By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
To secure the blessings of liberty, we must secure the blessings of learning.
– Mary Futrell
Pierrette “Petee” Talley’s unlikely journey from office secretary to a pivotal player in local and national politics was filled with notable experiences of helping to raise awareness and encouraging voters to participate in civic activities. Talley became the first woman to hold one of the two top offices in the history of the Ohio AFL-CIO, being elected to the position of Secretary-Treasurer as her grassroots political activism drew attention from national unions.
Talley has consistently highlighted the significance of voter education and registration, emphasizing Black communities and advocating for increased investments in these crucial areas.
The stakes have never been higher as Ohio heads into the largely unnoticed special election on August 8 for Issue 1. This initiative seeks to raise the bar for constitutional amendments, demanding a supermajority of 60 percent for approval, compared to the existing requirement of a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote.
Constitutional amendments in Ohio have traditionally been the preferred method of implementing significant changes, as they are less susceptible to reversal by the state’s gerrymandered legislature compared to citizen-initiated statutes.
In our following conversation, Petee Talley discusses the importance of voting “NO” on Issue 1 and encourages readers to participate in the upcoming critical but low-key special election.
Perryman: We will talk about Issue 1, but first, describe your political journey, providing some history.
Talley: I was born and raised in Toledo and returned to The University of Toledo as a nontraditional student at age 30. Before that, I had been busy raising children. The turning point came when I enrolled in a “Blacks in Politics” class taught by the late political icon Jack Ford, and something inside of me flipped. So, I ended up dual majoring in communications and political science, not sure where either of those disciplines would take me.
Perryman: As a nontraditional student, were you also working?
Talley: At the time, I was working for the union AFSCME, American Federal of State, County, and Municipal Employees as an office secretary, but as you know, unions have all kinds of stuff they’re involved in. They’re endorsing candidates and trying to get their members to vote for the candidates they endorse. As an office secretary, that was not my goal, but I was intrigued by what they were doing. I would sign up every time they had a phone bank, or I would sign up after work every time they would say that they would go out and do a lit drop at a workplace. Long story short, I ended up graduating from the University of Toledo, but not before I had an opportunity to work with some black leaders in the central city, some old ward chairs, and some other folks to work on campaigns in the central city and get people registered to vote and talk to voters about why it was essential to send candidates like Marcy Kaptur to Congress to represent us and she ultimately won that campaign.
Perryman: What specifically made you stand out?
Talley: In 1992, my collaboration with the NAACP, Nelson Grace, Mr. George Davis, and some of the old ward chairs resulted in 7,000 people registered in Lucas County from July to the close of voter registration. I didn’t know that any of this would head in the direction it did, but it was impactful work, and people noticed it. My national union asked ‘Who is that person that we’ve got in Toledo, Ohio, that registered that many people? Who is she?’ And they were surprised when people told them she was a secretary. She’s not a staff rep; she doesn’t negotiate contracts; she doesn’t hold grievance hearings or anything. She just comes into the office every day and types all the work that we need her to do. That work was instrumental, and then nationally, my union asked me to go to Michigan in 1994 and lead their political work, where I spent the next five years.
Upon my return to Ohio in 1999, not only did my union recognize my abilities, but the National AFL-CIO did, too. They hired me as the state director for field mobilization. For the next three years, I aimed to increase diversity in unions at both city and state levels, encouraging the inclusion of more Black, Brown, and female members. These efforts resulted in me being elected as the first woman principal officer at the state AFL-CIO in 2002.
Perryman: One of your strengths is in GOTV or getting out the vote. As far back as 2016, Black turnout has been trending downward. Have we looked under the hood to see what’s wrong?
Talley: My perspective on a state level was that there needed to be increased empowerment and engagement of community organizations focusing on engaging Black voters across Ohio. Research indicated that Black voters typically support the same candidates as the union. So, it made sense that as union strength was declining during the 1980s and 90s, we needed to make strong alliances with Black organizations concerned about making sure that Black voters were coming out and voting because policy was impacting them and also workers as a whole.
However, we observed a deficiency in resources allocated to organizations working to increase Black voter registration and turnout. The diminishing resources suggested a lack of investment in the necessary infrastructure for effective Black voter registration, education, and mobilization. This issue persists today, as reflected in the low numbers of voters participating in elections.
