PT talks with Andy Douglas, the Executive Director of the Ohio Civil Service Employers Association (OCSEA) and a former Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
PT: Herbert Hoover was sitting in the White House when you were born. You were the youngest person ever elected to the Toledo City Council when first elected in 1960. If our math is right, that makes 13 presidents and over 45 years of public service. Looking back, how have the forces shaping our political system changed over this long and tumultuous period?
Douglas: It is now, more than ever I believe, money —and big money—that drives the system. We all know money talks.
PT: Life was different when you started?
Douglas: When I was a candidate for the Toledo City Council, you lived and died by the newspapers’ endorsement. Now it doesn’t matter. When you win by 30%—you don’t care. Candidates only care about the money they get, and serving the lobbyists who supply the money.
PT: Ohio’s elected officials, by and large, started out as decent people. The current round of scandals and payoffs suggest that something went wrong along the way. What?
Douglas: They are all decent people. The Governor is a friend. I’ve campaigned with him. It’s the system that corrupts. When you set out to design a system that perpetuates itself, you only get that by brooking no dissent. When people get so impressed with their own grandeur, the result becomes an arrogance of power. They think, “no one can challenge us,” and under today’s system, they are right.
The only way to change that is to change the system.
PT: What happened to the Republican Party in Ohio —the party of eight Presidents and noted legislators such as Robert A. Taft and Frank Lausche?
Douglas: It’s not just the Republican party. The GOP just happened to be the party that has refined the way we collect campaign contributions. They meant to do their job of eliminating competition—and they have done that job in spades.
PT: But the Republican Party is opposing the amendments?
Douglas: Both Democrats and Republicans will oppose it. Some of whom would rather accept being in the minority and win as opposed to being in a district that is competitive with the chance to lose. I understand that thought. Which of us in any of our endeavors would not want to be in control of the outcome?
That is why one of the chief opponents, a major Republican political figure said he would “have $5 million, $10 million, or $15 million if he needed it. This has the attention of the White House. " It’s not only a focus on 2005 but also 2008.”
PT: Ohio voters will have a chance to vote on four separate amendments to the Ohio Constitution: redistricting, campaign finance; and, election reform; and liberalizing absentee voting. In your opinion, is there one that’s more critical than the others—and why?
Douglas: The cornerstone was always reapportionment. The Ohio General Assembly had 115 seats up for election in 2004. Two out of three had a victory margin of 30 percent or more, and in 24 there was no opponent. There were only five competitive races in the entire election.
PT: How do you see the average Ohio voter connecting with these amendments?
Douglas: They don’t presently—and have no reason to until it’s explained to them. The average voter is resigned to their lot. It’s like the weather—they just accept it. When there are overriding issues like a severe lack of decent jobs and a state the leads the nation in job losses, when we have young people leaving the state in droves, these four ballot issues will not gather much interest without a causal connection. That is why the education part of the campaign is so important. The newspapers here are doing a great job of being what they are—the conscience of the community.
PT: Term limits have been proposed as another solution to making elections more competitive. Any thoughts on that?
Douglas: Do I personally like them? No. But, our polls show that people want them. It was
a good political theory, but bad public policy. The reason: it punishes everyone, not just the wrongdoers.
PT: Have America’s two major political parties fallen down on the job?
Douglas: Not from their perspective. We just vote for whom they give us. A candidate competes for his or her own party’s nomination before the powers of the party. For the most part, they look for people who are qualified. But they always ask, ‘what ability do you have to raise money?’”
PT: Mr. Douglas, thank you for your time.
Andy Douglas is currently the Executive Director of the Ohio Civil Service Employers Association (OCSEA). He practiced law for 20 years in Toledo; served as a member of the Toledo City Council for nineteen years; was elected to the Sixth District Court of Appeals for four years; and was then elected to three successive 6 years terms as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. He is a graduate of the University of Toledo College of Law.