Ohio’s reasonable, rational voters have been abandoned by extremist gerrymandered lawmakers

Nobody, but showboating extremists in the Ohio legislature, gives a damn about which school bathroom is used by a minuscule number of transgender students. Ask anyone not cocooned in a right-wing media bubble of religious zealotry, fear, and grievance about bathroom policing of trans youth and chances are they couldn’t care less.  

Unlike state lawmakers — consumed with slipping bogus bathroom bans into an unrelated Ohio House bill last week — most Ohioans are preoccupied with issues that affect everyday people. Like stretching lean budgets to cover hefty bills. Affording child care. Another rent increase. Surviving hand-to-mouth on low pay. Enduring daily gun violence. 

Yet the big legislative priority of Ohio House Republicans, before adjourning for the summer, was passage of a silly bathroom bill to ostracize a handful of trans students in K-12 and college. The measure heads to the Ohio Senate and Gov. Mike DeWine, ever the closet extremist, vowed to sign the contrived anti-trans legislation into law if given the chance.

Other manufactured Statehouse controversies targeting LGBTQ+ youth are also in the right-wing pipeline to the governor’s desk, including an Ohio version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that restricts how (vaguely defined) “sexuality content” is discussed in classrooms, and requires schools to out LGBTQ+ students to their families. 

Again, this legislated extremism, advancing toward enacted statute, resonates not at all with Ohio voters stressed out over the cost of living. Same goes for the nonsense cooked up in the Ohio Senate to wield an authoritarian hammer over the state’s highly regarded colleges and universities. It’s a kneejerk response to a long-running Fox News narrative about leftist indoctrination ruining higher ed. 

The MAGA Republican fever dream to own campus libs by censoring them lives in the Senate bill stalled in the Ohio House that nobody — except gerrymandered ideologues — wants or needs in the state. It doesn’t improve life for students or faculty and threatens to make it worse with tyrannical rule over great academic institutions. The garbage legislation fits a pattern of fanatical policymaking by lawmakers wildly out of touch with much of the electorate. 

Ultra-right state senators and state representatives grab MAGA wedge issues to exploit. Then they foist unpopular, unwarranted and often harmful stupidity on an unsuspecting public that is fast-tracked to the Ohio Revised Code. It’s legislative malpractice but that’s how Republican supermajorities roll under the sweet gerrymandering deals they cut for themselves. Partisan-rigged districts insulate lawmakers from defeat at the ballot box so they can swing to the extreme right with impunity and looney legislation.  

The tragic result for Ohioans, besides the state rapidly devolving into a worst case scenario, is a Republican-dominated legislature high on hubris and indifferent to the vast majority of voters who are generally not far right or far left but somewhere in the middle. Most Ohioans, it’s safe to say, do not lean extreme like their legislators.  

They are broadly not okay with agendas that stoke fear and loathing of vulnerable trans communities or jeopardize the freedom and independence of public universities or pour massive amounts of state education dollars into unaccountable private and religious schools or reject all commonsense gun safety protections in Ohio.

People who cherish their state parks are outraged that Ohio Republicans, including DeWine, sold them out to the highest fossil fuel bidder to pollute for profit. Ohioans were never the ones urging Republican lawmakers to keep coming up with new ways to make voting harder, especially for targeted demographics that traditionally vote Democratic. Voter suppression is not fine with center-right or center-left Ohioans.    

That Ohio centrism as a moderating force at the polls was underscored by voters in two statewide elections last year. MAGA Republicans, who control every lever of power in the state, tried to hoodwink Ohioans into relinquishing their only recourse around a rotten state government and to scare them into banning abortion access without exception. But the arrogance of commanding partisans took voters for granted. State Republicans assumed unaware, apathetic Ohioans would surrender 100 years of direct democracy without a fight. 

The GOP goal was to rob citizens of their majority voting rights to pass grassroots referendums as a means to stop a majority vote on the right to abortion. But Ohioans smelled a rat and were steamed. They retained their voting clout to circumvent a corrupt legislature and enshrined the constitutional right to abortion in the state by overwhelming statewide margins.

The underhanded and outright deceptive tactics waged by top Republicans on both Issue 1s—and against the people who elected them—woke a sleeping giant in Ohio of newly engaged voters. The length that anti-democratic fundamentalists were willing to go for absolute power lit a fire under many Ohioans that was empowering. A democracy comeback.  

A year later Ohioans are mobilizing with other Ohioans to do what legislators won’t from ensuring fair, representative voting districts to raising minimum wage and restoring voting rights. The campaign to establish a citizens redistricting commission in Ohio and remove politicians from the process altogether moved closer to its objective of placing an amendment on the statewide ballot in November.

It turned in more than 750,000 voter signatures on its initiative to state officials this week and needs roughly 413,000 to qualify. This voter-led movement is building. Showboating extremists in Columbus could be in for a reckoning.

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