KERSHNER: Don’t let Ohio be the guinea pig again

COVID-19 may have delayed some state ballot issues from moving forward, but we still have a serious issue that needs addressed for the voters of Ohio and the Ohio business community.Ohio has been the testing ground for out-of-state interest groups and rogue, rich individuals to pilot law and constitution changes. These proposed changes most often benefit a few out-of-state wealthy investors while hurting thousands of Ohioans.

We’ve seen these ballot proposals evolve and take shape time after time, and we are done allowing Ohioans to be guinea pigs, and our business leaders to be asked to defeat these proposals that should have never made it to the ballot in the first place. Businesses don’t want these ballot issues, but we are being asked to defeat them every time. Something has to change.

In the past five years, four issues have cost the business community millions of dollars, wasted Ohio voters’ time and forced a concerted effort to defeat:

  • In 2015, the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce helped lead a statewide business coalition that raised $2.5 million to defeat an Ohio constitutional amendment which would have created a recreational marijuana monopoly. This effort was funded by wealthy, out-of-state celebrities and flew in the face of Ohio’s free market business practices.
  • In 2017, a billion-dollar California interest group tried to get Ohioans to vote for a prescription drug price-fixing amendment. Again, the business community was saddled with a bill of more than $60 million for its defeat.
  • In 2018, interest groups from Los Angeles tried to get an amendment on the Ohio ballot that would have affected thousands of kidney dialysis patients. The business community ponied up $12 million to defeat and remove the amendment from the Ohio ballot.
  • Also in 2018, businesses battled and defeated the Ohio constitutional amendment proposal that was backed by mark Zuckerburg and George Sorros, which would have eliminated jail time for certain drug offenders, including those convicted of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.  Again, the Ohio business community stepped up.

For the small price tag of about $2 million to $3 million, any out-of-state interest group can hire savvy political consultants, lawyers and petition signature gatherers in Ohio to get an issue on the ballot. This ease of access puts Ohio in the category of “low-hanging fruit” for interest groups to pilot constitutional amendments before they go national. And every time, our business community is looked to as the funding solution to defeat these bad constitutional amendments. This can’t continue – it’s not good for Ohio and it’s not good for business.

At a minimum, there are statutory changes that the Ohio General Assembly should consider, which will make it harder for out-of-state interest groups and investors to get issues on the Ohio ballot.

As we begin a new General Assembly in January, now is the time to act before we are faced with another unnecessary issue. It is important that Ohio has a ballot process that allows the citizens of Ohio and the Ohio General Assembly to bring an issue to the electorate for consideration.

This same priority, however, doesn’t need to exist for a select number of out-of-state groups that want to test their political ideologies at the expense of Ohioans. Interest groups can keep their money in California and we’ll keep out money in Ohio.

Chris Kershner, CAE
President & CEO
Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce

Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Dayton Daily News.