Ohio’s Congressional district map is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, after a panel of federal judges ruled it’s unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor one political party.
The map had a long journey to this point, and it’s not over. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.
“Redistricting, which is the most fun anyone can ever have in politics and not go to prison.” So said former state Senator Jeff Jacobson (R-Vandalia), joking in his farewell speech in December 2008 to his Statehouse colleagues about the challenge in drawing maps for Ohio’s Congressional districts.
Three years later, state lawmakers would approve a map that former state Representative Mike Curtin (D-Columbus) would describe this way last year: “This is the most extreme gerrymandered map in Ohio has had in its history, and it’s one of the five most gerrymandered maps in the country.”
The map that was ruled unconstitutional was created in 2011.
Ohio’s population had fallen and it lost two seats in Congress, so the map was drawn to pit two pairs of US Representatives against each other in 2012. Republican Jim Renacci defeated Democrat Betty Sutton in their new district in northeast Ohio, and Marcy Kaptur beat fellow longtime Democrat Dennis Kucinich in the new long and strangely shaped district called “the snake on the lake”.
Since then, the map has brought the same result every two years – 12 Republican representatives and 4 Democratic ones.
But the map was agreed upon in a bipartisan deal in the Republican controlled legislature. More than half the Democrats in the House voted for it, along with four of the 10 Senate Democrats. One of the opposed was veteran Representative Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown), who left the House in 2014.
“We should think about what we’re doing – what we’ve done. Was it fair that some of these districts were carved up in a way that really diluted the opportunity to represent them in Congress?” Hagan said.
Democrats have engaged in partisan redistricting too. And then-Representative Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who was the map bill’s sponsor, said Democrats could have supported a Republican-backed redistricting reform plan in 2010.
“To simply suggest that somehow the blame lies on this side of the aisle is false. And those who are suggesting that know that,” Huffman said.
That proposal was floated by Jon Husted, then a Senator. He was Secretary of State when the map was created, and now is the Lieutenant Governor. Husted has been a longtime critic of partisan redistricting, and in 2016 he blamed the process on officeholders – and not just state-level ones.
“Those are not the kind of conversations if you’re a legislator that you want to have because the top federal elected official in your district doesn’t want you to have them,” said Husted.
That’s what Representative Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) says too.
Cera’s first vote when he was appointed to the House in 2011 was on that map. He says minority leadership suggested it was the best deal they could get to take care of their sitting members of Congress until something else was worked out.
“In hindsight, I’ve wondered – especially when I was involved in the workgroup on redistricting – why I ever voted for that map,” Cera said.
Democrats have blasted the map for years, and recently they’ve been joined by the Republican governor who signed the map into law, John Kasich.
The instant criticism of the map in 2011 sparked demands for a new redistricting process.
And last year, voters overwhelmingly approved a plan created by that bipartisan group of lawmakers that included Cera. It says when state lawmakers draw the map, they can’t split most counties and no county can be split three times. And for a map to last a full decade till the next Census, it must get 50 percent minority party support or it would be drawn by a seven-member bipartisan commission.
Cera disagrees with the state’s appeal of the federal court ruling. But Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who also voted for the map when he was a state Senator, supports the appeal and a delay in the order to draw a new map next month.
“What we want to see is a stable and reliable process that happens every ten years. And the next time we draw lines hopefully will be in 2021 following the Census when we finally have this bipartisan process,” LaRose said.
The court's deadline to draw a new map is June 14 – which is just two weeks before the state budget deadline.
In asking for a delay, Attorney General Dave Yost said he'd like to wait on pending cases before the US Supreme Court that could set a standard for partisan gerrymandering.