COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A Republican-backed effort to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution is “100%” about blocking an abortion rights question eyed for the November ballot, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said recently.
For the first time since he and Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) unveiled a proposal to raise the threshold for enacting a constitutional amendment, LaRose directly linked the measure – which will appear as Issue 1 on the Aug. 8 ballot – to preventing the passage of a citizen-led petition to permit Ohioans’ access to abortion.
“Some people say, ‘This is all about abortion.’ Well, you know what, I’m pro-life; I think many of you are as well, right?” LaRose said at a Lincoln Day event in Seneca County on May 22. “This is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution. The left wants to jam it in there this coming November.”
LaRose’s mention of abortion marks a shift from his previous messaging on Issue 1, which, if approved by voters, would require 60% of voter support to amend the state constitution as opposed to the existing simple majority of 50% plus one vote.
In the months after the introduction of Issue 1, LaRose stressed the measure was larger than any single issue. Requiring a 60% supermajority is a “win for good government” because it protects Ohioans’ voices from being trampled by deep-pocketed interest groups, he said in a Nov. 17 statement.
About a month later, LaRose dismissed opponents’ claims that Issue 1 was nothing more than an “undemocratic” power grab designed to curtail everyday Ohioans’ stake in politics, including their ability to decide issues on abortion, minimum wage and bond issues.
He rejected opponents’ “hyperbolic” concerns about hot-button issues in the current political cycle, instead encouraging legislators to support the measure for the sake of the state’s long-term health.
“Predictably, their short-sighted campaigns will make this a fight over the provocative political issues of the moment, hoping you’ll fill their coffers with cash,” LaRose wrote in a December testimony to state lawmakers. “We all need to take a deep breath, put aside current political disputes, and ask whether this is the best way to govern our state over the long run.”
LaRose tried to drum up support for Issue 1 at the Lincoln Day dinner by pointing to other “dangerous” issues that could weasel their way into the state constitution, like a $15 minimum wage.
“Who knows what’s next?” he said. “Marijuana, or maybe we just get rid of that whole pesky keep and bear arms thing that’s in the Constitution? The left has some really dangerous plans, and this is one of the ways that we can make sure they’re not successful.”
Secretary of State spokesperson Rob Nichols said LaRose has consistently reiterated the need to raise the threshold for enacting constitutional amendments for a slew of issues, whether it’s minimum wage, casinos, health care or “any other special interest agenda.”
“We should require a broad, bipartisan agreement before we bypass the legislative process and use our founding document to adopt public policy,” Nichols said in an email. “Of course, Issue 1 applies to an unlimited number of political issues. That’s the point.”
Catherine Turcer, who leads the government watchdog group Common Cause Ohio, said Ohioans deserve better from their elected representatives, whose rallying behind Issue 1 could dilute voters’ ability to fight partisan gerrymandering.
“Sec. LaRose is willing to establish a low turnout election in August for political expediency,” Turcer said in an email. “His actions show that he is willing to play around with the constitutional right to direct democracy.”
Other Republicans, including Stewart, have already jumped to tie Issue 1 to abortion. In a December letter, Stewart urged support for the 60% threshold by alerting his fellow House Republicans to Democrats’ attempts to enshrine abortion rights into law.
“That’s just in 2023,” he wrote. “Almost every election cycle brings a new scheme from an outside special interest group – almost always from the Left – designed to buy on the statewide ballot what they can’t persuade us to do in the Legislature.”
Senate President Matt Huffman signaled his support for the measure and its corresponding August election, too. “If we save 30,000 lives as a result of spending $20 million, I think it’s a great thing,” he told reporters in March.
The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule in coming weeks about the constitutionality of lawmakers’ approval of an Aug. 8 election following a legal challenge from One Person One Vote, an anti-Issue 1 campaign.
The deadline to register to vote in August is July 10.