Did the Democrats win or lose?  Does Mike DeWine have juice with Republicans?  Takeaways from Ohio’s Surprisingly Productive Special Legislative Session

Did the Democrats win or lose? Does Mike DeWine have juice with Republicans? Takeaways from Ohio’s Surprisingly Productive Special Legislative Session

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Legislature made history last week when it convened a special session called by Governor Mike DeWine and actually served its specific purpose.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate, which have often become unproductive lately due to political infighting, came together to pass two shocking pieces of legislation in just a few days.

One postponed the deadline for filing presidential candidates, ensuring that Democratic President Joe Biden will appear on this year’s ballot. The other prohibits non-U.S. citizens from financing election campaigns while giving Republican Attorney General Dave Yost broad authority to enforce the law.

National Democrats set the ball rolling in April 2023 when they announced that this year’s Democratic National Convention would be held on August 19, 2024, nearly two weeks after the presidential candidate filing deadline in Ohio.

State Republicans dragged it out by not acting quickly, unlike Alabama GOP lawmakers, who voted unanimously for a solution when faced with the same problem in early May.

It wasn’t pretty. But the Ohio General Assembly finally set the deadline — even after national Democrats on Monday adopted administrative measures that should resolve the problem internally — and the mini-crisis passed.

It was the first time lawmakers passed a bill during an Ohio special session called by a governor since September 1976, according to Gongwer News. The most recent, convened by the then governor. Bob Taft in 2004 ended without action.

Here are some takeaways from the session:

1. DeWine takes action, for once

DeWine hasn’t shown much ability to get the legislature to do anything during his tenure.

Although he convinced Republican lawmakers to take a politically tough vote to raise the state’s gas tax shortly after taking office in January 2019, the governor’s other calls on issues such as guns, transgender children, marijuana, tobacco products and even seat belts have fallen on deaf ears among legislative Republicans.

That’s why it’s notable that when DeWine ordered the General Assembly to return to Columbus to fix the Biden ballot issue, they actually did.

House Speaker Jason Stephens of Lawrence County declared the issue of Biden’s ballot fix legislatively dead just days before DeWine called the session to order, citing Republican opposition. But it passed the House on Thursday by a 63-31 vote, including a narrow 32-31 majority of Ohio House Republicans. In the Senate, only one Republican senator voted against.

Some House Republicans believe that national Democrats who acted to fix the problem administratively led some of their colleagues to switch from “no” to “yes.”

But even that may have been motivated by the special session itself, given that national Democrats waited until thirty minutes before the session began on Tuesday to announce their solution. The special session likely would not have happened if Democrats had announced their administrative solution even a few days earlier.

2. Did Democrats help accelerate restrictions on poll funding?

It is arguable, but less clear, that DeWine’s special session forced the two confrontational chambers to come together to negotiate and quickly pass the foreign funding ban. The Ohio legislature has been paralyzed by Republican infighting centered on Stephens, who faces internal opposition after he won his seat last year with Democratic help, and Senate President Matt Huffman, who is fighting for the Senate seat. Stephens in January.

But now, Republicans have passed a priority bill targeting a key source of Democratic funding: the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal dark money group with ties to a Swiss billionaire who spent more than $10 million to help pass the measure. on abortion rights that voters approved last November. .

It’s impossible to really know. But state Rep. Bill Seitz, who helped negotiate the bill, said he believes the House would have passed it anyway at its next meeting on June 12.

“I think the calling of the special session accelerated or resurrected Biden’s inclusion on the ballot. I’ll give that to the governor,” said Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican. “But the ban on foreign money, we were going to do it anyway.”

Huffman, a Republican from Lima, told reporters Friday that it was a “good question” if the laws were passed because of the crucible of the special session.

“I think the governor’s actions helped a lot in this,” Huffman said. “But I think in the end, before we had taken a break for the summer, something would have happened.”

On the other hand, it is not clear that the law has any practical effect, given the complexities of campaign finance law. And Democrats, by launching the special session, forced a slew of Republican lawmakers to go on the record about Biden.

It’s the kind of thing that could raise future political problems, whether a future Republican has to explain to far-right primary voters why they did Democrats a favor, or to independent voters in a swing district why they refused. to allow Ohioans a choice. in this year’s presidential elections.

3. Redistricting looms large

Democrats see GOP lawmakers’ refusal to approve a quick Biden election fix as an example of how state Republicans have grown arrogant since winning a supermajority, bolstered by seats won in gerrymandered districts, over the past decade.

The issue could come up this summer, when Ohioans consider a redistricting amendment that would sharply reduce Republican power by putting a panel of citizens in charge of drawing the state’s congressional and legislative lines.

In a speech Thursday, House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, drew a straight line from last year’s election issues, where voters soundly defeated a Republican proposal to make it more difficult citizens to amend the state constitution, and then voted to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, until next November, when voters will likely consider the redistricting amendment.

“Their takeover will not be forgotten this November, just as it was not forgotten in August when they were defeated, just as it was forgotten last November when they were defeated,” Russo said.

Republicans have also made clear that the redistricting campaign was a focus as they sought a ban on foreign funding. The Sixteen Thirty Fund is also helping finance the redistricting campaign, which likely prompted Republicans to pass the bill quickly.

Seitz cited the looming issue of redistricting when arguing against a Republican amendment that he said would make it easier for the law to be delayed or overturned in court.

“If we want to do something and make it effective for the next (November) election, we should prudently leave the definition of ‘foreign national’ alone,” Seitz said during a speech in the House of Representatives.

He later added: “My experience tells me… When the General Assembly tries to go further, swing for the fences, hit the home run, it usually blows up in our faces.”

4. Preview 2026

The special session also offered some early indications about how votes would be used in future political attacks.

Russo came under frequent attack over the past week from state Republicans. The vote on the funding bill put Democrats in the position of having to argue that they were in favor of foreigners funding state elections, Republicans argued.

The attention from the GOP suggests they see Russo as someone worth paying attention to. She is frequently mentioned as a potential future state-level candidate for a party that desperately needs them. That could happen as early as 2026, since Russo is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.

“Allison Russo believes foreign oligarchs should fund ballot initiatives in Ohio. I look forward to taking this issue directly to voters if he runs for state office,” former Ohio Republican Bob Paduchik wrote in a Saturday post on X, the social media platform.

Russo responded: “Who’s afraid of my little guy?”

Democrats also frequently attacked Yost, a Republican running for governor in 2026, calling him a “hyperpartisan” who would abuse a provision in the bill that puts the attorney general in charge of enforcing the contribution ban.

Yost issued a statement about the bill.

“I didn’t ask for authorization for this bill and I don’t care if it’s my office or someone else doing the work, but the work must be done,” Yost said. “We need to end this and do it now.”

Andrew Tobias covers state politics and government for and The Plain Dealer