SUDDES: GOP redistricting commissioners gas up chainsaw and have at bipartisanship

Thomas Suddes
Caption
Thomas Suddes

Statehouse Republicans have gone to the wall for the gerrymandered (politically rigged) General Assembly districts they’ve drawn. Late Wednesday, the Redistricting Commission’s five Republicans approved new districts that should give the GOP a lock on state government.

The commissions two Democrats voted no. And if court clerks aren’t standing by awaiting a freshet of lawsuits, they should be. Despite the state constitution’s giving legal jurisdiction over redistricting to the state Supreme Court, the plan adopted Wednesday – which likely guarantees the GOP veto-proof majorities in Ohio’s House and state Senate – may end up in federal court because of the federal Voting Rights Act. Among other features, the act aims to protect the rights of voters who belong to a racial or ethnic minority. And it is possible, if not certain, that the Republican redistricting doesn’t do that.

The commission, which voters created in 2015 by ratifying a constitutional amendment, is composed of seven members. Who those members are depends on who holds these three offices – governor, state auditor and secretary of state – plus four other members, two per party.

Because Gov. Mike DeWine, Auditor Keith Faber and Secretary of State Frank LaRose are Republicans, they plus the panel’s other two Republicans – House Speaker Robert Cupp, Senate President Matt Huffman – make the commission 5-2 Republican.

For Republicans, the Machiavellian calculation may have come down to this: Is it likely that the GOP will control the commission in four years? And is it likely that any outrage over a rigged four-year map will disappear in four years?

Evidently, the GOP commissioners think both answers are “yes,” so there was no good reason for the GOP commissioners to fret about bipartisanship; instead, they just gassed up the chainsaw and had at it.

The rules for Ohio reapportionment (the name for divvying up General Assembly districts) are maddeningly complex. Not only are the population requirements fairly strict, but then grouping three contiguous House districts into one Senate district makes the exercise as simple as a Rubik’s Cube

That’s another good reason for Ohio to become the second state (Nebraska was first) to shrink its two-chamber legislature into a one-chamber (“unicameral”) legislature. That idea was widely discussed in the 1930s in Columbus and it was backed by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce as well as some Cleveland legislators. But the General Assembly, then hog-tied by the so-called Hanna Amendment – which guaranteed every county, no matter its population, at least one state representative (hence making the legislature rural-dominated – refused to consider going unicameral.

And spearheading opposition to a unicameral General Assembly was the so-called Cornstalk Club or Cornstalk Brigade, rural legislators afraid that city slickers would run the Statehouse show. They did, for a while, beginning in the mid-1960s, till the Republican right became House ringmasters.

KING COAL: Customers of American Electric Power, AES/Dayton Power and Light and Duke Energy are still be forced to subsidize two coal-burning, money losing, power plants, one in Indiana. According to the Office of Consumers’ Counsel, which represents Ohio’s residential utility consumers, un-repealed parts of HB 6 have so far squeezed $145 million from those utilities’ electricity ratepayers. And the two plants (Kyger Creek, in Gallia County, and Clifty Creek, in Indiana) have returned the favor by pumping an estimated 17.6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the sky.

So when an Ohioan encounters General Assembly incumbents or candidates, she or he might want to ask why those coal subsidies are still in place. The honest answer is that utilities’ Statehouse lobbying clout protects them. But intellectual honesty has never been the legislature’s strong suit.

Thomas Suddes
Caption
Thomas Suddes