Perryman: The church also is bleeding members, and congregations are aging. Is the Black church still viable as a political tool?
Talley: Historically, our communities had established infrastructures where blacks could easily access political information – figures like Arnold Pinkney in Cleveland or Nelson Grace in Toledo were guiding lights. However, these essential sources of political information no longer exist, creating a void.
Church leaders, often at the forefront of community engagement, now struggle to find reliable sources of information about policy implications that affect their congregants’ lives. Given the increasingly polarized nature of party politics, Black faith leaders may not agree with the Democratic Party on social issues and vice versa. In the past, we may have looked to the Party to help get the message out, but the Party’s message may not always align with the views of Black faith leaders.
Perryman: I think I hear you also saying that many of today’s pastors may not include the policy implications in their pronouncements coming from their pulpits. However, the evangelical church is doing that for its members.
Talley: Yes, that’s for sure because the result of the gospel they teach shows up in our politics.
Perryman: Let’s transition to Issue 1. You’re now with Ohio Coalition on Black Civic Participation Ohio Unity Coalition. What is your position there?
Talley: This is work that I was doing when I was still with the AFL-CIO. We were a state partner of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. In 2019, as I retired from the AFL-CIO, the national kept saying that Ohio needed to incorporate and become recognized as a 501©3, and so we did.
I’m the CEO and the chief cook and bottle washer. I do a lot of the work, but we’re organized across the State of Ohio and Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Youngstown, Toledo, we do some work in Akron, we’ve done work in Lorain and Lima and several other places. This is the work that I’m doing now postretirement.
Perryman: Talk about Issue 1 and how your work impacts that.
Talley: Our mission is to bolster the civic participation of black voters who continue to face obstacles due to extreme politicians who aim to restrict certain voters in Ohio. Their proposal to shift the approval threshold for constitutional amendments from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority undermines the core principle of our democracy: one person, one vote.
This change, as seen by the Unity Coalition, disrupts the egalitarian nature of the ballot box and is perceived as an attempt to limit voter impact. Voters must recognize this and refuse to surrender their power under the guise of ‘protecting the Constitution.’ This initiative seems more focused on reducing people’s ability to vote on critical issues, further insulating politicians.
These politicians, already benefitting from hyper-partisan, gerrymandered districts in Ohio, are given an added advantage with the proposal, allowing them to further their agendas rather than representing the people’s will.
Perryman: So, Issue 1, if it is successful, would make it more difficult to change the Ohio Constitution by raising the bar to 60 percent from 50 percent plus one vote to pass?
Talley: That is absolutely what it does, and it’s not right or fair. The new rule would allow a minority of 40 percent to obstruct issues vital to the majority. Constitutional changes aren’t made frivolously. They’re invoked when legislatures fail to implement sound public policies for Ohioans. We, as voters, should retain the ability to introduce an issue on the ballot and pass it by a simple majority, a precedent that’s stood for over 111 years.
Perryman: So, you’re proposing a no-vote?
Perryman: What would a NO vote do for us?
Talley: A NO vote would maintain the status quo, and the status quo is merely that we would require a simple majority, 50 percent plus one, to pass a Constitutional amendment.
It will also maintain the current signature gathering portion of when you change a Constitution. We currently have to get signatures from five percent of voters who live in 44 of the 88 counties. However, if Issue 1 passes, effective January 2024, you would also need to get five percent of voters who live in all 88 counties instead of 44. That’s again another unchecked feature of this Constitutional amendment proposal.
Lastly, if there is a question about a signature or a dispute over a signature, the petitioners have the ability for ten days to go back and make any corrections to errors or disputes. However, if Issue 1 passes, it would eliminate that 10-day period.
Perryman: So, what power do we have as a community?
Talley: First, know that this August 8 special election is one of the most important elections we can vote in. Most special elections go under the radar. So, readers of The Truth, make yourself aware and make a plan to vote in this August 8 election. You can vote early, you can vote by mail, you can vote by Election Day, and then vote NO on Issue 1 for the reasons that this article outlines.
Thirdly, please tell three family members and three friends the importance of going out and ensuring that we use our collective power and are not fooled into giving away our power on this issue.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, Ph.D. at email@example.com