Legislature's Map Makers

 
Legislature's Map Makers Should Get Coal in their Stockings

Credit (or blame) state Rep. Matt Huffman for uttering the year’s most cynical statement.

On Wednesday, the Lima Republican called a bill that lays out new congressional districts “a little bit of a Christmas gift to the folks of Ohio.”

No fair-minded Santa would ever deliver it.

This gift virtually ensures that Huffman’s party will control 12 of Ohio’s 16 districts through this decade.

This gift mocks the goal of keeping together communities of interest. The new 15 {+t}{+h} district, for example, combines big swaths of Appalachia with Upper Arlington and Downtown Columbus.

This gift makes hash out of redistricting principles such as compactness and contiguousness. Summit County is ridiculously spliced into four districts. The new 9 {+t}{+h} district, stretching along a sliver of Lake Erie shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland, needs a bridge to be connected and is drawn solely to pit incumbent Democrats Marcy Kaptur and Dennis J. Kucinich against each other.

This gift eliminates the need for general elections in congressional races. Many primaries will be coronations for extremists, rendering to the wilderness the desires of Ohio’s vast political center.

This gift protects incumbents by allowing them to choose their voters.

This gift is the worst possible Christmas present for Ohioans, relegating them to another decade of bad government.

This gift was wrapped by Republicans controlling the Statehouse. Make no mistake, if Democrats were in charge, you’d be receiving the same gift, wrapped in blue instead of red.

The only worthwhile gift surrounding the decennial process of creating new congressional districts is the one by a courageous watchdog group exposing the sordid and secretive — and maybe even illegal — ways in which it was done.

The Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting — 25 good-government organizations, including the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Ohio Citizen Action — used public records to pull back the cover on a process whose aim was “to gain maximum political advantage” for the GOP, the group reported.

“The result was the approval of new districts that will provide for largely predetermined elections where we will know which party will win before we even know who the candidates are.”

A glance at the partisan indexes of the 16 districts proves that point: The most “competitive” is the new 6th District sprawling along the Ohio River, where Republicans have only a 7.7 percentage-point advantage.

The redistricting map enacted in September — with minor alterations approved last week — was drawn out of public view in a Downtown hotel room that Republicans called the “bunker” and paid for with $10,000 of your money. Two GOP legislative veterans, Ray DiRossi and Heather Mann, concocted the contorted maps, each earning $105,000 in about three months — also your money.

The shots were being called by Tom Whatman, a top political aide to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of West Chester, whose aim is to gerrymander a national map to improve GOP chances of becoming a permanent House majority. Accommodations to maximize fundraising were made to include the Timken Co. in Rep. Jim Renacci’s Canton-area district (he’s already received $210,000 from company officials) and to include Downtown Columbus in Rep. Steve Stivers’ 15 {+t}{+h} district.

Clark County was removed from the 15 {+t}{+h} because it might make it slightly more competitive than the current 13-point GOP advantage. A last-minute change was made to split Mercer County into three congressional districts so state Sen. Keith Faber’s home could be moved into the 4 {+t}{+h} District in case he might want that seat.

“This is not a map that is about the voters of Ohio,” said Catherine Turcer of Citizen Action.

Redistricting never will be about the voters unless they take the process away from the politicians. That would be a perfect Christmas gift.

Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.