As 2023 arrives and the two-year anniversary of the infamous January 6th insurrection approaches, there is plenty to be grateful for as our imperfect nation ventures into the new year. Of course, there is also still much work to be done and more good fights to be fought. Here in Ohio, fascism continues to stand on our doorstep –– and is perhaps even knocking on the door –– especially as a new GOP supermajority is set to be seated in our Statehouse in January and Governor Mike DeWine starts his second term, both of which were decided by a majority of Ohio voters. Because of these recent midterm results, Ohio Republicans have been given a mandate –– and they will likely use it to their own advantage, just as they have since seizing power of every branch of our state government in 2010.
Case in point –– one of the Ohio GOP’s first power grabs after 2010 was to gerrymander Democrats out of relevance, redrawing Ohio’s state legislative and congressional districts in such a way that Democrats would eventually be relegated to obscurity. Consequently, Ohio’s Democrats have been plagued by a lack of funding, infighting and an inability to recruit quality candidates ever since. Then in 2013, when the GOP was gearing up for former Governor John Kasich’s re-election campaign in 2014, Republican power brokers realized the Libertarian Party of Ohio posed a threat to their win numbers, so they passed new ballot access rules to relegate Libertarians to obscurity as well. Consequently, Ohio’s Libertarians have been plagued by a lack of funding, infighting and an inability to recruit quality candidates ever since.
After their landslide victories in 2022, now the GOP is “coming for it all” –– to paraphrase Athens, Ohio’s own Joe Burrow in a less-fun way, when he was asked about the Cincinnati Bengals’ run for the Super Bowl earlier this year. In Ohio Republicans’ case, their next power grab will be to make it harder for Ohioans to amend our state constitution through a direct vote, a procedure that has been in place for over 100 years. This constitutional right ensured that Ohioans had a way to bypass an unresponsive state legislature and was endorsed by principled high-profile Republicans at the time, such as former President Teddy Roosevelt. Perhaps the irony is lost on Ohio’s modern day “Republicans” that their name derives from the term republic, in which power is held by the people and their elected representatives.
In fact, one of the most famous and often cited stories of the founding of our country –– an imperfect representative democratic constitutional republic as it may be, for anyone who needs an even longer definition –– is that as Benjamin Franklin was leaving Independence Hall in 1787, he was asked by a bystander about what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had created. Would it be “a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin reportedly replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Those poignant words still ring true today, especially as the potential tyranny of the supermajority –– or even a vocal minority –– attempts to enact policies that negatively impact millions of individuals’ rights. After all, republics are supposed to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens, not take them away.
Perhaps Ohio’s modern day Republicans need a reminder of this fact, especially considering that the Republican Party was originally founded as a third political party in the 1850s that sought to create a coalition of abolitionists –– those who were vehemently opposed to the practice of slavery in the United States –– as well as disenfranchised Whigs, the only political opposition at that time to the powerful and growing Democratic contingent in the country. Instead, this political party that started as a minor political party focused on protecting the rights of minorities has now turned their backs on both of those groups, while their supermajority only grows. From destroying minor parties’ ballot access to making it harder for poorer Ohioans to vote, Ohio Republicans seem to not understand the basic definition of “republic” at all.
So now it is our job as citizens to remind them. Earlier this month, I was proud to join over 500 demonstrators from over 170 organizations at the Statehouse to remind our elected representatives who exactly they are representing and what they can and cannot do as our elected representatives. We were there to remind them that their plan to make it harder for Ohioans to amend our state constitution would not be an easy fight. Fortunately, the legislature scrapped their plans to pass HJR6 due to a lack of support –– and while it may be gone for now, the effort could come back in 2023. If it does, this same coalition of Ohioans will be ready to fight again. After all, this is still a republic –– if we can keep it.
Travis Irving, 2018 Ohio Libertarian Gubernatorial Candidate
“This column was also published in The Columbus Free Press.”