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Gerrymandering Democracy

Ohio’s Corporate Junta Takes a Hit From the Labor Left

by BOB FITRAKIS AND HARVEY WASSERMAN

Swing state Ohio mocks the very idea of democracy. As it so often does, Ohio reflects a national trend: this one the plunge toward corporate one-party state governments very much at odds with what the public thinks and wants.

But even an apparently absolute moneyed take-over of the Buckeye Heartland has its limits when it comes to workers’ rights.

Like far too many sibling states, Ohio’s ruling superstructure—its governor, his cabinet, the legislature and the state supreme court—is far to the right of the voting populace.

Though technically a “purple” swing state, a majority of Ohioans voted for Obama in the past two presidential elections. Exit polls also showed a clear majority for John Kerry in 2004, though the “official” tally gave the state—and the presidency—to George W. Bush.

In 2012 Ohio voters also re-elected the liberal US Senator Sherrod Brown with a decisive majority.

But thanks to the wonders of corporate gerrymandering, that same 2012 election left Ohio with 12 Republican US Representatives, versus 4 Democrats. (With the help of the Democratic state machine, bipartisan gerrymandering was used to purge the US House of Dennis Kucinich, one of America’s most outspoken left populists).

There is talk here, as in other states, of shifting the Electoral College vote count to reflect Congressional districts rather than the state majority. Had that rubric been in place in 2008 and 2012, Obama would have lost an overwhelming majority of the state’s electoral votes both times. In 2012, while winning a majority of the popular vote, he would have received just a third of the electoral vote.

But the reality of this gerrymandering now defines state government. In 2012, Ohio’s Democratic candidates for the Ohio House collectively received 56,000 more votes than their Republican counterparts. But Democratic voters were dense-packed into urban districts, giving the Republicans a state legislature rigged to resemble the Congressional delegation. Despite the statewide Democratic majority, the Ohio House emerged from the 2012 election with an astonishing 60 Republicans against just 39 Democrats.

With its small, precisely gerrymandered districts, that majority is dominated by extreme “Tea Party” fanatics. The Ohio Senate—though slightly more moderate—has an even more decisively Republican head count, with a veto-proof super-majority of 23 versus just 10 Democrats.

The story is the same at the governor’s mansion. Exit polls showed the popular Democratic incumbent, Ted Strickland, with a clear 2010 reelection victory. But a last-minute infusion of at least $1 million in cash from Rupert Murdoch helped former Fox bloviator John Kasich mysteriously carry the official tally. Based on the usual “irregularities” and “glitches,” Ohio’s infamous electronic voting machines once again put an apparent GOP loser into power, bringing with him an all-white-male cabinet of right-wing extremists.

The Ohio Supreme Court has gone much the same way. Its “non-partisan” elections do not require candidates to list their party affiliation on the ballot. In recent years the Ohio Chamber of Commerce has—often illegally—poured millions of dollars in the races. Six of the seven “justices” are now Republicans.

So between the legislature, the governor, his cabinet and the state Supreme Court, Ohio’s government is little more than an unelected cabal of corporatists. It’s thoroughly cheer-led through a statewide media dominated by the right-wing Dispatch in Columbus and Inquirer in Cincinnati. The “liberal” Plain-Dealer in Cleveland makes the occasional dodge to the left, but rarely takes on the corporations.

Policy has followed suit. One of Kasich’s very first acts as governor was to loudly reject more than $400 million in federal funds meant to restore passenger rail service between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Columbus is one of the largest capital cities in the world without it. The last train carrying human cargo left the city’s uniquely gorgeous landmark Union Station in 1979. The station has since been demolished for no apparent reason, though preservationists saved a sad single arch, which stands forlorn somewhere near the original site.

Last month the Tea Party-dominated legislature voted to reject some $13 billion in federal Medicaid funds over the next seven years. This time, even Kasich wanted the money.

The decision leaves more than a quarter-million Ohioans without medical coverage. It will cost the state’s taxpayers at least $400 million in the next two years. It would have given more than a quarter-million Ohioans health insurance where they are now otherwise without it.

Ohio’s far-right House Speaker William G. Batchelder is orchestrating a “multistate rebellion” against the “Obamacare” money. The Free Press obtained documents in 1997 showing Batchelder to be a secret member of the ultra-right-wing Council for National Policy (CNP) that had several white supremacists and far-right-wing Christian fundamentalists on their roster. (Batchelder once publicly described co-author Harvey Wasserman as hailing from “the fever swamps of the far left.”)

The legislature has also voted to defund Planned Parenthood, leaving the nearly 100,000 Ohio women who’ve been receiving them without services ranging from birth control to cancer screening to HIV testing.

And it’s given an enthusiastic green light to fracking in a state where the public opposition is strong, and the process has been definitively linked to at least one earthquake.

On April 16, the House Republicans pushed through an amendment prohibiting the teaching of comprehensive sexual education in Ohio schools. Public school curricula must now teach abstinence only. Parents and guardians can now sue teachers for condoning pre-marital sex in any form. Such “gateway sexual activity” includes risqué behavior like “hand holding.” A $5000 fine comes with each teaching offense that somehow relates to pre-marital sex.

But, finally, it seems, there are limits, even in Tea Party Ohio. In 2011, the Republican House introduced union-busting legislation for both the public and private sector. The last time the Ohio GOP pushed a so-called right-to-work initiative was in 1958.

But when what became known as Senate Bill 5 was put to a public vote, the Ohio electorate rose up to crush it by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin. After serving as the poster boy for this union-busting maneuver, Kasich’s popularity fell to 32 percent.

This year he has very publicly distanced himself from Batchelder and his anti-union cohorts in the Ohio House. With the economy on the uptick in Ohio, he recently obtained his highest approval rating ever, at 52 percent.

But the Tea Party Republicans in the House don’t lightly take no for any answer. They’ve even gone so far as to attack Kasich’s tax plans, which apparently don’t swing enough of Ohio’s public revenue to private corporations.

Early this spring, the Ohio House passed yet another right-to-work bill. With all the moneyed enthusiasm of a mob of Lemmings, the Buckeye far right geared up for another assault on the basic rights of working people.

But this proved too much even for Ohio’s Senate. Kasich may face a tough reelection fight next year. If he wins, there’s a high likelihood it will be followed by a run at the White House.

With a core of loyal personal supporters, Kasich killed the bill. By portraying himself increasingly as a moderate, Kasich’s approval ratings seem destined to continue moving up.

Whether Ohio’s corporatocracy is forced to yield anything else to a core Democratic electorate remains to be seen. But even with a very aggressive moneyed elite in firm control, there are still some limits on how far the extreme right can push Ohio’s working people.

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman have co-authored six books on election protection, including WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO? , now at www.freepress.org, along with Bob’s FITRAKIS FILES.  HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE US is at www.harveywasserman.com.  This article was first published at progressive.org.