In fact, the amendments really did two concrete things. First, they derailed what likely would have been far stronger voter-petitioned (“initiated”) ballot issues to reform reapportionment (legislature) and “redistricting” (Congress) plans. Second, as a practical matter, the amendments still allow gerrymandering, but for four years at a time, instead of ten.
Split hairs till the cows come home, but those are the facts: This year, there was nothing bipartisan – and little public – about how the Redistricting Commission fashioned districts.
As noted, the resulting congressional districts stand, for now. Meanwhile, General Assembly Gerrymander No. 4, approved 4-3 by the Redistricting commissioners late on Monday, will be junked or OK’d by the state Supreme Court or a (possibly) by a GOP-friendlier panel of three federal judges.
More dithering will follow if, as could happen, the state Supreme Court rejects Gerrymander No. 4 and the three-judge federal panel approves it, which seems like the bet that key Statehouse Republicans (Senate President Matt Huffman, House Speaker Robert R. Cupp, Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose) placed Monday night.
The three-judge panel of federal judges is composed of Chief U.S. District Judge Algenon Markley, of Southern Ohio; Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Amul Thapar; and U.S. District Judge Benjamin Beaton, of Western Kentucky. Marbley was appointed by a Democratic president, Thapar and Beaton by Republican presidents.
In fairness, something the GOP’s Huffman and others said appears to be a genuine factor in the Redistricting Commission’s claimed difficulty in drawing “enough” (as in “a fair number”) of Democratic districts.
There problem is geo-political. Review a list of state representatives and state senators from the 1970s and 1980s – 20-year Democratic Speaker Vern Riffe’s era. You’ll find a fair number of Democratic legislators who hailed from such rural Ohio towns as Botkins (Shelby County), Mount Orab (Brown County) or Senecaville (Guernsey County). But in recent years, Democrats have mostly lost the rural vote in Ohio, Athens County excepted.
That creates tough challenges if you try to follow the Ohio Constitution’s exacting rules about not “over-splitting” Ohio’s 88 counties, and the state’s 247 cities, 684 villages and 1,308 townships, among 99 House and 33 Senate districts. That makes a Rubik’s Cube child’s play – or slates a federal case. Take your pick.