SUDDES: Redistricting Commission members’ theatrics unlikely to win Oscars

Three state officials – Gov. Mike DeWine, State Auditor Keith Faber and Secretary of State Frank LaRose – shouldn’t expect Oscars.

Their pleas of helplessness in the face of the Bob Cupp-Matt Huffman General Assembly gerrymander is one of the Statehouse’s less believable scripts.

DeWine, as governor, is constitutionally considered to hold Ohio’s “supreme executive power.” Roughly 39,000 state employees answer to him or his appointees. And the governor is the steward of a $74 billion general revenue fund budget.

As auditor, every public official’s business is also Keith Faber’s business. And Secretary of State Frank LaRose oversees Ohio’s elections and appoints Ohio’s Boards of Elections.

To become governor, DeWine got the votes of 2.23 million Ohioans. Faber got the votes of 2.15 million Ohioans to become auditor. As for LaRose, 2.21 million Ohioans voted for him.

Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, is speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. In 2020, Cupp won reelection to his Ohio House seat with votes of 39,000 people – about 1.7% of DeWine’s statewide vote. And Matt Huffman, the Senate’s president, won reelection to his Senate seat with the votes of 129,000 people – about 5.8% of DeWine’s statewide vote.

Meanwhile, Cupp and Huffman are just two of the seven members of the Redistricting Commission, the voter-created panel whose job is to align – fairly align – Ohio’s 99 House and 33 Senate districts with 2020′s Census of Ohio’s population.

Besides Cupp, Huffman, DeWine, Faber and LaRose – all Republicans – the seven-member commission includes two Akron Democrats, state Sen. Vernon Sykes and his daughter, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, who are African American.

In a stark triumph of hope over experience, Ohio voters last decade overwhelmingly approved creation of the Redistricting Commission. The premise was that it would prevent the seamy partisan antics of the old Apportionment Board, which magically seemed to draw General Assembly districts that favored the board’s majority – Democrats in 1971 and 1981, Republicans in 1991, 2001, and 2011.

But that assumed that Ohio as such mattered more to Ohio officeholders than their respective parties. No one was holding a gun on Mike DeWine or Keith Faber or Frank LaRose. If they’d voted “no” on the Cupp-Huffman gerrymander, at least that gerrymander would have died. But they didn’t vote “no.” The governor, the auditor and the secretary voted “yes,” despite arguably offensive slights (assuming they weren’t just show biz) shown them by Huffman and Cupp.

A for-instance from LaRose in a deposition: “My understanding is that the people that drew the maps worked for commission members Huffman and Cupp [not for LaRose and the other theoretically equal commissioners.]”

Likewise, from a DeWine deposition: The governor said the districts drawn by employees of Cupp and Huffman aren’t the districts the governor hoped for.

“We did not reach the goal of getting a ten-year plan; we did not reach the goal of getting a bipartisan plan; we did not reach the goal of having a plan that Democrats and Republicans could agree upon,” DeWine, of Greene County’s Cedarville, said.

And yet Mike DeWine and Keith Faber and Frank LaRose voted for those districts, albeit districts which the state Supreme Court may toss into a wastebasket.

Possibilities: The three officeholders didn’t know they could vote against the Cupp-Huffman plan. Sure. Or the executive trio (despite their hundreds of thousands of voters) is afraid of Cupp and Huffman. Uh-huh. Or just maybe, Ohioans are supposed to believe that three of the state’s most powerful Republicans were somehow forced to vote for something that would – complete coincidence – benefit other Ohio Republicans.

Yeah. Right.

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

About the Author