Gerrymandering leads to extreme laws most Ohioans don’t want

Rigged districts protect politicians from facing consequences on Election Day

February 15, 2022 3:20 am

A photo of the Ohio Statehouse from Wikimedia Commons.

Fault for the gerrymandered mess in Ohio lays directly at the feet of Statehouse Republicans who are watching their unconstitutional handiwork play out exactly as planned. The same folks who brought Ohio national notoriety in 2011 for drawing state district maps distorted in the extreme to lock in GOP control, had no intention of playing by the rules a decade later. Why would they?

The party that egregiously engineered district boundaries to give Republicans absolute power in the legislature and outsized dominance in the congressional delegation isn’t about to give voters an inch to interfere with a good thing. That’s the bottom line with politicians who have all the leverage in state government. To them, a voter with an equal voice in a district is a threat.  Gerrymandering removes that threat because it draws way more majority party voters into a district than minority party voters. You know the story. 

Election outcomes are preordained in districts across Ohio. The incumbent in a “safe” district doesn’t have to worry about losing or, for that matter, representing the popular will. He or she can act with legislative impunity strictly along party line votes — no matter how far out of the mainstream those votes are — because district voters are not part of the political equation anymore. How great is that? Republican beneficiaries of hopelessly rigged districts can use their ill-gotten super-majorities in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate to ban, discriminate, arm, suppress, deny and worse in radical legislation that a majority of Ohioans oppose — and suffer no electoral repercussions. 

Consider the widely opposed gun bills forced on the state — courtesy of the party gaming the system on redistricting — that no one but a gun lobbyist could love. A year ago, it was Senate Bill 175, the “Stand Your Ground,” or more aptly titled “Shoot First” measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine. Apparently, what the governor meant when he promised to “do something” following the Dayton massacre was to give people a license to kill in the name of self-defense even when there is a safe alternative to using deadly force. 

The bill was a Republican nod to the NRA, which heavily pushed for it, not an answer to reducing gun violence. That was and remains a pressing public priority. But what most Ohio voters want didn’t even figure into the Republican decision to massively expand the state’s traditional self-defense laws with gun lobby legislation that risks public safety and may, as studies suggest, lead to more homicides. Blame Republican gerrymandering. It makes voters irrelevant to policymaking that adversely affects their lives. 

Democracy cannot survive government by dictate, but that’s where we are in Ohio. 

The spate of gun industry favorites moving confidently through the General Assembly to the governor’s desk only underscores the danger posed by politicians insulated from public account. Ohio Senate Bill 215, that would eliminate the state’s concealed carry handgun license requirement, is expected to get final passage in the state House soon — despite overwhelming testimony in opposition from law enforcement officials to public safety advocates. 

A handful of persistent gun lobbying groups, including the NRA, testified that allowing people to carry a concealed loaded gun in public without a permit, firearm training or background checks was a sound idea. What could possibly go wrong with unchecked, untrained concealed gun owners packing heat who are under no obligation to inform police when pulled over unless asked? 

So why change the current common-sense state law on concealed carry, supported by more than 60% of Ohio voters, just to score points with gun extremists? Because Ohio House Republicans can craft wildly irresponsible laws and still win reelection in their gerrymandered districts. Okay? They can pass a chilling anti-protest bill that broadly expands what constitutes an arrestable offense, advance related legislation that allows people with a firearm to cross police lines during a protest if it is declared a “riot” by any government entity and approve arming teachers with drastically reduced hours of training.

Again, not even close to what most of us want. Poll after poll shows sweeping voter support for sensible gun policy we can all live with in Ohio. But one-party reign is giving us the polar opposite. Same goes for a host of other issues, including legalized abortion, where Republicans swing far to the right of a majority of Ohioans. No wonder then, that Ohio Republicans submit one unconstitutional district map after another without shame. 

They’re running out the clock. It’s been their goal from the beginning to make sure the fix is in for the November election and the presidential race in two years. Their arrogant disregard for the people of Ohio and the rule of law is abundantly clear. They’re betting on at least four years of gerrymandered districts to rig election results for Republicans. And they’re probably going to get it.

But Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor may have the solution for enraged voters who rightly feel betrayed by GOP leadership. She suggested a different process of drawing districts may be necessary. One that shifts power away from partisan actors to an independent body that has no incentive to gerrymander to stay in power. Another voter referendum is in order to amend what Ohioans approved in redistricting reforms in 2015 and 2018.  

Time to get started and take back our voice.



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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.