by Carrie Davis, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio
Last fall, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan plan to reform how we draw state legislative districts. No sooner was Election Day over last November than reform advocates were clamoring for the next round – extending the same reforms to how we draw Ohio’s US House districts.
In the weeks since our November 2015 win, our Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition has been hard at work building a campaign plan to make Congressional redistricting reform a reality. Behind the scenes planning is never the sexy part of a campaign, but it is absolutely critical for success. Here is what your coalition campaign planning team has been up to since November.
Campaign Plan: The coalition formed a campaign planning committee to work out the strategy and logistics of running a successful campaign. This required taking a hard look at why Issue 1 succeeded in 2015, as well as why past efforts in 2012, 2005, and earlier failed. In doing so, we identified several key lessons to guide our work.
Lesson 1: Only by being open to other views and exploring the full range of possible reforms can we reach consensus.
One mistake that’s been made in past attempts has been to choose a reform model and then ask others to sign on to that plan with no room for input or change. Those efforts faced criticism for not being responsive to various stakeholders’ viewpoints and ultimately did not garner enough support to succeed.
Issue 1, on the other hand, succeeded in part because Democrats and Republicans came together to create a redistricting reform measure that both sides could support.
The Fair Districts Coalition formed a language committee to come up with possible options for ballot language. Since a successful effort will require finding language that garners a broad base of support across the political spectrum, the committee was charged with identifying what reforms we view (a) as essential and non-negotiable or (b) as preferred but negotiable, so that we are able to effectively negotiate a bipartisan compromise plan.
The language committee has been in touch with redistricting experts to help identify the strengths and weaknesses in different proposals or options for reform. The committee has also been involved in reviewing proposed reforms that are currently pending in front of a bipartisan committee of the Constitutional Modernization Commission.
Lesson 2: Just like the metaphor about many paths to the top of the mountain, there too are many paths to getting this issue on the ballot.
How we get such a consensus plan on the ballot also requires being open to exploring the full range of options. The committee recommended that the coalition adopt a two-track strategy: Keep pressure on the legislature to place Congressional reform on the ballot, including working with the Constitutional Modernization Commission to develop a bipartisan plan for the legislature to consider. To compliment that strategy, also take initial steps to placing reform on the ballot via citizen initiative, which means the Coalition needs to cultivate supporters, volunteers, and donors to build a solid foundation for a petition effort. Pursuing both options gives us the best chance of success.
Lesson 3: Don’t ignore political realities; deal with them.
We also have to recognize the current political landscape, both the pros and the cons, and build a plan with that in mind.
On the positive side, support continues to grow. In the last three months several prominent Ohio political leaders have come out publicly in support of reform. All of Ohio’s living governors – Richard Celeste, George Voinovich, Ted Strickland, and John Kasich – have said they support reform. All of Ohio’s current statewide officeholders – Governor Kasich, Secretary of State Husted, Attorney General DeWine, Auditor Yost, and Treasurer Mandel – have publicly stated they support Congressional redistricting reform. At a recent Constitutional Modernization Commission meeting, former House Speaker JoAnn Davidson also came out in support. Even President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address. In addition, several Ohio newspaper editorial boards have published strong opinions calling for reform.
Since we know that, unlike Issue 1 last fall, we will face opposition to Congressional reform, we need to keep working on building this strong, politically diverse base of support.
On the negative side, we have to face the reality that current leadership in the General Assembly opposes moving forward on Congressional redistricting reform. Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger has described state legislative and Congressional redistricting as “apples and oranges.” Senate President Keith Faber describes extending Issue 1’s Bipartisan Redistricting Commission to redrawing Congressional lines as a “divestiture of legislative authority.” While there are legislators in both parties and both chambers who support Congressional redistricting reform, it’s tough to even get a hearing on a proposal without the support of leadership.
These realities, taken together, mean we need to use the two tracks described under “Lesson 2” to create political pressure on legislative leadership. That can include a reform proposal being passed by the Constitutional Modernization Commission and recommended to the legislature, newspaper editorial boards calling on legislative leaders not to delay reform, Ohioans calling their local legislators to demand action, and ultimately the Fair Districts Coalition moving forward with a citizen initiative if Speaker Rosenberger and President Faber continue to ignore public demands.
Here’s how you can help
We need a strong coordinated effort to accomplish our goal of moving Congressional redistricting reform forward. The Fair Districts Coalition has a campaign timeline with concrete action steps. Here’s how you can help right now: