State lawmaker moves to eliminate gerrymandered districts

Ohio Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, is pushing for a bipartisan effort to re-draw congressional districts, which has been long criticized as gerrymandered.

LaRose introduced Senate Joint Resolution 3, which calls for “greater balance and transparency” when the General Assembly redraws the congressional districts. The resolution calls for redrawing the districts in a bipartisan manner.

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“My goal is to establish a redistricting process that does not favor the interests of one political party or another but that works for all Ohioans,” said LaRose. “While I believe that the plan I have put forward accomplishes this, I recognize that it could always be improved.”

Even though there are about 1.5 registered Republicans for every registered Democrat, three-fourths of the congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., are Republicans and none of the races in November were competitive.

LaRose is considering a run for the state’s top elections official, Ohio Secretary of State. Ohio Rep. Dorthy Pelanda, R-Marysville, announced her intention to run for the office on Wednesday. Democratic state lawmaker Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent is also considering a bid for the office.

The state re-draws congressional lines every decade, following the U.S. Census, and is done so by a simple majority vote. This bill would do away with that process, which favors the party in power at the start of every decade.

“The current winner-take all approach, used in our state for the congressional redistricting process, is unsustainable and leads to unnecessary friction and dysfunction. The citizens of Ohio demand reform,” said LaRose. “SJR 3 would require bipartisan compromise, compelling statesmen and women to work cooperatively to draw fair and straightforward congressional district maps.”

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The plan calls for the General Assembly to adopt a congressional district plan by Aug. 1 of every year ending in the number one.

The legislation gives each chamber of the General Assembly options to approve a plan: either an affirmative vote of each of the two major parties in each chamber, or a 2/3 majority vote by each chamber.

LaRose’s plan calls for the Ohio Redistricting Commission — which was created by voters in the 2015 election to eliminate gerrymandered Statehouse districts — to adopt a congressional district plan by Sept. 1 of any year ending in the number one if the General Assembly does not adopt a plan by the deadline.

Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years to adjust for population changes.

There are some legal protocols that would be set in place, including setting the legal challenge protocol of a congressional district plan, and prohibits a court from ordering the implementation or enforcement of any plan not approved by the commission or General Assembly.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper has not yet seen the legislation, but says eliminating gerrymandered congressional districts was favored by 72 percent of the public in November 2015.

“I’m glad are people coming forward,” said Pepper. “We should have the same thing for Congress.”

And more balanced congressional districts will lead to more competitive races, and members of Congress being held accountable, Pepper said.

Members of Congress are being criticized by Democrats because they won’t hold town hall meetings, and are being protested at local non-public events, such as when U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, when he met with business leaders last week in Hamilton. Though, unlike many of his colleagues, he did talk with the group of protesters.

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Pepper is not optimistic the General Assembly will be interested in fixing gerrymandered congressional districts, but after the 2015 election they should because “the people have spoken.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is in his final two years as governor, backs redistricting reform, and Pepper said he's willing to work with anyone willing to end gerrymandered districts.

However, he thinks this may be another citizen-initiated ballot issue.

“I think you might see grassroots efforts to do the same thing (as with Issue 1 in 2015),” he said.

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