SUDDES: Gerrymandering alive and well in Ohio

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. He covered the Statehouse for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer for many years.
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Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. He covered the Statehouse for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer for many years.

The General Assembly’s Republicans thumbed their noses at almost 1.18 million Ohioans last week – Ohioans who went on record via a 2018 ballot issue opposing congressional districts drawn to favor one party over the other.

Thanks to boundaries Republican state legislators drew last week, of the 15 Ohio congressional seats Ohioans will fill in November 2022, Democrats could capture as few as two. They now hold four of Ohio’s current 16 districts. (Ohio is losing a district thanks to national population shifts.)

True, judges will likely overturn or at least modify the GOP’s Statehouse machinations, quarterbacked last week by a couple Lima Republicans, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Robert Cupp.

But judges’ intervention can’t mask the arrogance that says fewer than 90 white Republicans have a divine right to all but guarantee the GOP a lopsided share of Ohio’s 15 U.S. House seats. (And you thought Republicans opposed entitlements.)

That’s the same Ohio that twice helped elect Barack Obama president, and which, three times and counting, has sent Cleveland Democrat Sherrod Brown to the U.S. Senate. Ah well, as Ronald Reagan said in a 1988 slip, “Facts are stupid things,” not least at Ohio’s Statehouse.

State Senate Republicans rammed the reapportionment bill (Senate Bill 258), to passage last week with all 24 Republican state senators present voting “yes,” including U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dolan, of Chagrin Falls. All Democrats present voted “no.” (Two senators were absent: Toledo Democrat Teresa Fedor and Ontario Republican Mark Romanchuk.)

Ohio’s House passed the gerrymander Thursday in a 55-37 roll call. Every Democrat present voted “no,” as did five House Republicans, including Rep. Kyle Koehler, of Springfield.

That sent the new map to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk. As a practical matter, DeWine’s signature would simply clear the way for anti-gerrymander lawsuits so, in the end, judges or experts they pick will likely redraw or at least massage the General Assembly’s handiwork, which will become a full-employment act for squads of (taxpayer-funded) lawyers.

It’s remotely possible that DeWine could veto the measure. But that’s unlikely. The governor is already on thin ice with Republicans to his right on the GOP’s ever-rightward spectrum. A gubernatorial veto could further stoke the GOP’s core, and DeWine has already drawn plenty of fire there.

Not only is the Republican map tilted politically, but its geography is also jolting. For example, it takes some creative … reasoning … for Republicans to explain what Greater Cleveland’s Lorain County (Elyria) has in common with Paulding County (its seat is also named Paulding), along the Ohio-Indiana border, 150 miles west of Elyria. Both counties are in a district that likely will re-elect Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, of Bowling Green.

For that matter, how much does Mahoning County (Youngstown) have in common with its GOP-assigned turf-mate roughly 175 miles south, Washington County (Marietta), other than Ohio 7, the Conneaut-to-Chesapeake highway that hugs the Pennsylvania border, then the Ohio River? (Advantage: Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, of Marietta.)

Meanwhile, the GOP map concentrated (“packed”) voters of color into Cleveland and Columbus congressional districts. That will likely weaken those voters’ political influence elsewhere in the two regions, a potential red flag when courts review the map.

Bystanders sometimes lament Americans’ loss of faith in government. But last week’s gerrymander makes that a little easier to understand. In May 2018, almost 75% of the Ohioans voting on the matter demanded an end to gerrymandering (by either party) of the state’s congressional districts. Last week, the General Assembly’s Republicans told all those Ohioans to go pound salt.

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. He covered the Statehouse for The Cleveland Plain Dealer for many years.

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