Ohio GOP’s Aug. 8 ‘Issue One’ Referendum Threatens to Impose Minority Rule Across US

Interview with David Pepper, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic party and author, conducted by Scott Harris

As multiple investigations into Donald Trump’s criminality move forward, the disgraced former president announced that he had received a letter from Special Counsel Jack Smith stating that he is a target of a grand jury investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election result and the Jan. 6 insurrection. While media attention is focused on Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign and his legal troubles, less attention has been focused on the Republican party’s assault on democracy in state legislatures across the country.

In recent years, GOP legislatures in dozens of states have passed voter suppression laws, gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts, criminalized abortion, stigmatized the LGBTQ community, banned books, censored history in public schools and weakened gun safety laws. While these measures are largely unpopular, Republicans are working to subvert democratic institutions in order to insulate themselves from accountability and remain in power.

An example of this is now playing out in the state of Ohio where the GOP is proposing an Aug. 8 referendum ballot question known as ‘Issue 1,’ that, if passed, will increase the threshold needed to amend the Ohio Constitution from 50 percent +1 to 60 percent, that many believe is motivated by the Republicans’ goal of defeating a November ballot measure on abortion access, as well as blocking future voter initiatives to increase the minimum wage and implement redistricting reform to prevent gerrymandering. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with David Pepper, former chairperson of the Ohio Democratic party and author of the new book, “Saving Democracy: A User’s Manual for Every American.”  Here he talks about what’s at stake in Ohio’s Aug. 8 referendum, not just for the people of Ohio, but the entire country.

DAVID PEPPER: That’s very clearly about a legislature that knows it’s far more extreme than the people of Ohio. And like in Kansas, where we saw an abortion referendum end up confirming Kansas as a pro-choice state, they know that in November there’s a ballot initiative that currently has about 59 percent support — they know they would lose just like they would lose likely a minimum wage increase and a lot of efforts to reverse the very extreme legislation they’re passing through a very gerrymandered legislature.

So, rather than actually try and reflect the views of the people of Ohio, what are they doing? They’re trying to make it so that people of Ohio cannot — either through their own legislature or in this case, through direct democracy — have that majority viewpoint represented in Ohio law. So, I write these books about democracy being under attack and it’s all being done because a group that represents a minority worldview is scared of that majority being reflected.

And in this case, they are so scared of it, they’re willing to take away the power of the people themselves to shape their own Constitution. So it’s a really horrible case study of how far they’re willing to go. And the fact that it’s an August special election gives away just how cynical this is.

They’ve had 100 years to say they want to change the Constitution. This 50 percent constitutional amendment process has been in place since the progressive era of the early 1900s. They are choosing this August of all times to make this change because they knew that if they didn’t do it in time, that the pro-choice amendment would likely pass. So they’re scheduling an August special election. They’re doing it on the date that they themselves made illegal to have special elections only months ago because they realized if they didn’t do it now, that they would be basically too late.

So it’s an abuse of power that’s stunning in a way, but also completely on brand for a group of people who are sitting in a state house with almost no accountability thanks to gerrymandering. The hope is that this wakes up the Ohio majority vote, you know, to vote the right way to vote no and then to vote to protect choice come November.

SCOTT HARRIS: This initiative to require 60 percent of the vote to change the Constitution or change laws in Ohio seems a perfect example of minority rule, where the 41 percent dominate the 59 percent. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

DAVID PEPPER: No. Yeah, exactly. It’s such a bald-faced, absurd argument when you think about what they’re saying. You know, they’re asking the people of Ohio to disempower themselves. They’re asking the majority, don’t let your actually majority will rule the day. Put it in the hands of 41 percent.

But they’re also, of course, saying, give us more power because they’re not proposing it when they pass legislation that needs 60 percent. No, they’re happy as a gerrymandered legislature that generally represents extremism over the mainstream views. They’re happy to vote the legislation all the time with 51 percent of the vote as extreme as it gets. But they’re saying for the people how to reverse our extreme legislation that we passed with 51 percent of the vote, they need to get to 60 percent.

So they keep saying all over the state, “Oh, you know, we should be really engaging in a deliberative, broad consensus in order to change the Constitution.”

And my response is, “Well, we wouldn’t need to do it as much if you guys actually did that same broad deliberative process to pass the insane laws you’re passing. But you don’t. You know, you passed a law that banned abortion, no exceptions for rape or incest, that force a 10-year-old race its head to go to Indiana to get a care there she couldn’t get here.

“So you passed that law that affects about 10 percent of Ohioans. So don’t complain when Ohioans, the majority of them say, ‘Well, we’re going to change the Constitution to undo what you did.'” This is not an Ohio thing only. For Ohio, we got to stop it. But this is part of a much broader national effort, that national effort.

This is what my two books are about, is to use state houses to get most of the far-fetched dirty work done. But the problem for them is what happened in Kansas, what happened in Kentucky, Michigan to keep using state houses to push extremism. We need to get rid of the most powerful check against those state houses, which are constitutional amendments by the people.

So this is not an Ohio-based reform. This is something that they want to bring to every state where they can, in order to lock the people out of their own governments that they’ve taken over through gerrymandering. If this succeeds in Ohio, if their side succeeds, my worry is we’ll see it in many states.

If we crush it in Ohio, my hope is this is not a “reform” we’re pursuing anywhere else because the people see right through it. So this has real national implications.

For more information, visit David Pepper’s website at davidpepper.com,and follow him on Twitter at @DavidPepper. His book, Laboratories of Autocracy can be found at laboratoriesofautocracy.com.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with David Pepper (28:29) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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