has definitely outpaced us on is communicating digitally of being in those spaces, being in people's Facebook feeds, on their Instagram feed.
And we're working real hard to make up ground on that space.
Are you at all concerned about the influence and the effect that third parties might have?
I mean, No Labels has.
Are you concerned about people who are disaffected with the Republican Party and the Democratic Party deciding to go?
What third party route entirely?
I'm sure we always we're our goal is to win voters to us.
And that's that's going to be our number one driving focus.
I think having a third party is interesting.
Generally, we tend to find across history that it's one thing to file a third party.
It's quite another to run one there as as I'm sure my my colleague at AAP would attest.
Running state parties and building them and funding them are no small feat, and it takes a long time to build something strong and durable.
So it'll be interesting to see what happens with with them in the mix this year.
And finally, what would you tell voters who are vocal in their opposition to the Democratic Party about the party?
I mean, what do you want them to know that you think could potentially reach them and change their minds?
I think I would leave voters with with this.
To your point earlier of, you know, you got one vote, one group of folks who's focused on scaring you with pronouns, with questions about, you know, what we're teaching in schools.
And you got another party who's focused on making sure that we're filling potholes in your community, that we're getting broadband to your home, that we're making sure parents still have a say in their kids education because we think that's the right thing to do that makes sure that voters still have a voice at the ballot through a constitutional ballot process.
So one one party's fighting for to protect your freedoms, to ensure that you have economic security and the other party is fighting with Fox News hosts.
So take your pick.
Ohio Republican Party Chair Alex Trout, a fellow, has committed to joining me for an extended conversation very soon.
That's it for this week.
My colleagues at the Statehouse News Bureau of Ohio Public Radio and Television, thanks for watching.
Please check out our Web site at state news dot org and follow us and the show on Facebook and Twitter.
And please join us again next time for the state of Ohio.
Support for the statewide broadcast of the state of Ohio comes from Medical mutual providing more than 1.4 million Ohioans peace of mind with a selection of health insurance plans online at med mutual dot com slash Ohio by the law offices of Porter Wright, Morris and Arthur LLP.
Now with eight locations across the country, Porter Wright is a legal partner with a new perspective to the business community more at Porter Wright dot com and from the Ohio education Association representing 124,000 members who work to inspire their students to think creatively and experience the joy of learning online at OHEA.org.