The Ohio House of Representatives is supposed to be the “people’s house.” Elected every two years, it’s intended to be the legislative body that is closely tied to public sentiment. So why is it that over 10% of the House membership consists of people not a single voter in those districts cast a ballot to elect already? In the Senate, that number is nearly a quarter of its members this year.
In one case, voters are about to be represented by their second political appointee in the legislature this year. When State Senator Tim Grendell refused to take the House seat he ran for and was elected, the House GOP caucus appointed veteran former legislator Richard Hollington to the seat. Grendell has since resigned his Senate seat to accept a judicial appointment from Governor Kasich (John Eklund has been appointed to Grendell’s seat.) Hollington was elected this month the Mayor of the Village of Hunting Valley. That means the voters in that district are going to be represented in the House with their second, non-elected political appointment, and now a political appointee in the Senate, too. In other words, the voters in the 98th Ohio House District have no elected representative serving them anywhere in the State legislature.
In addition to Hollington, State Representatives Jim Buchy and Jim Butler were quickly appointed to seats in the Ohio House almost as soon as the new legislature began. Buchy took over the seat of State Rep. Jim Zehringer, who became Kasich’s Agriculture Director, and now his ODNR director. Butler took over for State Rep. Peggy Lehrer who was herself appointed to the State Senate to replace Jon Husted after he was elected to the Secretary of State.
At the same time, then State Rep. Clifford Hite was elevated to the State Senate to replace Sen. Steve Bueher, who became the head of BWC under Kasich. State Rep. Robert Sprague was appointed to take Hite’s House seat.
Christina Hagan, one of the youngest and least experienced members of the state legislature, was appointed to take the seat of State Rep. Todd Snitchler, who Kasich appointed to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), which is ironic since Hagan couldn’t defeat Snitchler in the GOP primary in 2008.
Margaret Conditt replaced State Representative Bill Coley after he replaced State Senator Gary Cates. Brian Hill replaced Troy Balderson in the House who replaced Jimmy Stewart in the Senate when he went to work for the oil & gas industry. Dorothy Pelanda replaced Dave Burke in the House who replaced Karen Gilmor in the Senate after she accepted an appointment with the Industrial Commission.
Louis Tehar replaced Bill Mecklenborg in the House. Earlier this month, Governor Kasich just appointed State Rep. Todd McKenney to the Summit County Probate Court. That means that already this year, we have nine appointments to the House, and seven appointments in the Senate. McKenney makes ten for the House. And the appointment to replace Jason Wilson in the Senate will make 8 in the Senate. And if they appoint State Rep. Lou Gentile to that seat as expected, the Democrats’ first appointment in the House will raise it to eleven seats in House in the first year. In other words over 9% of the entire House and over 21% of the State Senate is made of people the voters never elected to that office already. With the exception of two of the Senate appointments, at least the rest of the Senate appointments were folks who at least some of the people in that district had some say in electing that person to the legislature. But every House appointee is one in which the voters in that district had no say. On top of that there are at least seven members of the Ohio House facing term limits and four in the Senate. So that’s over another 8% of the legislature that’s looking to pull a chamber switch or land a Kasich appointment to avoid term limits.
We’re not even half way through this General Assembly, and we see that 12% of its members are people who were not elected to the legislative office that they serve. Particularly as it relates to the House appointees, that means that those appointees owe their office to the GOP legislative caucus that elected them, and not their constituents, since every one of those House appointments have never recently won a legislative election at all.
This is why we need the referendum. In a House where the Republicans hold a 59-40 majority, it’s rather significant that by the end of this year ten of its members are people indebted to the GOP House caucus for their office, and not the people they were appointed to represent. Notice that’s such a significant margin it just happens to equal the margin of seats the GOP holds to have their controlling party status in the chamber. By the end of this year, only half way into this General Assembly, and the Republican majority is built on seats held by members that Statehouse Republicans, and not voters, have selected.
How can that possibly be good for Ohio?