Emotions high in Ohio fight over new congressional map

Witnesses told the Republican-dominated Joint Committee on Congressional Redistricting that a pair of proposed maps that heavily favor the GOP are undemocratic

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Anger, tears and a summoning of security marked Friday's public hearing on what Ohio's next map of U.S. House districts will look like.

Witnesses — some of whom evoked the values of their military veteran forefathers and hopes for future generations — told the Republican-dominated Joint Committee on Congressional Redistricting that a pair of proposed maps heavily favoring the GOP are undemocratic. They asked for lines that will more fairly represent their communities and the state's political divide, which is 54% Republican to 46% Democratic, over the next decade.

Lynn Buffington of Beaver Creek said supermajority Republicans should use their “might for right.”

“What is right is not just what is legal,” she said.

Many volunteers with a Democrat-backed redistricting advocacy group are despondent about how the process is being handled, said Katy Shanahan, state director for All On The Line.

“The general feeling of Ohioans is exasperation,” Shanahan said, fighting back tears. She noted that about 170 pieces of testimony had been submitted by opponents of the maps, compared to hardly any by supporters.

Four separate map proposals from both Republicans and Democrats are before the committee. Lawmakers face a Nov. 30 deadline to approve one of those, or a compromise map that can garner enough Democratic votes. A three-fifths majority of each chamber, including at least half of Democrats, is required to pass a map that will be in effect for 10 years. Passage by a simple majority will yield a map good for only four years.

Due to lagging census figures, Ohio has lost one House seat — taking it from 16 to 15.

When applause broke out for Shanahan among the roughly 60 attendees, Republican state Rep. Shane Wilkin, the committee's co-chair, called in the sergeant-at-arms. He said anyone who violated agreed-upon rules against disruptions would be kicked out. Wilkin said boos and cheers interfere with online viewers' ability to hear the proceedings.

Wilkin and his co-chair, Republican state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, had not yet determined what would happen after Friday's hearing, he said.

At the panel's first hearing, they both described the process — created under a 2018 constitutional amendment and in use for the first time — as "fluid" and the next steps as murky.

Shanahan said her reading of the constitution is that the joint panel should have been created in September to serve as a sort of conference committee to hammer out differences in the various map proposals sent to it by House and Senate standing committees.

Instead, the joint committee was only pulled together on Monday, after those committees had already met. Meanwhile, a website created by the new Ohio Redistricting Commission — which has completed its work and is ostensibly defunct — is where dozens of proposed maps from lawmakers and citizens are being stored.

The four-year maps of Ohio House and Ohio Senate districts approved by the commission along party lines are awaiting oral arguments in the Ohio Supreme Court.