Republicans Appear To Be Split Over Changing Method Of Drawing Ohio's Congressional District Map

Feb 15, 2016

Voters approved a change in the way the maps for state lawmakers’ districts are drawn last month, sparking calls for a similar change to the maps for members of Congress. While Democrats are united in that push, there’s an apparent split among Republican leaders who could make it happen.

More than 70% of voters approved Issue 1 last fall, which changes the way the district lines for state lawmakers were drawn. And that got advocates pushing toward something they’ve wanted for years – changing the Congressional districts map-drawing process. They say that would mean no more maps like the current one, which features a district along Lake Erie that’s only a few feet wide, and two that hook completely around other districts. National experts have said Ohio’s map is among the most partisan and gerrymandered in the country. And those who want to change the process got a boost a few weeks after the election from Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich. “I think we need to eliminate gerrymandering, we gotta figure out a way to do it, we gotta be aggressive on it and we gotta have more competitive districts. That to me is what’s good for the state of Ohio and what’s good for the country,” said Kasich.

And now the four top executive officeholders – Attorney General Mike DeWine, Auditor Dave Yost, Treasurer Josh Mandel and Secretary of State Jon Husted – say it’s time to look at changing the Congressional map drawing process too. DeWine, Yost and Mandel all agreed with comments on the subject that Husted recently made to reporters.  “The idea that one particular party would have control over drawing the lines is an outdated thought process,” Husted said. “You can’t look at all the failures and the brokenness that we have in government and think that somehow less competition is good.”

The map for state lawmakers’ districts is drawn by a panel of lawmakers, which Issue 1 expanded by two members. But state lawmakers draw the maps for their counterparts in Congress. And legislative leaders say that means it’s not as easy to change the system as it was for the state legislative district maps.  After Issue 1 was approved, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) had expressed a desire to slow down the process, saying he wanted to “give it a test”. But he now says there’s more to it than that.  “The redistricting that was passed in State Issue 1 and the redistricting we’re talking about – Congressional redistricting – are, in my opinion, apples and oranges,” Rosenberger said. “They’re different in the way that we look at how to draw these lines.”

Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) strongly agrees with Rosenberger. “I think it’s a very different question about whether you should take what has historically in this country been a legislative item and move it to some other entity,” Faber said. “That is a divestiture of state legislative authority. And so that’s a different discussion.”

But Democrats and advocates for changing the Congressional redistricting process are suspicious, suggesting that Republican legislative leaders want to go slow because they don’t want to change the process – because they’re counting on being able to draw the lines again after the next Census in 2020.  Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio says time is running out.  “The closer that we get to the Census and the actual map-making, the easier it is to predict which political party will be able to draw the maps and engage in the shenanigans, and the closer we get to that, the harder it’s actually going to be to get reform,” Turcer said.

There’s a proposal on Congressional redistricting before the panel looking at possible changes to the state constitution, but a vote on that plan has been delayed for at least another two months. And a resolution in the Senate to change the Congressional redistricting process was introduced last fall. It has bipartisan sponsorship, but has yet to have a hearing. Meanwhile, Turcer and other advocates are discussing the possibility of seizing their success with the state district and taking a proposal on one for Congress back to the voters.