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Published: Sunday, 10/28/2012

Constitutional convention option placed before voters

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Ohio has not opened wide its supreme law of the land for a wholesale review for nearly a century, preferring instead to make changes in piecemeal fashion at the ballot box.

But on Nov. 6 voters will be asked via Issue 1 whether they want to hold a full-fledged convention in which delegates would be elected without partisan labels to study the Ohio Constitution and propose changes that would be put on the ballot at a later date.

It’s a question they’ve been asked every 20 years since 1912 as required by the constitution, and their answer every 20 years has been “no.’’ The last time the question was posed in 1992, 61 percent of voters rejected the idea.

Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, has experienced success with the current process of amending the constitution through voter initiatives. He wrote the constitutional language approved by voters last year to create a citizen’s right not to have a healthcare plan forced upon him, a question designed at least in part to send a message against President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Despite that success, he said he will personally vote in favor of holding a convention.

“I don’t know what changes would be proposed, but it would be interesting to see,’’ he said, stressing that he was not speaking on behalf of the tax-exempt 1851 Center.

“It’s really one of the most potent ways to reform government and get around the two-party system which obstructs the ability to do that,’’ he said.

In recent years, the process of changing the constitution via petition and ballot has resulted in approval of four Ohio casinos; approval to borrow money for environmental clean-up, economic development, and bonuses for veterans of recent wars; ban same-sex marriage, and raise the minimum wage.

Regardless of what voters decide next week, a review of the constitution will take place to some extent. Lawmakers recently created the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission which has yet to get down to business. That panel of legislators and members of the general public is designed to make recommendations for constitutional amendments to the General Assembly which would then vote whether to put the changes before voters.

Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) is a member of the commission, which he thinks is the better way to broach constitutional amendments that voters would be more likely to approve.

“Probably what we have is a good substitute for examining the constitution,” he said. “I would enjoy the rough and tumble of a convention, but I don’t know what it would accomplish or how it would be structured. I would advise people to vote ‘no’ because I think it would be a waste of time and money.”

If voters decide they want a convention, the commission’s work would be done to assist the delegates voters ultimately pick to run it. If voters reject the idea again, the commission would do its work independent and report back to lawmakers.

ISSUE 1: THE QUESTION:

Article XVI, Section 3 of the Constitution of the State of Ohio reads as follows:

“At the general election to be held in the year 1932, and in each twentieth year thereafter, the question: ‘Shall there be a convention to revise, alter, or amend the constitution[,]’ shall be submitted to the electors of the state; and in case a majority of the electors, voting for and against the calling of a convention, shall decide in favor of a convention, the general assembly, at its next session, shall provide, by law, for the election of delegates, and the assembling of such convention, as is provided in the preceding section; but no amendment of this constitution, agreed upon by any convention assembled in pursuance of this article, shall take effect, until the same shall have been submitted to the electors of the state, and adopted by a majority of those voting thereon.”

Shall there be a convention to revise, alter, or amend the Ohio Constitution?

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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