Huffman defends his maps, redistricting process despite no bipartisan support

By: - September 17, 2021 12:55 am

Members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission are sworn in at the Ohio Statehouse. From left, Senate President Matt Huffman, state Auditor Keith Faber, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Sen. Vernon Sykes. Photo by Susan Tebben

State Senate President Matt Huffman defended decisions he and Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission made as they moved forward with a partisan, four-year redistricting plan for the state.

Just after midnight on Thursday, maps filed under his name passed through the commission on a 5-2 party-line vote. The maps were only slightly different than maps he and the Republican caucus had presented and which was formally introduced as the commission map little more than a week ago.

The Republican majority’s four-year Ohio House (L) and Senate (R) districts.

The maps were approved after a full day of talks between commission members and staffers that ended less than an hour before the midnight deadline.

“What it really came down to is at some point a decision had to be made and somebody has to do the work to get to the decision,” Huffman said in a press conference on Thursday.

Huffman defended the maps and the constitutionality of the maps, despite strong criticism from anti-gerrymandering advocates, political science professors and public citizens across the state.

“The map that was adopted last night…was the only map presented to the commission that was constitutional, and the only map that was even prepared by anybody that was constitutional,” Huffman said.

The commission saw two other map proposals, one from the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses and another, more recently, from the independent Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission called “unity maps.”

“Our maps certainly present a clear contrast to the unconstitutional maps voted on by the majority party commissioners last night,” said Maki Somosot, of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and the Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima. Photo from the Ohio Channel.

Proponents of both of those map proposals said they followed the rule of law in terms of constitutionality and focused some of their map consideration on minority representation, or the avoidance of “packing and cracking.” That happens when either minority populations are “packed” into districts to make less minority-led districts or “cracked” into separate districts to dilute their voting power.

“It is unjust for Ohioans to face elections, misrepresentation and underrepresentation under these maps for even a single election,” said Kobie Christian, communications director for progressive policy group For Our Future Ohio, a part of the Equal Districts Coalition.

Further defending the maps and how the districts came to be, Huffman again blamed Census Bureau delays on the rushed timeline, and said no matter how strongly Ohioans felt about the lateness of the process, the data delays foiled a plan to spend the summer months discussing district lines and proposals.

“That process, at least the way it was designed, just didn’t get to happen,” Huffman said on Thursday.

Huffman also claimed that if an extension he asked for in April had been agreed to, the commission would have had “a reasonable chance” to get to a 10-year, bipartisan map.

But even though the process happened at a faster clip than planned, Huffman still denies that gerrymandering districts to favor the Republican supermajority (which the new map maintains) was not the strategy. He said indexing of partisan leans and percentages of election results don’t determine everything in redistricting.

“Are they important? Sure,” Huffman said. “But a good candidate can win in a district that’s 55% in favor of the other party, and a bad candidate can lose in one that’s 45% on the other side.”

The maps weren’t the only thing being criticized throughout the month of public hearings and negotiations leading up to the legislative district maps. Even members of the commission called for improvements to the process leading up to the congressional redistricting effort, set to begin in the legislature later this month.

Commission co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, said supporting the maps approved by the commission would “slap the people in the face” that spent hours urging the commission to pass fair districts and eliminate gerrymandering.

“I’m just astounded by the arrogance of the supermajority, having such a careless regard for the people of this state,” Sykes said on Wednesday night.

Most people involved in the redistricting process, including Huffman and other commission members like Gov. Mike DeWine are now bracing for legal challenges to the maps and perhaps a new effort if the Ohio Supreme Court sends the job back to the commission for a different solution.

“Our job is to make (the redistricting plan) as constitutional as we can, and I thought we could have done better, but ultimately…no matter what this commission did, we knew this was going to end up going into court,” Gov. Mike DeWine said just after the maps were voted on.

Because the maps were released so late on Wednesday, legal experts like those at the ACLU of Ohio are still analyzing the maps, but are prepared to move forward when the time comes.

“We are considering all of our options, litigation being one of them,” Celina Coming, communications director for the ACLU told the OCJ. “We are deeply disturbed by the events that transpired through this entire process. Ohioans’ faith in their government desperately needed to be restored and the Redistricting Commission sorely missed that opportunity.”

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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