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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2005

Ohioans cast off election reforms

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Ohioans may have expressed outrage over the last few months over Statehouse political scandals, but they resoundingly decided that what was on the ballot yesterday wasn't the answer.

Voters rejected outright proposed constitutional amendments that would have overhauled redistricting, election supervision, campaign contribution limits, and absentee voting.

The changes' mostly Democratic supporters claimed a win in sending a message to majority Republicans that political reform has to be on their agenda.

The mostly Republican opposition countered that would-be reformers pursued an "inside baseball" agenda instead of issues like the economy that matter most to Ohioans.

"Voters are the one who sent the message, and what the voters said is they will not have their constitution hijacked by a bunch of out-of-state special interests," House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said.

The controversial centerpieces, amendments stripping state elected officials of their ability to redraw congressional and legislative districts and oversee Ohio elections, both failed overwhelmingly with 71 percent of voters rejecting them with 71 percent of the vote counted.

Proposed amendments that would have mostly reduced campaign-contribution limits and opened wide absentee ballot voting failed with 64 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

Reform Ohio Now, the mostly Democrat-leaning coalition supporting the amendments, took credit for the General Assembly's rush to enact its own version of no-fault absentee voting in a bid to derail the ballot version.

"Even though it wasn't Coingate that began our efforts here, that issue is not going to go away," said Herb Asher, political-science professor at Ohio State University, one of the reform effort's leaders.

"We're going to have more indictments, and next year, an election year, I would hope that we'll have candidates competing with each other, saying 'I'm going to clean up Ohio' and the other saying, 'No, I'm going to clean up Ohio even more.'‚óŹ"

Coingate is the statewide scandal that has dominated GOP politics since The Blade began reporting in April about problems with a $50 million investment the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation made in two rare-coin funds managed by Tom Noe, a Republican fund-raiser. Mr. Noe was indicted last month on three felony counts for laundering money to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Mr. Husted said redistricting reform remains on the table for majority Republicans. "One of the things we have to be mindful of is Ohioans did say no today," he said. "We have to make sure that we have something that they would say yes to."

Issue 4, billed as a means of preventing the majority party from manipulating district boundaries to partisan and incumbent advantage after each U.S. Census, would have given the role to an appointed panel.The creation of competitive districts would have been the primary goal.

"The Republican insiders didn't want the system changed because they benefit from it right now," Mr. Asher said. "The Democratic insiders didn't want it changed because they hope they'll benefit from it next time."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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