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Anti-’Obamacare’ voters courted by pro-Senate Bill 5 campaign, Ohio GOP (updated)

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/DollarBillsThumb1.jpgRepublicans in Ohio, as in several other states, have placed a constitutional amendment before voters that, if passed this November, would block provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Some progressives think the amendment is designed to draw conservative voters to the polls to help pass another item critical to the GOP’s anti-union agenda.

If passed, Issue 3 would amend the state’s constitution to prohibit laws or rules compelling any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in a health care system, thus overcoming the “individual mandate” clause of the national health care reform law. Tea party-led, all-volunteer efforts to place a similar issue on the ballot last year failed, and the petition drive sagged again this year before conservative organizers, including prominent Ohio Republicans, lent their support, finally garnering enough valid signatures to satisfy the state’s ballot requirements.

Voters looking to vote against “Obamacare” in Issue 3 (PDF) are thought likely to vote ‘yes’ on another ballot amendment, Issue 2, which would allow a contentious law designed to limit the ability of public union workers to collectively bargain to stay on the books. Senate Bill 5 was signed into law by Ohio Governor John Kasich in February. Polling suggests the movement to repeal the bill is ahead by a considerable 13-point margin.

With only 38 percent of voters say they are supportive of the new law, with Issue 3, Republican strategists may have been looking for a creative way to expand their base of voters on Election Day.

“What’s pretty obvious is that the Republican Party put a lot of money and in-kind contributions into the petition gathering process at the eleventh hour, because it didn’t look like they were going to get enough signatures,” said Dale Butland, communications director for Innovation Ohio, a non-profit progressive think tank. “They thought it would be enough to turn out conservative voters at the polls, who they thought would vote in favor of SB5 while they were voting for Issue 3.”

“I think it was about getting [voter] turnout,” agreed Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgressOhio, an activist organization that opposes both Issues 2 and 3. “But they are finding it tough. It is very hard to encourage people to take away someone’s health care; it’s much easier to encourage people to show up to limit union workers’ rights.”

Butland said the amendment itself was dangerously flawed, citing a study conducted by Innovation Ohio (PDF) that concluded the wording of the amendment would jeopardize existing state and local health care laws that range from protecting children’s health care in child support cases to immunizations at schools.

“The study said that, while the authors of Issue 3 may have been aiming at what they call ‘Obamacare,’ it is so sloppily worded that it will hit dozens of existing local laws and regulations that are designed to, for example regulate the licensing of doctors and insurance companies, preventing them from selling inadequate insurance to the elderly and things like that,” said Butland. “The author of the amendment told the Columbus Dispatch that he fully intended to hit all these other laws, which range from the workers’ comp to school immunization records to COPRA laws … there’s just dozens and dozens of these other laws that would be put in jeopardy if Issue 3 is made into law.”

According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 13 percent (1,475,900 total) of Ohioans have no health care, compared to 17 percent nationally.

Butland said that the law, which could be dangerous for Ohioan’s health care security, would at best be irrelevant.

“Virtually every legal scholar, even the Republican attorney general (Mike DeWine), said that the individual mandate of the Affordable Healthcare Act would be determined by the U. S. Supreme Court, and not by ballot issues like the one in Ohio,” he said. “By that I mean, if the Supreme Court says the individual mandate is constitutional then the supremacy clause of the Constitution will mean that it is the law of the land – including Ohio. If it rules that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, than it will be irrelevant.

“It will have no impact on what they call ‘Obamacare,’ but will have a tremendous impact on all these other laws and regulations,” he said.

Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom, the political action committee responsible for securing the signatures necessary to put the amendment on the ballot, was initially a tea party-led volunteer effort, but according to campaign finance reports filed with Ohio’s Secretary of State, the group received a $100,000 contribution from the U.S. Health Freedom Coalition, an Ariz.-based political action committee, and $165,000 from the Ohio Liberty Council — to which Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom had given $165,000, that same day.

The day after, Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom contributed $150,000 to The Ohio Project, which organized the Issue 3 petition drive.

Other connections between Issues 2 and 3 exist, as well. Building a Better Ohio, the pro-SB5/Issue 2 political action committee, and the pro-Issue 3 campaign share a campaign treasurer, J. Matthew Yuskewich, who has worked with Kasich on a plan to centralize state tax collection for local municipalities.

Chris Littleton, a co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council affiliated with Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom and co-writer of the ballot argument (PDF) for the pro-Issue 3 campaign, said it was not a partisan issue. He downplayed the Republican Party’s influence on Issue 3, calling it the state’s largest ever “volunteer-driven grassroots petition drive.”

“The Issue 2 thing is being made out to be a partisan debate,” he said. “If you go through that line of thinking, we learned that almost 50 percent of the signatures we gathered were from Democrats. The health care debate is not partisan; people just don’t like the idea of being compelled to buy insurance. It’s putting bureaucrats and politicians between doctor-patient relationships.”

In spite of this claim, the Ohio Liberty Council found using an all-volunteer signature collection force inadequate during its attempt to place an amendment similar to Issue 3 on the ballot in 2010. This year, both unpaid and paid signature collectors were used, and the effort received support from the Ohio Republican Party, as well, according to the Toledo Blade, which wrote, “The healthcare constitutional amendment’s largely volunteer-driven effort fell short of its initial goal of making the 2010 ballot, but it received a boost in recent months when the Ohio Republican Party stepped in with manpower to help put it over the top for 2011.”

Long denizens of a critical battleground state, Ohioans have seen similar political strategies used in the past. In 2004, a ballot measure proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state was used to mobilize conservative voters for the re-election of then-President George W. Bush, who would have handily lost that election had Ohio swung to Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

Rothenburg doesn’t expect the tactic to be effective this November, however.

“I think that’s why it’s gotten such a tepid response. Perhaps at some point someone thought they were linking the two, but the more people found out what was in Issue 3, the more they backed away from it,” he said. “If people show up at this point, the energy is over Issue 2, not Issue 3.”

*Correction: This article originally stated the group Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom donated $150,000 to Building a Better Ohio, which is incorrect. Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom donated $150,000 to The Ohio Project. The article has been amended to reflect this. We regret the error. *

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