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Politicized Redistricting Impacts Yet Another Issue

By German Lopez · September 11th, 2013 · Commentary
commentary 2013-09-11

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald announced on Sept. 10 that if he is elected governor he will merely reform — not dismantle — JobsOhio, the controversial state-funded privatized development agency. FitzGerald says he would prefer a public agency to take JobsOhio’s place, but he claims it’s unlikely that he’ll have the Democratic support needed in the Ohio General Assembly for a full repeal of the agency.

That’s not because Democrats are wildly unpopular all over Ohio, which is widely considered a purple — or bipartisan — state. In fact, a FitzGerald victory would prove that’s not the case. Instead, much of the blame lies on a seemingly obscure issue: politicized redistricting.

Every 10 years, state officials are tasked through the Ohio Apportionment Board to redraw the Ohio General Assembly’s districts. Because Republicans held four of five seats on the board during the last round of redistricting in 2011, the map was redrawn to emphasize demographics that benefit Republicans and dilute others that lean Democrat.

The result is an effectively impossible electoral journey to the General Assembly for many Democrats. It’s simply inconceivable that Democrats could overcome skewed demographics, at least while remaining actual Democrats, and win majorities in the Ohio House and Senate.

Ohio voters saw the redistricting issue play out in 2012. In Ohio, Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives got 47 percent of the vote and Republican candidates got 51 percent of the vote. But Republicans ended up taking 12 of 16 congressional seats (75 percent) while Democrats picked up four (25 percent).   

Redistricting is required in American politics.

Every 10 years, districts have to be redrawn to match population trends. Otherwise, the country and state could end up with the one family left in a ghost town holding the entire vote for a congressional or state representative.

But there’s something clearly wrong with the process as it stands today. It’s blatantly used for political gain at the expense of voters.

Republicans used to understand the problems of politicized redistricting, at least back when Ronald Reagan was president. In his last interview as the nation’s leader, Reagan told newscaster David Brinkley, “I think that this is a great conflict of interest to ask men holding office, elected from districts, to change the lines of that district to fit the new population changes. … The result is that I think gerrymandering (politicized redistricting) is the basis of what takes place.”

While 10 states have taken up Reagan’s advice and reworked their redistricting processes, Ohio hasn’t budged. Some state officials, particularly Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, have paid some lip service to the issue, but there hasn’t been any meaningful action.

On the contrary, when Ohio voters had a chance to approve a ballot initiative that would have reformed how redistricting is done in the state, Husted, who also heads the Ohio Ballot Board, made the process more difficult. 

After a court rejected misleading language placed on the ballot by the Ballot Board, Husted and his board members decided to copy and paste the whole language of the initiative onto the ballot. Since the ballot initiative was dealing with a complicated issue, the language was fairly long and complex. 

By putting such complicated language on the ballot, the clear intent was to make the initiative a lot more difficult to understand for the typical voter, and it worked. Nearly 65 percent of voters ended up voting against it.

Meanwhile, Husted continues saying he supports redistricting reform — just not the proposal made in 2012, apparently.

All of this leads to a state Democratic Party that believes it can win governor, secretary of state, state auditor, attorney general and other top positions but not the legislature, which arguably holds the most important political offices in the entire state.

In effect, JobsOhio can get in all the scandals it wants. It can continue suggesting tax credits to companies that have direct financial ties to JobsOhio board members and Gov. John Kasich. It can continue blocking the state auditor’s pleas for a full public audit. The only seemingly possible consequence for this clear lack of transparency is that Kasich and some of his Republicans might lose important state positions, but JobsOhio itself will remain a largely unaccountable privatized entity even if that happens.

It also means Republican legislators can pass their agenda without electoral concerns.

In other words, anyone expecting a fully accountable government is screwed.

CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: glopez@citybeat.com or @germanrlopez



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