Ohio voters are being asked to weigh in on three statewide issues in the Nov. 8 general election — age limits for Ohio judges, collective bargaining rights for public employees and a federal health insurance mandate.
Here are our endorsements:
Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would immediately raise the age limit for judges serving in Ohio from 70 to 75.
The amendment is being backed by the Ohio State Bar Association, which claims that the 40-year-old law establishing age 70 as the cutoff for Ohio judges strips the state’s judicial system of its most experienced judges and does not reflect the increase in life expectancy. Those opposed to Issue 1, including the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Ohio Democratic Party, argue that the age limit as it stands ensures that judges remain effective and mentally acute and that raising the age limit to 75 would protect Republican judges’ stronghold in the state’s highest court.
We support Issue 1 and see no reasonable argument to keep the age limit at which judges can serve the public at 70. Frankly, we question whether there should be an age limit at all. It’s up to the electorate to decide who they want to serve in these important roles in their judicial system, and we question why anyone would pursue legislation to limit the voters’ choices.
The argument that the judgment of older judges may be comprised as they age is reasonable, but there are procedures in place to address judges whose cognitive abilities have faltered with age. And, if we’re so concerned about the mental faculties of our aging judges, why is that concern not extended to other government officeholders as they enter their golden years? Judges are the only elected officials in Ohio who are age restricted.
If Issue 1 fails at the polls, 71 of 718 of Ohio’s sitting judges, or about 10 percent, would be ineligible to seek re-election when their current term expires. We suspect that most of those 71 judges still have the ability to serve in their offices. Older judges have the benefit of history and experience, and that’s not something we support dumping by assigning the age at which they can serve an arbitrary number.
It’s no secret where we stand on Issue 2. With about 36 percent of Athens County residents employed in the public sector, we strongly urge area voters to vote no on this referendum, which overhauls the state’s collective bargaining laws and strips more than 350,000 government workers of their rights.
Issue 2 allows Ohio voters to decide if they want to repeal Senate Bill 5, a controversial measure that state lawmakers approved this spring and that Gov. John Kasich has argued would help contain government costs. Senate Bill 5 bans strikes, eliminates binding arbitration, and nixes the ability of unions representing the state’s teachers, police, firefighters, state employees and other public workers to bargain for such things as sick pay and pension benefits. Under Senate Bill 5, government employees are required to contribute at least 10 percent toward their pensions and 15 percent toward their health insurance. Senate Bill 5 supporters argue the law will help local governments and school districts save money and have pitted private-sector workers against public-sector workers, who they imply have lived high off the hog under the state’s current labor laws.
We couldn’t disagree more and quite frankly are embarrassed that this state, and our country, is even having this debate, especially now when concern about the dwindling middle class and shrinking incomes is at a peak. The strength of our nation relies on the strength of our middle-class workers and their families, and union workers and government employees are the heart of our middle class. These are not people who earn large salaries and benefits that amount to golden parachutes. Union workers and government employees are citizens who are making a decent living wage and benefits that most people in the private sector wish their employers offered. We should not be enacting laws that lower the earning potential and shrink the benefits of our public-sector employees — laws that, if enacted, will affect the economies of communities throughout the state, particularly communities like Athens that have such a high rate of government workers. Rather, we should be trying to raise the bar for those in both the public and private sector.
Have there been isolated incidents where unions and their members have worked loopholes in the system to their advantage? Yes, but they are not the majority. In fact, the state’s unions and their members have done their part to help weather the economic challenges the state, and the country, have faced over the past several years by agreeing to such things as unpaid furlough days, making concessions when it comes to collective bargaining agreements and working toward reforming their pension systems.
Public-sector workers, like most other Americans, have sacrificed and do sacrifice every day on the job. Our teachers, firefighters, police officers, highway workers and other government employees perform some of the most important jobs in our society, with some of them putting their lives at risk every day to do so. Do we really want to make being a public servant so unattractive that no one wants to perform these jobs?
And let’s not forget that many of the worker rights and protections that America’s unions have fought for over the years have protected not only their members but also those in the private sector. It’s hard to imagine where our society and economy would be without those fights. Are the public-sector workers responsible for those worker rights and protections battles really the element holding our economic recovery back and our local governments hostage?
Senate Bill 5 is just one battle in a war being waged against public-sector workers and represents politics at its worst, threatening our state and nation’s middle class and labeling them the enemy. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of government jobs have been eliminated — at a time when jobs and economic recovery are, or at least should be, priority No. 1.
We cannot support legislation that would have such a detrimental effect on so many of our residents and our local economy, and we urge voters to vote no on Issue 2.
The Ohio Health Care Freedom Amendment, better known as Issue 3, is a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the government from compelling individuals to purchase or participate in a health care system and is aimed squarely at what critics have dubbed “Obamacare.”
Officially titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal health care overhaul included several changes to the nation’s health care system — the most controversial of which is the individual mandate. Supporters of Issue 3 argue that the individual mandate intrudes on citizens’ private health decisions and is unconstitutional. Opponents argue that a state constitutional amendment cannot be used to negate a federal law and that the individual mandate has merit. Issue 3 opponents also question what effect the amendment, which has been described as broadly worded, could have on the enforcement of other government regulations.
Many other states have already passed legislation to exempt themselves from the individual mandate, and many more, if not all, are sure to follow suit. But the question of whether the individual mandate — or the entire health care overhaul — will stand is a question for the courts, specifically the U.S. Supreme Court, and that is why we do not support Issue 3.
We question how many amendments to the Ohio Constitution will be made over time if the process is used to negate federal legislation, and we share Issue 3 opponents’ concern about the effect this particular amendment could have on other programs and policies affecting everything from health care to consumer health.