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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



09.13.2013 at 11:47 Reply

Duh.  The reason Reagan probably talked about the problems of gerrymandering was because Dems had more control of it at the time. And if the Dems would have won the 2010 mid-terms, they would just as fiercely be fighting to keep their hard-won gerrymandering perogatives as the GOP is now.  .........If the Dems are truly serious about reforming the redistricting process, they will have to come forward with a real zero-sum proposal that rewards neither party in the fine print unlike that piece of shit they got on the ballot last year which had as one of its main effects the nullification of the 2010 GOP victory by ending the centuries old tradition of legislative redistricting immediately.  How about maybe a non-partisan redistricting scheme that doesn't go into effect until 2020 or 2019 or maybe even 2018 (when neither party really knows who the law will help or hurt in the short term)?  But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for something like that from the Dems.  ................And seriously,  attempting to spin a 65-35 drubbing at the polls because of "tricky" language?  That's like saying we got beat 49-0 in the football game because the refs were against us!  And doesn't that argument defeat one of the central tenets of libearalism: that the sainted People need to be given more power via the democratic voting process when most Democratic leaders and activists don't think most of their voters can understand anything with higher than a 3rd grade level of complexity?


09.16.2013 at 09:47

The reason issue 2 lost at the polls was because it's supporters were widely outspent, and the opposition advertising was largely misleading, making the confusing ballot language a real issue. The opposition ads repeated phrases like "a blank check for spending" and "more government bureaucracy" without giving the voter any clue as to actual issue at hand. There were almost no pro-ads and the typical voter is unfortunately not going to read a lengthy description at the polls.


09.17.2013 at 02:50

So you're saying that even though we can be 99.999,no make that 100% sure, that had the Dems won the 2010 Ohio legislative mid-term race they not only would never in a katrillion years have ever introduced anything remotely similar to the 2012 initiative but would have as fiercely opposed it as right-leaning groups acually did, (including spinning any kind of opposition argument they could think of and spending millions campaigning against it), that it's the GOP being the tricky, misleading party in this instance?  Let me guess:  Dem operative?  ..............Like I implied above, if you don't want heavy campaigning against an initiative to create a more non-parisan system for redistricting, you will need to make sure it's truly non-paritisan in it's effect and doesn't reward the party that lost the 2010 mid-terms in the fine print.


09.17.2013 at 08:07

I don't think anyone is saying that. Of course Democrats have historically abused redistricting when they can.

There is no language that wouldn't benefit the party that lost in 2010 in some way because the party that won 2010 has a huge advantage under the status quo since it gets to redraw the district lines.


09.17.2013 at 11:54

How generous of you German to offer that the GOP do all the sacrificing to set up your ideal redistricting system even though we all know if circumstances were reversed the Dems would be fighting just as hard to keep the victor perogatives they are fighting so hard to overturn now.  I pointed out above that there is in fact an obvious method to accomplish a switch to a new redistricting method without hurting or helping one party or the other:  put the change far enough into the future where neither party knows who would benefit or not.  2020 would work.  (It will be here before you know it and if we can survive 5 years of Obama, I'm sure we can survive 7 more years of GOP drawn Ohio districts.).