Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones died unexpectedly at age 58. (Photo: Reuters)
Stephanie Tubbs Jones came on my radar in 1990 when, as a relatively young and little-known Cuyahoga County Judge, she mounted a progressive challenge to a conservative Republican justice on the Ohio Supreme Court.
It was an uphill race, and a thankless one at a time when the Ohio Democratic Party was stumbling into a period of deep decline.
But Jones kept the contest close, and she made an impression.
As an editor on an Ohio newspaper during that campaign, I got to know this remarkable woman as a rare political player: someone who was smart and connected but also fearless.
I did not always see eye-to-eye with Tubbs Jones, who has died unexpectedly at age 58 from a brain hemorrhage. We disagreed at times on issues, and on endorsements that she made. But we usually agreed, especially when she cast a series of brave -- and lonely -- anti-war votes around the time that George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones frequently displayed the sort of political courage that put her at odds not just with her president and his party but, at times, even with her own party.
That courage was most evident when, after the disputed 2004 presidential vote in her home state, Tubbs Jones led the House floor fight against certification of President Bush's re-election.
When critics attempted to portray the Congressional challenge to the certification of the results as an attempt to reverse the result of the 2004 election in Ohio, and by extension nationally, Tubbs Jones, explained that, "This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the hint of overturning or challenging the victory of the president." The point, said Tubbs Jones, was to expose the fundamental flaws in the current system and to highlight the need for reform.
California Senator Barbara Boxer, who joined 31 House members in objecting to the counting of Ohio's 20 electoral votes for Bush, said she was inspired by the cry for "electoral justice" raised by Tubbs Jones.
For her part, Tubbs Jones asked at the time: "How can we possibly tell millions of Americans who registered to vote, who came to the polls in record numbers... to simply get over it and move on?"
Tubbs Jones is still perturbed about the 2004 election. She joined New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton in March to introduce a 65-page bill called Count Every Vote Act of 2007, which would make Election Day a public holiday, enhance voter fraud penalties and ban chief state election officials and voting system manufacturers from engaging in political activities that pertain to the federal elections they oversee.
Tubbs Jones was dismissed as a sore loser and a radical by some. But, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur said, "She took a very unpopular position and disturbed the regular order of things to do what she thought was right. History will prove her to be correct."
Typically, Tubbs Jones was unwilling to wait for history to to correct the problems of our politics.
With New York Senator Hillary Clinton, her friend and ally, the Ohio congresswoman introduced the Count Every Vote Act (CEVA) with the purpose of insuring that there would be no more Ohios, no more Floridas, no more denials of democracy in presidential elections.
The CEVA bill proposed steps to
make Election Day a national holiday make it easier to register to vote, including universal Election Day registration improve security for electronic voting machines, including accessible voter-verified paper records and audit requirements enhance voter fraud penalties support initiatives to reduce long waiting lines at the polls ensure equitable allocation of election resources expand and improve provisional balloting options reduce partisanship and conflicts of interest in election administration by banning top state election officials and manufacturers of voting systems from engaging in political activities related to the federal elections they oversee expand and adequately support poll worker training and civic education.
There will be many tributes to the woman who sponsored this important legislation.
But it would be difficult to imagine a greater tribute than for the House and Senate to pull the Count Every Vote Act out of committee, pass it and establish a measure of the electoral justice that was so ardently championed by Stephanie Tubbs Jones.