Misrepresentative lawmaking will continue in Ohio until voters have fair maps
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, oversees the Senate session on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
With a new right-wing majority on the Ohio Supreme Court and power-mad Ohio Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislature and the Ohio Redistricting Commission, prospects aren’t looking good for fair maps.
What would representative and fair maps look like? About a 55% to 45% Republican-to-Democratic split among safe seats in both chambers of the Statehouse with a maximized number of competitive seats split evenly between both parties.
What is Ohio likely to get? The same gerrymandered Statehouse maps that we have now or worse, that fail to win bipartisan support on the Ohio Redistricting Commission but get implemented for four years after being rubber-stamped by a partisan Republican Ohio Supreme Court. Lawmakers added party labels to the state high court in 2022.
Ohio’s recent gerrymandering fiasco lasted from the fall of 2021 through most of 2022, with a bipartisan Ohio Supreme Court rejecting Ohio Statehouse maps as unconstitutional five times before they were implemented by two Trump appointees on a federal court.
The important thing to remember about the federal court’s decision is that they never determined Ohio’s Statehouse maps are not unconstitutionally gerrymandered as the Ohio Supreme Court ruled — just that Ohio Republicans had successfully run out the clock so it had gotten close enough to the election that voters would be forced to cast ballots under the unconstitutional maps.
As a result, the November 2022 election led to Ohio Republicans winning even larger gerrymandered supermajorities in both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly — picking up one seat in the Ohio Senate for a 26-7 supermajority, and three in the Ohio House for a 67-32 supermajority.
These supermajorities greased the skids for Ohio Republican lawmakers to put Issue 1 on the ballot Aug. 8, proposing to strip Ohio voters of majority power over the Ohio Constitution and to destroy the ability of grassroots citizen groups to get amendment proposals on the ballot.
In the Ohio House for instance, needing 60 lawmaker votes for amendment proposal passage, Issue 1 was put on the ballot with 62 votes, a thin margin that would’ve been much harder to overcome in a legislature that isn’t gerrymandered.
Ohio voters decisively rejected the Issue 1 proposal by 14 points, 57% to 43%, a perfect case study in how a gerrymandered legislature misrepresents the people’s wishes.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Republican state Rep. Brian Stewart made the original pitch for what would become Issue 1 in November 2022. Weeks later, to rally support among lawmakers, Stewart penned a letter to his colleagues that specifically cited November’s abortion rights amendment as well as any future efforts toward anti-gerrymandering reform as the primary reasons for the Issue 1 attack on voter power.
After Issue 1’s rejection, a majority of voters will decide on the amendment protecting abortion access, contraception, and fertility treatment in November. And now, a nonpartisan coalition called Citizens Not Politicians has collected more than the 1,000 signatures they need to start the process of putting an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot.
The Citizens Not Politicians group includes former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican swing-vote on the issue of gerrymandering who was forced to retire under Ohio law due to age. Ohio Republican politicians mused about impeaching O’Connor for not going along with their gerrymandering during the 2022 redistricting debacle.
The current Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) is made up of seven spots, all politicians. Two spots go to two Republican lawmakers, one from the House and one from the Senate, and two go to two Democratic lawmakers, one from the House and one from the Senate. The three remaining seats include the governor, secretary of state, and auditor. If there is bipartisan agreement, maps are implemented for 10 years, and if there is not, a partisan majority can implement maps four years at a time.
The Citizens Not Politicians proposal would create a 15-member Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission (OCRC) made up of Republican, Democratic and independent citizens who broadly represent the different geographic areas and demographics of the state. It would ban current or former politicians, political party officials, lobbyists, and large political donors from sitting on the commission. It would require fair and impartial districts by making it unconstitutional to draw voting districts that discriminate against or favor any political party or individual politician. It would also mandate the commission to operate under an open and independent process.
After Issue 1’s failure, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, the Republican ringleader for Statehouse gerrymandering, was obstinate and arrogant as ever. He said he would bring back Issue 1’s proposals sometime in the future, and he declared that if Ohio voters protected reproductive health care this November, he would bring another amendment proposal in 2024 attempting to rip it away again.
Huffman will have the supermajority power to do such things so long as Ohioans continue to be misrepresented by lawmakers elected in gerrymandered districts.
Not only that, but Ohioans will continue to see one extremist law after another move its way through the Statehouse so long as radicals who never have to face competitive general elections continue to wield outsized influence due to gerrymandering.
Over the next 15 months, Ohioans will have many more opportunities to watch our gerrymandered legislature at work.
Ohioans will also soon have yet another opportunity to watch how manipulated and misrepresentative things get when politicians are left in charge of drawing maps to crack and pack and pick their preferred voters, compared to the prospect of an independent process to produce fair maps that allow voters to pick our politicians.
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