Democracy Day 2015

Crescent-News, Feb. 13, 2015 (report by Todd Helberg, About three dozen attend Democracy Day forum)  About three dozen persons attended a Democracy Day forum in Defiance Thursday night — a public forum required by a ballot issue approved by city voters in November 2013.

The ballot measure concerned corporate speech in the political process, and the event’s stated purpose was to discuss “the impact of money on the democratic process.”

The issue was put on the ballot through an initiative petition brought forward by the Occupy Defiance group, and is part of a larger nationwide effort by Move to Amend, which seeks to change the U.S. Constitution “to establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech.”

Its passage requires a Democracy Day forum in each odd-number year.  In this case, Defiance City Council had approved an ordinance establishing the event on the second Thursday of February in each of those years.

The first such forum — held in the city service building — included key points made by sevberal persons living outside Defiance who were either involved in getting the issue on the ballot or are connected to the Move to Amend group.

Washington Township resident Dolores Whitman spoke passionately about the issue on behalf of those who helped put the measure on the ballot.

She remarked that “many of us believe that the (political) system has been corrupted” while activists want to “ensure that all citizens regardless of status have access to the political process.”

Whitman listed a number of concerns about corporations, claiming that 26 percent of 288 companies studied paid no federal income taxes over a five-year period while the 288 received $364 billion in tax subsidies.

Meanwhile, she argued, corporations have many rights and “have all their bases covered.”

Also speaking was former Toledo City Council member Mike Ferner of the Move to Amend group.

He congratulated those locally who put the Defiance issue on the ballot, and noted that until 1959 Ohio law prohibited political contributions by corporations.  that changed through the years, but Ferner singled out the “Citizens United” supreme court decision in 2010 concerning corporations and political speech which ‘opened the flood gates even further” for contributions.

He likened Move to Amend’s cause to the decades-long battle to secure voting rights for women that culminated with ratification of the 19th constitutional amendment in 1920.

“They didn’t let the odds discourage them,” said Ferner.  “I think we can do the same.”

A second person connected to Move to Amend in the
Toledo area — Dou Jambard-Sweet — blamed a pro-corporate political agenda on “measures that switch the income tax burden” from the wealthy as well as “weakened financial regulations” and political gerrymandering.

He cautioned to be “on the lookout for those deep pockets.”

One person offered criticism to the Move to amend initiative — Defiance resident Margaret Proulx.

She said she visited Move to Amend’s Internet website and viewed the many organizations that have endorsed its cause.  This includes such groups as labor unions, the Sierra Club, MoveOn.org and Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio.

She stated that she had not seen any organizations associated with “conservative or Republican causes.”  And, Proulx — referencing the large amounts of cash that Democratic politicians have received from political groups — said “if money is not political speech, it certainly speaks loud from the other side of the aisle.:

Proulx added to that what the movement is about is “trying to get the other guy’s money out of politics, and that doesn’t sound very democratic to me.”

That prompted a response from UAW Local 211 president Ted Fleming, of rural Bryan.

Some of today’s politicians, he contended, are “bought and paid for by corporations.  They’re taking democracy away in this country … ”

Others who addressed the forum included Sherry Fleming of rural Bryan, Defiance College professor Dr. Todd Comer, Defiance residents Pat Walter and Roger Molnar, and Defiance city law director David Williams.

Williams noted only a small amount of money in local politics, but “I do think the special interests of various types at higher levels of government does have an impact on us.  As an example, he said Congress has mandated that street signs in municipalities must be replaced every five years.

Williams pointed to an “erosion of federalism” as a significant problem in which the federal government has become more involved in matters that should be decided by state and local governments.

Thursday’s meeting was chaired by Defiance Mayor Bob Armstrong who will be composing a letter to legislators recapping Thursday evening’s forum.  He called the “first Democracy Day a success” while Ward I Councilman Pete Lundberg — who attended the meeting along with At-large Councilman John Hancock and Ward III Councilman Jake Oberlin — said he agreed with some things that were said and disagreed with other comments, “but I defend your right to say what you say.”

Voters in a number of other communities also have passed similar ballot issues as Defiance.  Among those in Ohio are the Cleveland area communities of Cleveland Heights, Mentor, Newburgh Heights, Brecksville and Chagrin Falls, according to Move to Amend.

Defiance’s ballot issue passed in 2013 by a count of 1,807 for and 902 against.