The country is divided. Our political process is broken. You can’t fight city hall.
Undoubtedly, heads are shaking “yes” all across the fruited plain.
Though the signs of political unrest and governmental dysfunction are unmistakable, let’s reconsider the totality of truth in those statements. If the country is so divided, why did people from all across the political spectrum come together so easily last week in Ohio? If our political process is broken, why did they so quickly win such a resounding victory?
It wasn’t city hall, admittedly, but an even bigger stage: the state capitol in Columbus. Through those marble halls, a diverse group of citizens — some representing local, state and national organizations, though most simply representing themselves — walked to room 313 to speak, perchance to testify, before the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission (OCMC).
“We have pretty good attendance today,” noted OCMC Co-chair Sen. Charleta Tavares at the outset of the meeting. Soon minutes were approved and several reports were given.
Finally, the Commission brought up the pending recommendation by the Constitutional Revision and Updating Committee, which I wrote about last Sunday in this space. The committee’s unanimous report recommended the creation or expansion of numerous double standards between constitutional amendments proposed by citizens and those proposed by legislators — all advantaging legislators and disadvantaging citizens.
The most outrageous provision would have required citizen-initiated amendments to pass with a supermajority of at least 55 percent, while the very same amendment proposed by the legislature would only need 50-percent-plus-one for passage. Before the full commission last Thursday, that obvious and unreasonable double standard was never once defended.
That’s hardly surprising: it is indefensible.
Jack Boyle, a retired financial planner turned conservative activist from Solon, Ohio, called the proposed double standard an “unacceptable slap at citizens,” and asked the commission to reject the idea.
“Reasonable people can disagree on what the threshold should be for passage of an amendment, but a position cannot be sustained that different thresholds should apply based on who brings an amendment to the ballot,” argued Ron Alban, a small businessman and an activist from Kettering, Ohio.
Alban did not want to have to take so much time away from work and family to study and research the committee’s recommendation — detailing eight separate double standards favoring the legislature over the citizens — and to spend a full day in Columbus. But he said that, having visited Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain was lifted, freedom was too important and he felt he must.
“There is no historical precedent for amendments proposed by the people needing to obtain a higher percentage of the vote to pass than those proposed by the legislature,” offered M. Dane Waters, founder and chairman of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.
“We oppose creating a supermajority requirement for voters to amend the constitution and any attempts to weaken the rights of Ohio’s citizens to make laws in our state,” said Corey Roscoe, Ohio state director for the Humane Society of the U.S.
Several anti-fracking activists testified against the proposal. So did Robert Ryan, a medical marijuana activist and cancer survivor who heads the Ohio Patient Network.
There were five or six more citizens and groups waiting to testify when, after I concluded my remarks representing Citizens in Charge, a motion was made and seconded to table the double-standard laden recommendation. The commission passed that motion with only one dissenting vote, effectively killing the recommendation.
People from all across the political spectrum came together in Columbus last week. They did not abandon their disagreements, but they were united nonetheless. The democratic principles of equality, fairness, and citizen-controlled government are still universal in the hearts of citizens. Both left and right refused to allow the creation ofa double standard that would have undermined the sovereignty of the people of Ohio.
Perhaps if more of us engaged politically who sought to build bridges instead of drive wedges, we might be able to keep governance focused on those essential rights that unite us.
Moreover, the most compelling testimony came from individuals, who traveled to the capitol on their own nickel, representing no one but themselves — without power of connections, money, or influence, but with the power of standing strong for just principles in the public square.
I cannot deny that so much of our politics is broken and needs fixing. But I see that when citizens stand up — which often means show up — and demand accountability, greater accountability comes. We can repair our politics.
Not only can we fight city hall, and the state capital, we can fight Washington, too. And we can win those fights.