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Former GOP Official Critiques Ohio’s Issue 1 and Redistricting

One-time county prosecutor, state lawmaker, state attorney general and auditor Betty Montgomery has been a vocal critic of the state’s failed proposal, known as Issue 1, to require a supermajority for constitutional amendments.

Betty Montgomery thinks a gerrymandered Republican legislature just awakened a “sleeping giant” – the voters.

A Republican, Montgomery has served as a county prosecutor, a state lawmaker, state attorney general and auditor. She recently emerged as a vocal critic of Ohio's State Issue 1, along with former GOP Govs. Bob Taft and John Kasich. Their opposition served as a potent showing for opponents, as it demonstrated the resistance to the supermajority proposal spread far beyond just the Ohio Democratic Party and well into the upper echelon of Republican politics.

In his concession speech Tuesday night, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, cited “vociferous” opposition from Montgomery, Taft, and Kasich as one of the various reasons why he believed Issue 1 failed.

Had it passed, future proposed constitutional amendments (including one to legalize abortion in November) would need a 60 percent vote to pass instead of 50 percent. The organizers behind similar amendments would also have needed to gather thousands of signatures from all 88 counties instead of the currently required 44 to place an issue on the ballot in the first place. And they’d lose out on a 10-day grace period that’s currently allowed if state officials deem enough signatures invalid.

Unofficial results show voters defeated the proposal with 57 percent of the vote.

A schism between Montgomery and the Ohio Republican Party has festered for years. In 2016, she said she was “ashamed” of the GOP for backing Donald Trump and told The Columbus Dispatch that the “safety and security of your country and its place in the world is more important than party.” In 2022, she lost her reelection to serve on the GOP state central committee.

Montgomery spoke with and The Plain Dealer on Wednesday. She talked about what she sees as a revived and engaged electorate; the refugees of a bygone Republican Party; and the need to get lawmakers out of the redistricting process. The Republican ex-Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Maureen O’Connor – who was similarly distanced from the party after rejecting several maps proposed by a GOP legislative supermajority as unconstitutional gerrymanders – has championed the independent redistricting idea with a 2024 referendum in mind.

What follows is Montgomery’s interview, modestly edited for length and clarity.

What did you think after seeing the votes last night?

I was so pleased on so many levels. We had a sleeping giant awakened. We have had an electorate for the last few years that has essentially not been engaged in government. It became engaged in government last night, and it was good to see.

Can you offer any specifics?

Take a look at a lot of the issues that have been passed by the General Assembly. I don’t think the public feels it was listened to on many of the issues.

You stuck your neck out in a certain way here. What were you hearing from Republicans?

A lot of the Republicans who have felt they were disenfranchised post-Trump, a lot of Republicans that, many of whom have moved to become independents because they thought the Republican Party wasn’t reflecting their values, I heard a lot from them.

And I heard a lot from just, John Q. Public. It was really reassuring that we do have a democracy that is sometimes sleepy but it’s there.

Do you think you, Taft and Kasich had a material impact here?

I think we had an impact, but I’d like to think that just getting information to the electorate was enough. Once they realized that one of the most important vehicles they have to voice their democratic voice was being foreclosed – I don’t care how they dressed it up, there’s no way you’re going to get another amendment passed under [State Issue 1]. So I think, generally, I hope we made a difference but frankly I think there were strong grass roots ... I think we were part of it, but I cannot say we were a major part.

Do we have a gerrymandered legislature in Ohio?

Yes. We have a supermajority Republican [ General Assembly] that can do that. I think we have to work harder at ensuring that we have more balance in our districts.

Do you plan to get behind Maureen O’Connor’s plan to create some kind of independent redistricting scheme?

I think redistricting has to go outside the legislature at this point. I was in the legislature. I went through a redistricting. And certainly as an attorney general. I think it’s wise to take it outside the hands of the General Assembly.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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