COLUMBUS — Ohio voters rejected a proposal Tuesday that sought to curb prescription drug prices paid by the state for prisoners, injured workers and poor people while supporting a crime victims’ rights amendment with no organized opposition.
The pharmaceutical industry spent an estimated $70 million to oppose Issue 2, the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, saying it would reduce access to medicines and raise prices for veterans and others.
Supporters, led by the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, spent close to $17 million in support, saying it would save the state millions of dollars and could force the industry to reduce prices elsewhere.
They called the opposition campaign an “assault on the truth.”
“Make no mistake: Although this particular campaign did not win tonight, it is just the beginning of an awareness in Ohio about what huge drug companies are doing to our people,” the campaign said. “This system we have for drug pricing in America has got to give, and sooner rather than later, one state will successfully stand up to big drug companies and Ohio will wish it could have been the first.”
The measure would have required the state to pay no more for prescription drugs than the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lowest price, which is often deeply discounted.
Curt Steiner, who managed the opposition campaign, said voters “delivered a loud and clear message that Issue 2 was a deceptive and seriously flawed proposal. A large majority of Ohio voters concluded Issue 2 wouldn’t have solved any problems; it would have made things worse.”
Meanwhile, Issue 1, dubbed Marsy’s Law for Ohio, won voter support across the state.
It places new guarantees for crime victims and their families in the state constitution. They include notice of court proceedings, input on plea deals and the ability for victims and their families to tell their story.
The measure was championed by California billionaire Henry Nicholas, whose sister was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend. The campaign spent $8.2 million as of mid-October on its effort, which included an ad featuring “Frasier” actor Kelsey Grammer. Spokesman Aaron Marshall called it “a great night for Ohio crime victims and their families.”
The effort faced no organized opposition, although the state public defender, the state prosecuting attorneys’ association and the ACLU all urged “no” votes citing unintended consequences. Just last week, the Montana Supreme Court ruled a nearly identical law in that state unconstitutional, raising the possibility of legal concerns in Ohio as well.
But it was Issue 2 that crowded the state’s airwaves ahead of Tuesday’s election.
The opponent campaign, Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue, was funded by a subsidiary of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, that was not required to disclose its specific donors.
The campaign of supporters, Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, got nearly all its money from the California-based foundation led by Michael Weinstein. His combative style and history of litigation elsewhere was the subject of relentless TV attack ads that aired around the state.
A similar ballot measure went before California voters last year. Proposition 61 failed after drugmakers spent $109 million to defeat it, with another $20 million spent in support.
South Dakota is among states where proponents are looking to try again next year.
The results came on a smooth Election Day. Election directors in parts of northeastern Ohio had relocated some polling sites after a severe storm over the weekend caused power outages across the region.
While low voter turnout is typical in off-year elections, early voting figures in some counties indicate voter interest is higher than normal, particularly in city elections with incumbents facing spirited challenges. Democrats have continued to do well in large urban areas, while Republicans have dominated recent statewide votes, including Donald Trump last year.
Many cities, townships and villages had local elections Tuesday, and there were hundreds of communities with school levies and other local measures.
In Cleveland, Frank Jackson was seeking a record fourth four-year term as mayor, opposed by fellow Democrat and longtime City Councilman Zack Reed.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley was seeking a second term against City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who led primary vote-getters. Both are Democrats.
In Toledo, Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, a former city council president, was seeking her first full term after winning a special election two years ago. She’s up against Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, who was endorsed by The Blade newspaper.
Sewell reported from Cincinnati.