The last time Ohio held a constitutional convention was in 1912. According to an article posted 10/1/2012 by the Ohio Liberty Coalition, 34 of its 42 proposed amendments were accepted by the voters. Among these was a requirement that the citizens of the state shall have the opportunity to call for a constitutional convention every twenty years. While the voters rejected the four succeeding opportunities, it’s time to call for a review of this document. Voters must be assured that all proposed amendments, whether fixing simple “legal absurdities” or fundamentally new items, must be approved with a statewide ballot.
Those who oppose the call for such a convention focus on these objections: the concern over contentious issues, the existence of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, a lack of public interest in a convention and the expense of such a gathering.
#1) Contentious issues: The Ohio Liberty Coalition cited a 2006 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer which listed the pros and cons of calling a convention. The article stated the topics of “abortion, civil unions, gambling, gun control, home rule, judicial selection, school funding, tax reform, term limits and tort reform” as current issues which are “deeply divisive.” That these unresolved issues are contentious was seen as a reason to avoid them by not calling for a convention! Anyone experienced in making relationships work knows that avoidance solves nothing. Only with respectful discussion will problems be resolved.
#2) Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission: The Ohio General Assembly created this group which will offer its recommendations after the elections. This commission may very well suggest some good changes to the state’s constitution. However, those supporting Issue 2 (the flawed redistricting proposal) are likely to hamper the commission’s effectiveness because of their conviction that “politicians sit in back rooms and draw (district) lines that guarantee jobs for themselves and their friends” (Ellis Jacobs, attorney with the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition). Instead, recommendations from this commission could be presented to the constitutional convention as a helpful starting point.
#3) Lack of Public Interest, or Awareness?: The Plain Dealer article also claimed that “a strong consensus in favor (of) a constitutional reform is a condition for a successful constitutional convention— there is no such existing popular consensus.” I contend that the lack of consensus for this convention is not from the absence of very real necessity, but from a general lack of public awareness in most things governmental. Apathy caused by the distasteful aspects of politics plus the abundance of fun diversions is the real problem. The decline of basic current events knowledge is evident in random television news media interviews of the public. A once-in-a-century event like a constitutional convention would increase public awareness and spark civic involvement; thus, protecting rights for ourselves and for future generations.
#4) Expense: The cost of a convention with 99 members must certainly be recognized. However, we can view this undertaking positively using a practical perspective. We have gone a century without incurring any expense for a full review of our state’s constitution. If approved, this project amounts to nothing more than paying for one convention member for each year since the last in-depth look at our state’s most important document.
Conclusion: Vote “Yes” on Issue 1 because the time for a thorough review of Ohio’s constitution is overdue. Piecemeal revisions over the last ten decades have contributed to the vitality of this critical document. Nevertheless, 100 years between “physicals” is too long to ensure that it continues to be a cohesive foundation for a just society.