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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2001

Calling all ‘consultants'

Republicans on the state apportionment board claim that Floyd Johnson was merely a “consultant,” advising the majority party on how to accommodate the interests of minority voters in redrawing legislative districts. But Mr. Johnson was doing double duty, covertly. He got up in public as the NAACP's state coordinator for redistricting and endorsed the GOP plan without revealing a key detail: He was being paid by the Republicans - $44,000, in taxpayer money, no less - to do it.

Such misrepresentation constitutes not only a grave disservice to the reapportionment process but also the public. The state ought to investigate the legality of taking action to recover the $44,000, approved in private by Republicans who control the purse strings for the apportionment board. And the NAACP should be questioning the propriety of allowing one of its officials to, in effect, sell the civil rights group's name and reputation for partisan purposes.

Scott Borgemenke, the GOP operative who serves as secretary of the apportionment board, insists there was no attempt to hide the consulting contract with Mr. Johnson, a local NAACP official in Dayton. But Mr. Johnson's own words contradict that transparent claim. “There are four Republicans and one Democrat (on the board),” he said openly. “When they finally vote, whose map do you think they're going to adopt? My daddy told me to go with a winner.”

The courts have ruled that the racial makeup of legislative districts must be dealt with carefully in reapportionment to ensure equal representation, and it's obvious that Mr. Johnson's testimony was intended by the Republicans to put the NAACP's imprimatur on their plan. During Mr. Johnson's testimony, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a board member who is both black and a Republican, said, “Last time I checked, (the NAACP) is not a bastion of Republicanism.”

The apportionment board is due to adopt the GOP plan officially by Friday's deadline, despite a Democratic claim that it packs black voters too densely into certain districts. Reapportionment happens just once every 10 years, and it always ends up in the courts. This plan will, too.

Perhaps it will survive legal challenge, but the ethical gymnastics by the Republican majority on the board illustrate why Ohioans should not be misled about whose interests are being served. Especially when a “consultant” is involved.

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