Boehner: Don't let bureaucrats draw up districts
WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner said Ohio should not create an independent commission to handle redistricting, despite a Supreme Court ruling on Monday declaring such efforts constitutional.
Proponents say independent redistricting panels take the partisanship out of the line-drawing that occurs every decade, after each new census. State legislators want to take the pen out of lawmakers' hands at the federal level, much like they did with state-level changes headed to the fall ballot.
But in a statement to the Enquirer, Boehner spokeswoman Olivia Hnat warned against such a move in Ohio, saying the West Chester Republican believes it would allow "unelected, unaccountable" bureaucrats to draw the state's congressional districts.
The Supreme Court ruled Monday states can turn over the map-drawing powers to independent panels. The 5-4 decision involved an Arizona case, but state lawmakers in Ohio were watching the matter closely.
That's because in December, legislative leaders in Columbus hashed out an agreement to revamp Ohio's much-criticized process for crafting legislative maps. The deal will be on the ballot this fall. If approved, it would:
• Set up a seven-member panel to draw new state legislative districts. The commission would include the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor, and four other members appointed by the legislature's majority and minority leaders.
• Require four votes to pass a new redistricting plan, with at least two of those votes coming from members of the minority party.
• Make state legislative districts extra competitive if the panel cannot reach an agreement.
Proponents say the plan will make statehouse races more competitive and eliminate puzzle-piece districts that do not make geographic sense. But it will not change the way Ohio's congressional districts are drawn, thanks to Boehner's successful lobbying efforts last year.
State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, plans to introduce legislation to model congressional redistricting off the deal lawmakers reached in December to draw state districts. The idea is simple, but the execution could be difficult with pressure from congressional leaders like Boehner to avoid changes that could threaten Republican seats.
"I think it's more politically difficult (than state-level redistricting). I think there's a lot of people who would like to maintain the status quo," LaRose said.
Boehner said he asked then state House Speaker Bill Batchelder and Senate President Keith Faber, both Republicans, not to change the congressional redistricting process until after the Supreme Court issued a decision in the Arizona case.
Despite the decision, Boehner remained unconvinced.
"Speaker Boehner believes redistricting decisions are best made by the people's representatives in state legislatures" not by some unelected, unaccountable board of bureaucrats," Hnat said on Monday.
Boehner's support for the current system should come as no surprise, since it has worked to his party's benefit in recent years. In 2011, the Republican-controlled legislature drew maps that consolidated Democratic voters into four congressional districts, leaving the other 12 for the GOP.
"For 40 years the Democrat Party had the pencil in their hands, and for the last 20 years we've had the pencil," Boehner said in an interview with the Enquirer last December. "When you've got the pencil in your hand, you're going to use it to the best of your advantage."
LaRose said he respects Boehner, but most Ohioans would disagree with the speaker's position that lawmakers shouldn't look at changing how lines are drawn. Republicans and Democrats at the state level are interested in change.
"The ruling leaves no doubt that Ohio could take a similar approach and assign the drawing of congressional districts to a new redistricting commission like the one slated for November's ballot to reform state district drawing," Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, said.
Any changes wouldn't make the fall ballot, but should be done quickly because lines are redrawn in 2021, LaRose said. The closer lawmakers get to that deadline, the less willing politicians will be to make a deal.
Ohio Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, who voted for state-level changes, is reviewing Monday's Supreme Court decision and watching the fall vote.