Voters in Ohio overwhelmingly rejected a Republican attempt to restrict abortion rights on Tuesday. The supermajority of Republicans in the Ohio Legislature had pushed for a ballot initiative that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution ahead of the November election, when voters will decide if the right to an abortion should be enshrined in the Ohio Constitution. A majority of Ohio voters support the right to abortion. “The voters of the state of Ohio did not buy what the Republicans were selling,” says former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, now a senior fellow at the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School, who notes the victory also prevents Republicans from restricting support for other popular measures that could become ballot initiatives, such as raising the minimum wage.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Ohio, where reproductive rights advocates are celebrating after voters overwhelmingly rejected a Republican ballot initiative to make it harder to amend Ohio’s state Constitution. Republicans pushed to have Tuesday’s special election with the sole purpose of raising the threshold for passing constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60% before November, when voters will decide if the right to an abortion should be enshrined in the Ohio Constitution. The ballot initiative also attempted to make it harder to submit future constitutional amendments by requiring signatures from all of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Preliminary results show 57% of Ohio voters on Tuesday rejected the Republican ballot initiative, known simply as Issue 1. The election results marked a sharp shift from 2020, when Donald Trump won Ohio with 53% of the vote.
President Joe Biden hailed the results, saying in a statement, quote, “This measure was a blatant attempt to weaken voters’ voices and further erode the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions. Ohioans spoke loud and clear, and tonight democracy won,” he said.
The Republican megadonor and billionaire Richard Uihlein of Illinois, who’s long been a key backer of anti-abortion groups, had bankrolled the Republican effort by giving $4 million to the group Protect Our Constitution.
We go now to Cleveland, where we’re joined by former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, who’s now a senior fellow at the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Nina. If you can start off by just responding to this overwhelming victory for reproductive rights advocates?
NINA TURNER: A jubilation. The people of the great state of Ohio have spoken, resoundingly rejecting the GOP overreach, which is indeed a beautiful thing. And we know that folks in Ohio, voters in Ohio, from all the political ideologies, weighed in on this, and they said to the GOP, “You have gone too far.”
And I know that the GOP themselves made this strictly about abortion, and I understand abortion rights activists are celebrating, but this is so much bigger than just abortion access. There will be issues on the ballot to raise the minimum wage. Who knows, coming down the pike, what other issues will be on the ballot? And the people of this state have a right to weigh in as a supermajority and — excuse me, as a simple majority, and not a supermajority. And I am so glad that the GOP’s power grab was rejected in this state. Lots to celebrate.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about who was behind this, Richard Uihlein of the Uline company fortune, as well as the heir to the, what, Schlitz brewery fortune. Talk about the millions he poured in and the fact that this was — what? I mean, the rules for Ohio have been in place for like a century.
NINA TURNER: Yes, since 1912, Amy, it has been in play. Obviously, this guy, he threw money, good — well, I shouldn’t even say it was good money. They rejected him, too. And as the Republicans bemoan the so-called outside forces that are coming into this state, it is not lost on many of us that their biggest outside force just might as well have taken that money and just set it afire.
The voters of the state of Ohio did not buy what the Republicans were selling. It is another example of why we do need campaign finance reform in this state, period, across the board. When ultra-ultra-wealthy people can decide what the rules of engagement are going to be, without regard for the people in these various states, so whether it’s Ohio today, Amy, as we know, or other states across the country, it is absolutely wrong. So, the people of the great state of Ohio certainly have set in motion this atmosphere of we’re not going to let people just come in here and try to buy an election in the way that they did, especially when it comes to issues.
And, Amy, you remember 2011 very well, when the voters of the state — same, a broad coalition of voters — rejected the overreach of the GOP — I was in the Legislature at that time — to try to take away collective bargaining rights. That was about 62%. This issue last night failed by about — 57% of the voters said, “Absolutely not.” So, again, when it’s put into the hands of the voters across the state of Ohio, they come together, even though Republicans have a supermajority in the Legislature. They control all of the constitutional offices in this state. But I am so glad that a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, independents, no-party people came together and said, “Not on our watch will we allow this to happen.”
AMY GOODMAN: And, in fact, isn’t it true that Republicans, too, conservative Republicans, were not pleased with this massive change and what it could mean for the future for other ballot initiatives? And if you can talk about how this doesn’t only serve abortion rights advocates?
NINA TURNER: That’s right. That’s right, Amy. I mean, even Governor John Kasich was against this issue. And so, it really is fundamentally about freedom, the freedom of the people of the state of Ohio to put something on the ballot and have the voters of the state weigh in. So, yes, while it may be abortion rights now — and the current secretary of state, Frank LaRose, made it very clear that the Republicans drummed this up to try to defeat what will be on the ballot in November. They didn’t even hide from it. They said that this was what this was about. But beyond the issues that are on the ballot in November, this is about any other issue that the people of this great state have an absolute right to weigh in on. And you know what, Amy? The irony that the party that talks about so much freedom would then use their power — pure, unadulterated, corrupting power — to try to take away the voices of the people in the state. It did not work. And so, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, independent, or you’re not rocking with any of the parties, the fact that if this had — if Issue 1 had passed, it impacts what anybody else would want to try to put on the ballot to get the people to weigh in on. So, absolutely, this is so much bigger than abortion rights. This is about the rights of the voters of this state to weigh in and to stop overreaching, as they see fit.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Nina Turner, bigger than the state of Ohio — and you’ve always had this national perspective; you were top person in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, as well as now you’re at The New School — looking at the map, you have California, Montana, Kansas, Michigan, Kentucky, Vermont. All these states are indicating that the voters, whether it’s a Republican state or a Democratic state, want to ensure abortion rights. What does this signify for the elections in November of 2024, from president on down?
NINA TURNER: Well, hopefully, this energy will continue to percolate. I will just caution that one issue — you know, just the issue of abortion itself is not going to be enough to animate in a way that will push a Democrat over the top, but it is part of a broader consensus about what true freedom and liberty looks like, and having the American people across the country weigh in, whether it’s economic freedom or the freedom to be able to vote, the freedom to love, the freedom to have a living wage. As we can see, Amy, too, it’s the percolation of — you know, and that’s why this is not just about abortion, because we see also, on the labor front, the enormous victory by the Teamsters at UPS, you know, what the writers and actors are doing right now in their protest. We can name Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Apple — you name it — nurses, teachers.
People across this country are not in the mood for this kind of overreach. And so, it is my hope that it is this — the synergy of all of these issues will catapult more people who really do care about changing and enhancing the material conditions of the poor, the working poor and the barely middle class, that that kind of energy continues. But it won’t just be about abortion. It will be about abortion and many other issues that impact the quality of people’s lives.
AMY GOODMAN: Nina Turner, I want to thank you for being with us, former Ohio state senator, senior fellow at the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School.
Coming up, we go to Mississippi, where six white former police officers, who called themselves the “Goon Squad,” have pleaded guilty to raiding a home and torturing two Black men. One of them, they shot in the mouth. The police officers, some face life in prison. The two men will join us after break.