By Catherine Turcer, Common Cause Ohio
This month our state lawmakers kicked off the 132nd Ohio General Assembly. At the beginning of the month, Governor John Kasich announced his intention to include congressional redistricting reform in his state budget bill. The state budget was introduced today but without a fix for gerrymandering.
We’ve made a lot of headway on redistricting reform but congressional redistricting is still left undone.
In November 2015, voters established the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission and new rules for state legislative mapmaking including a prohibition on gerrymandering or manipulating districts for partisan advantage. This reform won the support of more than 71% of voters and won in all 88 counties.
What’s good for the Statehouse is good for Congress but state law makers fail to act. On January 4, the Akron Beacon Journal called new Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof to action in an editorial titled New Face, Same Statehouse Opposition to Redistricting Reform.
The Columbus Dispatch joined in with:
“The new Ohio Senate president has gotten off to an inauspicious start, signaling that he sees no need for the legislature to change the way congressional district maps are drawn - currently by the party in power, and by zigzagging boundaries through and around communities to pack districts with friendly voters and scatter the opposition, diluting their franchise.”
Small town newspapers including the Steubenville’s Herald-Star urged legislators to work on redistricting reform. And Sunday's Canton Repository highlighted the need for reform:
Ohioans have shown appetite for such changes - not because they're good for one party or another, but because they're best for democracy. We hope state lawmakers see it that way, too, and act to reform how congressional districts are drawn ahead of 2021.”
On Sunday, the Dayton Daily News’ Lynn Hulsey provided an overview of the problem with manipulated congressional districts and the challenge for reform and the solution that Common Cause Ohio is working on:
“Although the GOP currently controls the process, and 12 of the 16 congressional seats, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Secretary of State Jon Husted — both Republicans — have both advocated for a fairer system for determining how the boundaries are drawn.
But interviews with key Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly show some have little interest in relinquishing power over the congressional map.
‘The authority to draw congressional districts lies with the legislature,’ said John Fortney, spokesman for State Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina.
Fortney said his boss is willing to discuss changes, but ‘any attempt to weaken the power of the legislature also weakens the voice of Ohioans who elected their senators and representatives to make those decisions.’”
For context—The Ohio Redistricting Commission which is tasked with state legislative redistricting includes four members of the state legislature (a member or appointee of each of the following: the Speaker of the Ohio, the Minority Leader of the Ohio House, Ohio Senate President and the Senate Minority Leader). Other members include the Governor, the Secretary of State and the Auditor.
After two years of legislative inaction on congressional redistricting reform, the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition will keep pushing forward on placing reform on the ballot ourselves until such time as the legislature gets serious about putting real reform before voters.
We need your help! Please volunteer to help make congressional redistricting reform a reality. Want to help but not sure what you can do? Please call the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition at 614-259-8388.