DeWine, LaRose, Faber: Unmovable forces on both sides foiled redistricting negotiations

By: - November 9, 2021 12:50 am

The Republican majority members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Top row from left, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Bottom row from left Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, House Speaker Bob Cupp, and Senate President Matt Huffman. Official photos.

Seven decades of political experience couldn’t bring about bipartisan agreement on legislative maps, according to three GOP members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber have claimed their efforts to “bridge the gap” were fruitless as they said they aimed for a bipartisan, 10-year map for state legislative districts. They spelled out the process in court documents filed with the Ohio Supreme Court as it considers court challenges to the four-year General Assembly maps passed 5-2 with only GOP approval, including the three Republican statewide officeholders.

In filings, the trio mentioned their 75 years of combined experience in elections, and said they entered discussions on redistricting hoping those skills would help bring about “bipartisan compromise on a ten-year map.”

“But even their considerable experience could not bring the commission’s legislative Republicans and Democrats together,” attorneys for LaRose, Faber and DeWine told the court in documents.

The inability to bridge the gap “does not tarnish the enacted map,” the state leaders said, but based on election experience among the three, “compromise should have been possible in this process.”

DeWine has given multiple statements on the process, and his optimism that an eleventh-house bipartisan deal could work out.

Faber, too, said his goal was a 10-year plan, and the former Senate president told the supreme court he approached the process the same way he would if he were creating legislation. A redistricting plan would serve as a “baseline” for amendments and debate.

“After the Republican legislators’ September 9 plan was introduced, Auditor Faber took on the role of mediator, and he approved each commissioner to broker an agreement,” Faber wrote in the joint merit brief.

Faber said he met with LaRose and commission co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes about Sykes’s proposed plan, and Faber said both Sen. Sykes and fellow commission member Minority Leader Emilia Sykes “made their map drawers available to Auditor Faber and Secretary LaRose so that both could participate in drafting possible revisions to Senator Sykes’s maps that might garner bipartisan support,” according to court documents.

Faber said he also negotiated with House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman to “identify possible concessions and compromises.”

He also shared a car ride with LaRose on the way to a commission meeting in Cleveland “in an attempt to broker a compromise.”

Faber said when he met with Huffman, the Senate President “indicated that he could move off of his position if the Democrats were willing to move off of theirs.” Faber said Republicans had offered 62 Republican-leaning House districts, and neither of the Sykeses moved to amend the map.

“By that point, though, Senator Sykes and Leader Sykes preferred to ‘ignore’ President Huffman and Speaker Cupp by pushing for a ‘brand-new map’ rather than negotiate with the map on the table,” Faber wrote.

Huffman reportedly had the same take, telling Faber that no more negotiations would take place “as the deadline neared.”

In a separate court brief, Huffman and Cupp said the approved redistricting plan “was adopted after extensive negotiations among the commission members to attempt to reach a compromise that would produce a ten-year plan under Article XI.”

The two legislative leaders say a compromise “was doomed” after Democrats “failed to budge at all compared to the significant movements” of Cupp and Huffman.

Huffman said in court documents he made “multiple attempts” to negotiate with the Democratic members of the commission “that were rebuffed.”

The Senate president said there were offers and counteroffers pushed back and forth from GOP to Democrats and back, and the counteroffer from the Sykeses on the evening of the commission’s deadline was “disappointing,” according to Huffman and Cupp in their brief. It reportedly did not change from the Democrats’ previous offer.

Senator Sykes and Minority Leader Sykes claim in a third court brief that Huffman “controlled this process” through map-drawer and Senate GOP budget director Ray DiRossi.

“These maps were created by mapmakers engaged by the Republican legislative commissioners and were drafted behind closed doors,” the Democratic redistricting commissioners wrote in their brief. “They used loopholes to bypass requirements of the Ohio Open Meetings Act and hastily enacted a plan in the eleventh hour that was drawn almost exclusively by DiRossi, who worked for Commissioner Huffman.”

Faber saw negotiations breaking down, but felt he’d done what he could to join the two sides together.

“But time ran out, and a compromise map was never finished, nor were possible amendments to the pending map submitted for a Commission vote,” Faber wrote in the merit brief.

LaRose said he spent time shuttling between the Statehouse offices trying to facilitate negotiations based on three principles: the meaning of “proportionality,” the creation of minority opportunity districts and keeping incumbents from being drawn into the same districts.

In his part of the merit brief, LaRose said he “even went so far as to suggest that the commission vote to table the proposed plan” and bypass the constitutional deadline of Sept. 15, hoping one or two more days would bring about consensus.

But the three joined together in choosing to vote for a four-year map instead of missing the constitutional deadline, despite the fact that the commission had already missed one deadline along the way.

Though the trio admitted their struggles in garnering bipartisan support, they still say the maps that were approved meet constitutional guidelines. The court challenges to the map are moot, they say, because no violation of “neutral districting criteria” was specified in the three lawsuits.

The concept of creating a map that definitively splits Democrats and Republicans “overestimates the science half of political science,” LaRose, DeWine and Faber said. Politics, including incumbent politicians, the quality of candidates and the state of the country, have a larger impact than some might wish in these matters, DeWine, LaRose and Faber said.

“As the Governor, Secretary and Auditor know from long experience, Ohio voters crave real choice among possible representatives in the General Assembly, and they value that choice more than the hope that their voice might be heard because the General Assembly makeup matches some statewide proportion of past votes,” the merit brief stated.

Democrats and Republicans “are not scattered uniformly around Ohio, or many other states, in the same way,” the statewide officials stated in arguing that perfect proportionality is “impossible.”

“That is, in many places, absent gerrymandering to favor Democrats, a computer-generated map, blind to party, will produce a set of districts that give Republicans an advantage in legislative seats,” LaRose, Faber and DeWine stated.

Even as they make arguments that no constitutional requirements were violated, the trio also says the court challenge should be directed at the commission as a whole, not them individually.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR