New state House, Senate district maps only good for four years

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)
Caption
The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

Passed on deadline by Republicans only, redistricting must be redone in four years

The five Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission adopted new state House and Senate maps Wednesday, barely making – or slightly breaking – their midnight deadline. The maps contain some concessions to Democrats, but not enough to sway the commission’s two Democratic members, guaranteeing that the maps will need to be redone in four years.

The commission met at 10:30 a.m. and immediately recessed for private negotiations – first until 3 p.m., then until 8 p.m. But they did not reconvene as announced. Instead members drifted in and out of a House hearing room until 11:15 p.m.

When House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, the commission’s co-chair, gaveled the meeting into order, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, immediately presented an amendment to the week-old Republican plan that commissioners had used as a working document. It included a number of changes, Huffman said.

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“This amendment moves the introduced plan much closer to what our Democratic colleagues presented in their amendment,” he said, referring to a map proposal from the House and Senate Democratic Caucus.

The map amendment Huffman proposed would reduce the number of Republican seats in both houses by six, he said. It would give Republicans 62 of the 99 House seats, while the Democratic proposal would have resulted in 57 Republican seats, Huffman said.

In the 33-seat Senate, Republicans would hold 23 seats under Huffman’s amendment, compared to 20 in the Democratic proposal, he said.

The amendment passed 5-2, with only Republican support.

Huffman then moved for the commission to adopt the map proposal, as amended, as the new official state district maps.

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, delivered an emotional statement in opposition.

“I recognize that the men in the majority party on this commission have never had ancestors who had to fight for their access to basic human rights that others had just because they were born,” she said. The Republican proposal “summarily and arrogantly” devalues votes like hers and rejects the voter-approved requirement for districts to proportionately match electoral results from the previous decade, she said.

Those results give Republicans a majority of about 54%, but they currently hold supermajorities in both houses.

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks outside his statehouse office about ongoing negotiations for new state House and Senate district maps on the evening of Sept. 15.
Caption
Gov. Mike DeWine speaks outside his statehouse office about ongoing negotiations for new state House and Senate district maps on the evening of Sept. 15.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

Co-chair Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, said he was disappointed to see this outcome.

“I am just astounded by the arrogance of the supermajority, having such a callous disregard for the people of the state,” he said

Sykes would love to approve a map that would last for a decade, but could not vote for one he considered so unfair, he said.

All three statewide Republican officeholders on the commission expressed discomfort with the outcome, but supported it anyway.

“Though our votes are different I share the deep disappointment that co-chair Sykes just expressed,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose said.

He, too, wanted a 10-year map created through bipartisan compromise, he said.

“Not enough members of this commission wanted to come along with that effort,” LaRose said. “I’m casting my yes vote with great unease.”

Earlier in the evening, Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters that he was willing to break the midnight deadline to secure a bipartisan compromise. Near midnight, he acknowledged that he was wrong to think that was possible.

“I am deeply disappointed at where we are tonight,” DeWine said. “I know that this committee could’ve produced a more clearly constitutional bill.”

After talking to Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, it was clear no agreement would be reached, he said.

“We know that this matter will be in court,” DeWine said.

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Auditor Keith Faber said he, LaRose and DeWine spent hours trying to find common ground between the parties, and that he still believed it could have been done in private with more time. But to meet the deadline, “this is as good as it’s going to get today,” Faber said.

The amended map would create 23 “competitive” districts, in which the partisan breakdown is within 10 percentage points, he said: 12 leaning Democratic and 11 leaning Republican.

“If you’re striving for competitiveness that’s pretty darn good,” Faber said.

The maps as amended by Huffman’s proposal also passed by a 5-2 party-line vote. Under the constitutional amendment Ohio voters approved in 2015, maps approved without minority party support will have to be redrawn in four years.

Republicans and Democrats then submitted differing takes on whether the approved maps meet the requirement to reflect the state’s overall partisan breakdown, as shown by the previous decade’s election results. The commission finally adjourned half an hour into Thursday.