A meeting last week of activist members of a local group called Democracy Over Corporations revealed a potential primary challenge to former state Rep. Jennifer Garrison for the Democratic Party nod to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, in Ohio's 6th Congressional District.
The group also heard a presentation by Dick McGinn, a leader of the Athens-based anti-fracking group known as the Bill of Rights Committee, on a statewide Ohio Community Rights Network. McGinn said this is part of a statewide effort to push back against drilling interests and government collusion that he said hurts the environment.
The DOC was formed following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which opened the door for corporations, labor unions and so-called super political action committees to pour big money into elections.
The DOC is a member of the larger, national group Move to Amend, which works toward overturning that ruling.
Prior to McGinn's presentation, DOC leader John Howell introduced Greg Howard, who is circulating petitions to challenge Garrison in the Democratic Party primary.
"We've talked about the need for people who share our views running for Congress and running for office," he said. "In the city of Athens we are lucky enough to have a lot of elected officials who do share our views, but we need to do that at the next, higher levels."
Howard, who said he's been a member of the DOC for two years, spoke to the group about helping him circulate petitions to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot in the primary this May.
He spoke of contacting various members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Johnson, asking them to support Move to Amend, to no avail.
"We got no response from most of them, sensing the importance of how the move to amend could change everything and actually get big money out of politics so we can do things to actually benefit the people and get things rolling like they should be," Howard said. "The time has come to bring this to the forefront."
In July, Garrison, a Democrat from Marietta who served in the state House of Representatives from 2004 to 2010, announced her challenge to Johnson.
Ohio's 6th District includes all or parts of Athens, Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mahoning, Meigs, Monroe, Muskingham, Noble, Scioto, Tuscarawas and Washington counties. It runs along the eastern border of the state.
The district was represented by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland from 1993 until he was elected governor in 2006. It was then represented by the late Charlie Wilson, D-St. Clairsville, for two terms until he lost to Johnson in 2010. Johnson won re-election by 20,000 votes in a re-match between himself and Wilson in 2012.
So far, no primary challengers have emerged against Johnson for the Republican nod. Howard will need to file his petition signatures and see them approved before he would officially be on the ballot to challenge Garrison for the nomination.
MEANWHILE, MCGINN MADE his presentation advocating communities across the state to adopt a bill of rights. He said that Athens County community members have joined with organizers from 11 counties in Ohio to launch the Ohio Community Rights Network (OHCRN).
That group, he said, held its first meeting Nov. 16 in Columbus.
"The group finalized and signed The Columbus Declaration, calling upon communities across the state to join together in a movement to elevate the rights of people, their communities and nature above the claimed 'rights' of corporations," material on the DOC website states.
The declaration itself states that, "the political, legal and economic systems of the United States and the state of Ohio allow a privileged minority to impose policy and governing decisions upon the people living in incorporated and unincorporated communities of Ohio and that these policies and decisions violate the rights and threaten the very survival of people and ecosystems."
The formation of the network, McGinn said, dovetails with the second effort by the BORC to put a fracking ban proposal before city of Athens voters in May.
Earlier this month, the BORC announced it had submitted more than the necessary number of signatures to put the proposal on the ballot.
A similar proposal was rejected by the Athens County Board of Elections in August after an objection was raised by a group of Athens residents.
The oil-and-gas drilling technique known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and related activities, have become a big local and regional story in the last two years as deep-shale drilling has moved into southeast Ohio, and closer to Athens County.
A minimum of 550 valid signatures had been required to place the measure on the spring ballot. The city Auditor's Office was required to hold the petitions for 10 days before submitting them to the elections board for review.
City Auditor Kathy Hecht has previously said that the Board of Elections will then determine the validity of the signatures and also hold them for 10 days. The board must then decide to certify the signatures 90 days before the May primary election.
McGinn said that other Ohio municipalities including Yellow Springs, Mansfield, Broadview Heights and Oberlin already have passed anti-fracking legislation, while Youngstown, Bowling Green and Niles City will join Athens with initiative petitions on the spring primary ballot.
"Only through the combined efforts of many communities working together for the health and safety of all will it be possible to stop the spread of industrial pollution in our communities," material from the DOC website states. "The desperate attempt of a dying industry to extract the last drop of petroleum from an exhausted earth must be replaced by a positive vision of safe, renewable energy sources including wind, solar and geothermal."