Opinion: 2018 will make or break Ohio Democratic movement

Brian DiPaolo

Ohio Democrats are in great danger of becoming a political minority until the year 2030 if swift grassroots changes do not occur within the party and community. I say this not to hyperbolize nor exaggerate, but the fate of the Democratic and progressive movement in Ohio hinges largely on the success of Democrats on the state ballot in 2018.

The Ohio Democratic movement is in a state of dismal affairs. Since 1991, a Democrat has served as governor for only four years.

As it stands, Republicans hold all six of the statewide elected positions in the executive branch. The last Democratic electoral victory in this branch of government was in 2008.

Democrats hold super minorities in both chambers of the state legislature — 10 seats in the 33-seat Ohio Senate and 34 seats in the 99-seat Ohio House.

Things are not much better on the Ohio Supreme Court, as only one of the seven justices is a sort of rogue Democrat.

Of the 16 congressmen appropriated to Ohio, only four are Democrats. Democrat Sherrod Brown serves as U.S. senator alongside Republican Rob Portman, although Portman’s towing of the party line often negates Brown’s progressive votes (as seen in the deciding vote for the confirmation of Betsy DeVos — a thoroughly unqualified nominee — for Department of Education).

Ohio went for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, yet Ohio Democrats cannot afford the luxury to stay home until we try to vote Trump out of office in 2020. When an entire party stays home and does not actively support its candidates in the midterm and local elections, electoral disasters for Democrats like 2010 and 2014 culminate into the Trump surge in Ohio that occurred in 2016.

In addition to rebuilding our grassroots in a true progressive manner and taking back our city halls and school boards, the linchpin to a Democratic future — and conversely the nail in its coffin — lies in the 2018 midterm elections.

In 2018, Sen. Brown will be up for re-election. Ohio Democrats need to protect him from the money of the Koch brothers and the opportunism of potential candidate Josh Mandel at all costs.

Gov. John Kasich’s term will also be expiring at this time, and the Democratic Party will once again have a shot at taking back the governor’s mansion. In addition to the gubernatorial election, the remaining four statewide executive branch offices — secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer and state auditor — will be up for election as the incumbents who now hold them will be term-limited. It is essential that Democratic Ohioans draft strong candidates for all of these positions in contested primaries.

To understand why 2018 is so crucial to the future of Ohio Democrats, let’s take a journey back to 2015: In an obscure off-year election, Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed the Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment (also known as Issue 1).

Issue 1 effectively changed the process by which Ohio’s statewide legislative districts are drawn. As it stands now, the districts for the Ohio House and Senate are incredibly gerrymandered in favor of the Republican Party.

Typically democratic areas have been broken apart by GOP strongholds or packed into as few districts as possible — thus, creating the super minorities democrats currently held in both houses of our state legislature.

Issue 1 created the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Before Issue 1, the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and one member selected by the leaders of each of the two major parties drew the legislative districts. With the passing of Issue 1, this group has been expanded by one member from each party.

The next time statewide district lines will be drawn is in 2021. In order to ensure a majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission, Democrats must secure at least two (preferably three) of the following positions: governor, secretary of state and state auditor.

These three positions are all up for election in 2018 and wide open. If Democrats are elected to these positions, they will serve during the important time when the districts are redrawn in 2021.

Now to bring it all home.

Some ask, “Why is it so important to take back the state legislature for Democrats? What does that change?”

The importance of this is twofold. Democrats must hold a majority on the Redistricting Commission in order to level the playing field for Democrats in the State Assembly.

They will be hard-pressed to redraw district lines to ensure an overwhelming Democratic majority as Republicans have been able to — nor do I want them to, as that would be unethical.

If Democrats can redraw district lines to undo the “packing and cracking” that Republicans have committed, that will be enough. Democrats will at least gain an edge. We deserve fair districts.

The statehouse also is important as it is a sort of “farm” for Democratic candidates in the future. Many congressmen, governors and statewide executive positions get their political start in the Ohio House and Senate.

With a sheer lack of Democrats in both of these chambers, the potential to draft strong, young candidates is choked and has disastrous effects up the ticket.

2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald held no experience in Columbus — he lost 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Ohio’s 12 Republican congressmen were re-elected easily in 2016 — had more of their opponents come from the State House, perhaps Democrats would have won a few of these seats.

The senate seat of Rob Portman was up for re-election in 2016. Unable to find a sound candidate from the Ohio House or Senate and unable to run a congressman against him, Democrats were forced to nominate 75-year-old former Gov. Ted Strickland.

Strickland soundly lost this election, much like he lost the governorship in 2010.

If Ohio Democrats want to win big, they have to start small. In order to take down Republican candidates who do not vote in our best interest (such as Rob Portman, who is not putting our public schools first and Congressman Pat Tiberi, who wants to take away his constituents’ health care), Democrats need to draft strong, competent candidates who have track records in public service and electoral victory.

A vibrant farm of Democratic candidates can be drawn from the Ohio House and Senate if legislative district lines are better constructed in 2021.

In order for fair districts to be drawn, Democrats must win back the governorship, secretary of state or state auditor in 2018. A grassroots movement will need to occur for such a win to happen.

If Democrats lose the executive branch in 2018, Ohio will be a Republican state until 2030.

Progress cannot afford for this to happen.

Brian DiPaolo is the historian for the College Democrats, contact him at [email protected].