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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2011

Editorial

Map to nowhere

To crib from Joe Louis: Republicans in the General Assembly can run from accountability for the mess they have made of Ohio's congressional map and 2012 election calendar. But they can't hide their partisan power grab from the state's voters/taxpayers.

House Republicans melodramatically stalked out of the chamber last week after Democrats in the minority blocked a vote on cosmetic improvements to a GOP plan to set new boundaries for Ohio's 16 U.S. House districts. In one of the most closely contested states in the nation, Republicans designed the map to reserve 12 of the seats for their party.

Democrats are collecting petition signatures aimed at enabling voters to repeal the GOP plan in November, 2012. The sequence has created uncertainty about when the state can slate next year's party primaries in U.S. House districts.

Ohio's presidential primary also is affected, because nominating-convention delegates are selected from House districts. If the stalemate persists, federal courts might have to get involved.

Rather than seek a compromise that would make the referendum unnecessary, Columbus Republicans are prepared to waste $15 million in taxpayers' money to hold two statewide primaries next year, in March and June. That need not happen if they would finally concede that voters deserve to pick their elected officials, not the other way around.

The changes GOP lawmakers have proposed to the map they approved in September would make it marginally less grotesque. The revised plan, for example, would split the city of Toledo and the rest of Lucas County into two House districts rather than three.

But that doesn't mean the new map is acceptable. It still would extend one district from Toledo all the way to Cleveland, forcing veteran Democrats Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich to run against each other in a party primary next year.

There remains no reason that Lucas County, and the four-county Toledo metropolitan area, cannot and should not occupy a single, compact, politically competitive district attuned to the area's special needs and issues. Other than a desire to maximize GOP dominance and marginalize Democrats, that is.

Not all of the opportunism is on the Republican side. Mr. Kucinich advocates approval of the original GOP gerrymander, because it puts him in a district in which he thinks he can beat Miss Kaptur. Toledo-area voters will want to remember Mr. Kucinich's efforts to place his interests ahead of theirs.

Republican lawmakers' cynical attempt to co-opt the legislative Black Caucus appears to have failed. They are holding public hearings this week on their plan -- something they did not feel compelled to do before they passed it.

Democrats belatedly have proposed a competing plan -- rejected by Republicans -- that they say would yield six GOP U.S. House seats, four Democratic seats, and six seats that would lean Republican but offer adequate two-party competition. How about both parties creating as many competitive districts as possible?

House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) asserts that "you'd be amazed how difficult [reapportionment] is." It is tough for GOP leaders to keep a straight face when they insist their party is entitled to 75 percent of House seats in a state that elected a Republican governor last year with less than 50 percent of the vote.

It's time for lawmakers to abandon the GOP power grab and work toward a prompt, bipartisan compromise. That plan would create districts that are competitive and compact, preserve local communities of interest, and encourage candidates from the ideological center of both parties instead of their extremes.

Such a plan also would allow a single primary next year. These should have been the goals all along.



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