No time like the present as Cleveland Heights holds 10th annual Democracy Day

Updated: Jun. 20, 2023, 8:12 a.m.

At the podium in Cleveland Heights council chambers at City Hall, Carla Rautenberg served as moderator for the 10th annual Cleveland Heights Democracy Day, held June 7.Tom Jewell/Special to


CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Organizers of the 10th annual Democracy Day held at City Hall earlier this month pointed out that no money was exchanged for the people’s right to free speech.

-- Only human beings, and not corporate entities of any kind, are entitled to constitutional rights
-- Money is not speech, and therefore money in politics can be regulated.

“We have seen the ways that vast wealth and unaccountable corporate power pre-empt and eclipse democratic institutions,” host and moderator Carla Rautenberg said prior to the June 7 public hearing. “This has greatly worsened since the Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’ decision of 2010, and specifically, in the State of Ohio."

Nearly 20 people spoke at the YouTube-broadcasted hearing before Mayor Kahlil Seren and City Council, many touching on those issues.

It’s not just a matter of “Democracy Day” for League of Women Voters’ Cleveland Heights-University Heights Chapter Chair Wendy Deuring.

“This is more like ‘Democracy Summer’ for the State of Ohio,” Deuring said, citing a “very” special election coming up Aug. 8, with those in power -- generally due to gerrymandered voting districts -- counting on a low voter turnout for State Issue 1.

Supporters of Issue 1 say “it’s vital to protecting our state constitution from the evils of ‘outside interests’ -- except for the fact that the move to get it on the August ballot was sponsored by a wealthy donor from Indiana,” Deuring said.

She added that proponents in the statehouse are also seeking $6 million from outside lobbyists to pay for TV commercials.

If passed in August -- with early voting opening July 11 -- Issue 1 would be implemented in two phases, beginning with the reproductive health ballot initiative requiring “60 percent plus one (affirmative) vote” to pass in November,” rather than a simple majority.

Going forward with “phase two,” Issue 1 if passed would then require that all future ballot initiatives collect valid signatures from 5 percent of the “eligible voters” in all of Ohio’s 88 counties, rather than the current 44 counties.

“This would end up raising the bar from ‘difficult’ to ‘virtually impossible’ for future citizen-led initiatives,” Deuring said.

Issue 1 could also allow one county to effectively block future measures that could include revising the redistricting prcess -- “taking it away from elected officials,” raising the minimum wage, gun control, moving to ranked choice voting “and who knows what other crazy schemes the people of Ohio might actually be in favor of,” Deuring added.

With that in mind, the local LWV chapter urges people to “vote early and enjoy August with a clear conscience.”

Historic proportions

Len Friedson, former treasurer of the successful Citizens for an Elected Mayor local ballot initiative in Cleveland Heights, spoke on “the corruption that never ends” with the former Ohio House Bill 6, which led to federal bribery and racketeering convictions of former Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and ex-GOP Chairman Matthew Borges.

The $60 million “cash-for-legislation” schemers actually relied on the “Citizens United” ruling as a defense, although the jury didn’t buy it.

Friedson pointed out that state officials did little investigation on the case, and no executives with FirstEnergy were ever charged criminally for attempting to orchestrate a $1.2 billion bailout for their nuclear power plants.

Instead, FirstEnergy signed a “deferred prosecution agreement,” admitted to bribing Householder and agreed to pay $230 million in penalties.

“There is no dispute that corruption was at play here,” Friedson said, adding that the amount of money provides “more proof that ‘Citizens United’ must be overturned.”


Dan Sieck warned that home rule charter protections continue to erode as lobbyists in Columbus urge state lawmakers to override any attempts at local regulation of things like fracking, timbering, puppy mills, cell towers. local minimum wage, paid leave, plastic bags and pesticides.

And Sieck believes it all comes right out of the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

“You may not know ALEC, but ALEC knows you,” Sieck said. “And they’re coming to take your rights as a citizen. Each of these actions by the Ohio General Assembly has a clear correlation to ALEC” in how these laws are being written in Columbus.

Deborah Van Kleef spoke on the paradox of “privatizing the welfare system,” as the government hires for-profit consulting firms to assist in enacting “reforms.”

At the same time, Van Kleef wonders whether those companies have now “created their own cycle of government dependency.”

Censorship rising

On other fronts, Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin recalled only one book removed from their collection over the past 15 year

And the publisher pulled that one because it was plagiarized, Levin added.

“Before 2021, most challenges were aimed at one book,” Levin said. “But last year, for the second year in a row, book challenges across the U.S. doubled from the previous year. Now, as many as 100 books are being challenged at one time.”

In listing the most objectionable material, Levin cited “content with LGBTQIA subjects leads the list of topics being selected for banning at about 40 percent.”

From there, the banned list extends to “books about marginalized people, anything with touching, sex, sexual orientation and non-Christian religious practices, mental health, Holocaust or historical topics that could be deemed as critical race theory and slavery are close behind,” Levin said, adding that 75 percent of books banned are fiction.

“The Heights Libraries has strong policies to allow people to challenge books,” Levin said. “However they are equally strong in defending the need to have a balanced collection representing many points of view.”

Their three-year strategic plan includes the goal of “providing unbiased sources of information and combatting censorship and disinformation,” Levin said.

While children’s parents and legal guardians should be the deciders of what their kids read, “librarians have gone from trusted professionals to being portrayed as ‘groomers’ seeking to indoctrinate young children.”

Levin added that activists should also consider running for their local school board or City Council and joining the Board of Library Trustees.

Gun reforms

As a board member of the “God Before Guns” coalition, Rev. Heidi L. Barham has participated in several Democracy Days in Cleveland Heights, with her focus again on “common sense gun laws.”

“Is it time yet to set aside the wants and wishes of special interest groups so we can stop banning books and start banning bullets and bump stocks?” Barham asked.

Firearms have become the leading cause of death among children, ahead of car accidents and childhood cancers.

But Barham noted that the Ohio state legislature continues to pass laws like “Stand Your Ground,” “Permitless Carry” and restrictions to keep communities like Cleveland Heights from making stricter gun laws.

“Is it time yet for us to put officials in office who will enact legislation and put programs in place to protect the lives of our children rather than the profits of corporate entities and political war chests?

“If you ask me, it is long past time,” Barham said.

Read more from the Sun Press.


Read the complete Testimony of the public hearing. 

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