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Published: Thursday, 8/28/2003

Hands off those districts

Along with legislative reapportionment, redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts used to be one of the most distasteful tasks that could be undertaken at the Statehouse in Columbus.

Not anymore. The hubris that comes with one-party rule has some Republican operatives seeking to re-do congressional districts that were put into effect only a year ago for last November's election.

Fortunately, GOP legislative leaders are cool to the idea, and that's just fine, because fiddling with the congressional map before the next federal census in 2010 is not a good idea.

Just look at the partisan warfare that broke out in Colorado and Texas, where Republican legislative majorities tried to force the issue needlessly. In Texas, Democratic lawmakers fled to other states to stall the redistricting attempt.

And there's long-term damage to the political process to consider. Feuds that last a lifetime, undermining the legislative process, are born when political opponents come to be viewed as enemies and each side endeavors not only to defeat the other but to grind it into the dust.

Rejiggering congressional boundaries inevitably results in the helter-skelter gerrymandering of districts across the map, either for pure partisan advantage or, worse, to protect incumbents.

Indeed, one Republican redistricting plan would create a dumbbell-shaped district, with Cleveland and Akron at each end. The Cleveland suburbs, which are currently represented by Rep. Sherrod Brown (D., Lorain), would be carved up for the GOP.

This is the kind of blatant disregard for voters' common interests that must be ended. As we first noted a week ago on this subject, it can be done with a state constitutional amendment that would establish an impartial method for drawing the boundaries both for Congress and for state House and Senate districts.

Congressional redistricting now is carried out in a bill passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, while reapportionment is handled by a special five-person board of elected state officials.

In both cases, politics is paramount, and the result is an electoral process stacked in favor of incumbents. Political change has slowed to a crawl. It's no wonder that more people don't vote.

What is needed to draw the districts is an independent commission that would not answer to the legislature or the leaders of parties, business, or labor unions.

Our objective is not to boost the fortune of one political party over another, but to foster a competitive environment that would result in real choices for voters. We believe that Ohioans would vote for such a constitutional amendment if only they were given a chance.

In the meantime, Republicans in Columbus should forget about tinkering with the congressional districts. We need less partisanship, not more.



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