Ohio may have ended gerrymandering; will others follow?
COLUMBUS - In an age of partisan bickering, Ohio's lawmakers inked a deal on drawing congressional lines that hinged on an increasingly taboo word in politics: compromise.
It's a deal that former Speaker John Boehner, a Butler County Republican, had hoped would never happen. He fought efforts to wrest the line-drawing pen from the GOP in 2014 when state lawmakers reformed how state districts were drawn.
It's a deal that Democrats in the Ohio House killed in 2009, certain that they would be in a better position after the 2010 elections. They were wrong and Republicans swept the statewide races.
Drawing congressional districts to favor one party over the other – known as gerrymandering – has led to uncompetitive races that leave voters feeling apathetic or disenfranchised. Ohio's latest map, drawn by Republicans after the 2010 U.S. Census, has led to 12 GOP districts and four Democratic districts in the red-leaning state.
"These rigged and partisan districts made a mockery of our elections and they turn people off from voting," said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat running for secretary of state. Ohio is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation.
Pressured by a coalition of good government groups, called Fair Districts = Fair Elections, aiming for a fall ballot initiative, lawmakers embarked on months of negotiations, which at times, appeared to have fallen apart.
Facing a Wednesday deadline to get their plan before voters, lawmakers met on Super Bowl Sunday.
Huddled in a small room at a community action center in downtown Akron were Sen. Matt Huffman, Sen. Vernon Sykes, Senate President Larry Obhof, Senate Minority Leader Yuko, Senate Democrats' lawyer Bethany Sanders and Senate Republicans' budget director Ray DiRossi.
As the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles battled back and forth, so did Republicans and Democrats during a five-hour meeting. A representative from Fair Districts = Fair Elections texted opinions while watching the game elsewhere.
"What a great way to spend Super Bowl Sunday," Huffman remarked.
What emerged, would become a bipartisan compromise on how to draw lines in Ohio.
The final version, which passed the Ohio Senate 31-0 Monday and the Ohio House 83-10 Tuesday, was hailed as a "bipartisan compromise."
Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Roselawn, was one of the "no" votes, saying she wanted the right to vote enshrined in the state constitution, too. Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, voted "no" because he liked the current system and didn't think it should change.
To take effect, voters must approve the plan in May.
- After the U.S. Census, Ohio lawmakers would create a map, which would last for 10 years. It would need approval from three-fifths of members and one-half of the minority party's members to take effect.
- If they can't agree, a seven-member redistricting commission would create a 10-year map. That group includes the governor, auditor, secretary of state and four lawmakers – two of whom would come from the minority party. A majority of the commission and at least two members of the minority party would need to agree on a map for it to take effect.
- If the commission can't agree, state lawmakers would have another crack at creating a 10-year map. It would need approval from three-fifths of members and one-third of the minority party's members to take effect.
- If that fails, lawmakers in the majority party could draw a map that lasts four years without support from the minority party. That map cannot unduly favor one party; excessively split counties, townships or municipalities or draw districts that are not compact. The majority must explain how they met these three goals.
Any map drawn by lawmakers could be vetoed by the governor or brought to a vote by the public through a referendum. Of Ohio's 88 counties, 65 would not be split, 18 would be split just once and five – the state's most populous counties – could be split twice
Members of the public could even draw their own maps and submit them for consideration.
Obhof put the new process simply: "Get along with your colleagues. Cooperate across party lines, and if you try to cram down a strictly partisan map, you aren't going to be able to do it so learn how to work together."
Ohio could serve as an example to the nation, said Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville.
"What we are doing today is showing the nation that here in Ohio, we are capable of reaching compromise, of reaching across the aisle and doing what is right," he said.