After a quieter-than-expected year in 2012 in terms of statewide ballot issues, next year could see a number of divisive issues put to a vote of the people.
At one point early last year, it appeared that as many as nine statewide issues could make it to the general election ballot, a number last reached in 1975.
In the end, voters faced just two. They rejected a call for a constitutional convention, an issue that goes on the ballot every 20 years, and defeated a constitutional amendment to create a citizens commission to draw legislative and congressional districts.
Next year, groups are considering bringing at least three highly charged issues to the statewide ballot, and the legislature could add a fourth.
Freedom to Marry Ohio, which had eyed the 2012 ballot, is likely to shoot for 2014. Its amendment would repeal an amendment passed in 2004 that banned same-sex marriage.
Attitudes are shifting in favor of repeal, even among Republicans. A majority of Ohio voters now favors gay marriage, recent polling shows.
Meanwhile, legislative head-scratching over Medicaid expansion is fueling talk of taking that issue to the ballot. A broad-based coalition, the Ohio Alliance for Health Transformation, is still hoping for legislative action by late June, when a two-year state budget must be passed.
The expansion, under the Affordable Care Act, would bring care to some 275,000 Ohioans who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, with Washington picking up 100 percent of the cost for the first three years, then scaling down gradually to 90 percent by 2020. Besides helping a lot of people get necessary care, expansion would bring $13 billion into Ohio’s health-care system in seven years and help ease cost-shifting when poor patients show up in hospital emergency rooms for care.
Gov. John Kasich put expansion in his budget, but House Republicans yanked it. There is now talk among Republican legislative leaders of limited coverage for specific groups that need care, for mental health problems, drug addiction and disabilities, but it is not certain if anything will happen by Jan. 1, when the federal health-care law requires most Americans to have coverage and federal funding for Medicaid expansion becomes available.
With the clock ticking and conservative Republicans firmly against the Affordable Care Act on ideological grounds, members of the health-care coalition could easily conclude that a ballot issue is the best way to break what amounts to a GOP filibuster on health care.
Another issue floating around in 2012, an initiative to legalize the medical use of marijuana, may also resurface in 2014. This is another social issue on which voter attitudes are rapidly changing.
That’s a lot of controversy, on top of what can be expected in races for governor and other statewide offices, the legislature and Congress, a sign of Ohio’s polarized political climate.
Easing that climate is the goal of a constitutional amendment being considered by the legislature for the 2014 ballot. Senate Republicans, who approved an amendment in December to create a bipartisan redistricting commission, are hoping the House soon will take action.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder wants a slow-moving constitutional modernization commission to come up with a plan, but has indicated it may be possible for the commission to act fast enough for the legislature to put the amendment on next year’s ballot.
Unlike the issue defeated last year, the Senate plan recognizes it is impossible to eliminate politics from an inherently political process. It would keep politicians in charge of redistricting but require a bipartisan commission to act by a supermajority vote, forcing compromise.
More compact and competitive districts would create a climate more open to compromise on many issues. Most Ohio Republicans enjoy safe districts, but must shift to the right to fend off irate tea partyers and other right-wing activists in primaries.
The safe GOP-drawn districts are a big reason the Ohio House pulled Medicaid expansion from the budget, even though it has support from hospitals, health-care advocates and the business community.
The clock is ticking on this issue, too, the 2014 elections beginning to define the balance of power the next time districts are redrawn, after the 2020 census. Both parties agree it will be very difficult to find compromise on redistricting after 2014.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.