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Analysis: On Issue 1, Frank LaRose says 'there is no bad time to do a good thing.' Many beg to differ

 four women stand in a parking lot holding signs that say "vote no on issue 1"
Tana Weingartner
Opponents of Issue 1 hold signs urging people to vote against the measure on the first day of early voting for the August 8 special election at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Norwood on July 11, 2023.

Somebody thought it would be a good idea to interrupt your summer fun with an election. In case you haven't heard.

And it is going on right now, as the early voting period for the August 8 special election began Tuesday.

That "somebody" was, in fact, the Republicans of the Ohio General Assembly and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state's chief elections officer, who decided that August 8 would be the perfect time for Ohio to hold an election on a game-changing constitutional amendment.

A constitutional amendment that would overturn 111 years of precedent in Ohio.

Only months ago, LaRose and Ohio's Republican legislative supermajority were congratulating themselves for having done away with August elections in Ohio, in the wake of an oddball congressional primary in 2022 that drew a whopping 8% of Ohio voters to the polls.

Well, now they have changed their minds.

Now they say an August special election is a great idea.

Why the change of heart?

What the GOP wants Ohio voters to do is approve a constitutional amendment that would raise the threshold for voter approval of an amendment to the state constitution from 50% plus one (the standard since 1912) and raise it to 60%.

Issue 1 — so named because there is nothing else on the ballot — would also make it much more difficult for any organization to mount a petition campaign to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Almost impossible, opponents of Issue 1 say.

LISTEN: Here's what a supporter and opponent of Issue 1 have to say

With a 60% rule in place, LaRose told WVXU, "you would have to build a consensus; you would have to build a broader sort of support for your ideas."

"Out-of-state interests believe the Ohio constitution can be bought," LaRose said.

Remember, though, that all of this comes as a coalition of abortion rights groups are on the verge of qualifying for the November ballot, which — if approved by voters — would write the right to reproductive health care into the state's constitution.

This is anathema to the Republicans. They want to stop this at all costs. Even the cost of holding a one-issue primary that will cost $15-$20 million in the dog days of August.

Last month, LaRose made headlines for a speech he made at a Seneca County GOP dinner in which he said Issue 1 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 told WVXU that quote was taken out of context by the news media.

RELATED: LaRose says Issue 1 is '100%' about stopping possible abortion amendment

"What I also said is that there about 15-20 other issues where the left wants to impose its will through constitutional amendments," LaRose said.

All of this begs the question: Why are Ohioans being asked to decide this now, when even LaRose himself said he "wouldn't be surprised" by single-digit turnout in August?

His answer:

"There is no bad time to do a good thing."

David Pepper, the former Ohio Democratic Party chair and author of a new book, Saving Democracy, said he believes what is happening in Ohio is just part of a broader national plan by right-wing think tanks and others to halt "progressive" reforms in states all over the country.

"They know they can't get their agendas passed by the voters, so they go through heavily gerrymandered states like Ohio to get what they want," Pepper said.

Votes last year affirming abortion rights in red states like Kansas and Kentucky "scared them to death,'' Pepper said.

"I am certain Issue 1 was not written in Ohio," said Pepper.

RELATED: Your guide to Ohio's August 8 special election on Issue 1

He suggested that it bears all the marks of a group like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing organization which authors conservative legislation for GOP-controlled legislatures. ALEC has had a major presence in Ohio.

"They talk about wanting to stop out-of-state interests from having influence in Ohio, but the pro-Issue 1 is being paid for by a billionaire from Illinois," Pepper said.

Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein, a mega donor whose money fuels MAGA issues and candidates, is bankrolling the pro-Issue 1 PAC.

LaRose said he has been talking about the 60% rule since 2014 when he was in the Ohio Senate.

"I have never heard anything from ALEC about this," LaRose said.

LaRose said he and State Rep. Brian Stewart of Pickaway County, the chief sponsor of the bill creating the 60% amendment, had many phone conversations hammering out the language of the legislation.

There's some polling out there which suggests that if the GOP really wants to sabotage the November vote on abortion rights — and they really do — they had better get Issue 1 passed.

A Scripps News/YouGov poll released last week showed 58% in favor of an abortion rights amendment and 28% opposed.

The poll interviewed 500 Ohioans — including 10% not registered to vote, for some reason — and has a 5.95% margin of error.

If those numbers are anywhere near being in the ballpark — and it's just a snapshot of a point in time — the GOP, with its 60% rule, could end up getting hoisted on its own petard.

Or, if Issue 1 passes, they could defeat the abortion rights amendment if it gets less than 60%.

COMMENTARY: Commentary: Ohioans, you have a voice — for now. Be sure to use it

One Person One Vote, the anti-Issue 1 campaign, and its more than 250 Ohio organizations who oppose the ballot issue, are busy working to motivate their voters for an August 8 election.

The other side is doing the same thing, but they may have a more difficult time lighting a fire under potential "yes" voters.

One of the most effective "Vote No" messages caught fire on social media over the past week.

It's a meme — not from the official campaign, but apparently the work of an unknown Issue 1 opponent.


"If Issue 1 was a football game:

Ohio State 59

Michigan 41

Michigan wins.

Vote no on Aug. 8"

A message probably worth at least $1 million in TV ads.

And pretty hard for the other side to argue with.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.