Joe Hallett: Neither party can be trusted to enact redistricting reform (Columbus Dispatch 9/16/12)

Joe Hallett: Neither party can be trusted to enact redistricting reform (Columbus Dispatch 9/16/12)

Neither party can be trusted to enact redistricting reform

On a large envelope over coffee last month, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted sketched out a remarkably simple and logical plan to change Ohio’s process for drawing congressional and state legislative boundaries.It was an improved version of a redistricting bill that, as a state senator in 2010, Husted got the GOP-controlled Senate to pass — only to watch it die in the then-Democratic dominated House.That year was the perfect opportunity for reform, because neither party was sure who would win the statewide elections and control of the Ohio’s map-drawing board. And while Republicans appeared willing to negotiate, state Democratic Party leaders backed away and rolled the dice. They were confident that Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland would win re-election and that Republican Auditor Dave Yost would not win, and they would gain control of the map-making.

So now we have State Issue 2, a Nov. 6 ballot proposal to reform redistricting by amending the state constitution. Husted has made no secret of his opposition to it. If not for his demonstrated commitment to ending partisan gerrymandering, Husted might now be facing legitimate accusations that the ballot language his office drafted for Issue 2 was rigged to make it fail.

That is precisely what his fellow Ohio Republican officeholders at the Statehouse and in Congress want to happen. After winning control of the redistricting process in the 2010 election, they are eager to preserve a map laden with districts contorted in their favor.

The GOP-controlled State Ballot Board’s approval of the inadequate ballot language was just another step in the Republican Party’s campaign against Issue 2 to ensure that it rules Ohio for the rest of this decade, even though the state’s partisan index is roughly 50-50.

But someone forgot to clue-in the Ohio Supreme Court, ruled 6-1 by Republicans. In a decision that restores hope for an independent judiciary, the court found that the ballot language contained “material omissions and factual inaccuracies” that would be “fatal” to its chances for approval. It ordered a rewrite, which the board did on Thursday, rendering a still confusing description of the amendment.

The guts of the Issue 2 amendment were written by two Ohio State University professors for a bunch of nonpartisan good-government groups such as the League of Women Voters, Citizen Action and the Ohio Council of Churches. The amendment set forth a complicated process to ensure that lines for legislative and congressional districts would be drawn by an independent citizens’ commission, not politicians.

The Ohio Democratic Party and labor unions — past obstructionists to redistricting reform — endorsed the amendment because it gives them a chance to get out of political Siberia before the next round of mapmaking in 2021. Democrats and the unions are now driving the campaign in favor of Issue 2.

The GOP, meanwhile, has launched a war against Issue 2, which sources say is being funded in part by Republican lawmakers motivated to save themselves.

One-party rule through gerrymandering is one reason our government doesn’t work as well as it should, because it thwarts competitive elections and empowers narrow-minded and uncompromising ideologues from the party in control. No one on Capitol Square has opposed gerrymandering more credibly than Mike Curtin, retired associate publisher of The Dispatch and arguably Ohio’s foremost political historian.

Last month, Curtin, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio House, went before the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and urged it to endorse Issue 2. He harkened back to leaders such as John Adams, who 230 years ago “recognized gerrymandering for the evil it is.” He cited U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s lament “that when it comes to apportionment, we are in the business of rigging elections.”

Referring to Issue 2, Curtin said, “It is not perfect. The perfect plan does not exist and will never exist. I would ask you to use your common sense, and to acknowledge the time-honored maxim to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

“This is a good plan. It is 100 times better than what we have, which is in the running for being the worst in the nation.”

Republican leaders have promised that they will work with Democrats to enact redistricting reform if voters defeat Issue 2. Both have been making that same promise for four decades.

“In each subsequent decade, the gerrymandering of Ohio’s congressional and state legislative districts has become more blatant and more corrupt,” Curtin said.

Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.


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