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Published: Monday, 6/6/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Both parties await redistricting in Ohio based on latest Census data

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Like race car drivers revving their engines, the lawmakers, politicians, and public-interest types who concern themselves with the boundaries of Ohio's congressional districts only can wait until the "go" flag drops.

And that day is expected to come soon as Cleveland State University completes its work of marrying the 2010 Census data with the boundaries of Ohio's nearly 10,000 voting precincts.

"Everyone with a computer likes to get on and say: 'The map should look like this,' " said state Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), chairman of the House's subcommittee on redistricting. "The census tract information has to be superimposed over the new precinct data information and that's the final information we have to have before we can even start to draw a map."

CSU's College of Urban Affairs has until July 1 to turn over the completed database, but expects to have it done as early as this week, said Mark Salling, project manager.

Realigning the state's congressional districts is a requirement set by the U.S. Constitution to ensure that all citizens have equal representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Because Ohio's 2010 population growth lagged behind other states, especially in the Southwest and West, Ohio must give up two of its 18 Congressional districts.

The proposed map of Ohio's newly drawn Congressional districts will originate in the Ohio House of Representatives and must be approved by the majority vote of both houses and signed by the governor. Mr. Huffman said the House will have hearings this summer, but he could not predict when the legislature would vote.

The process threatens to drag into 2012, to the point that a bill in the House of Representatives would move the state's 2012 primary election from March to May to give politicians time to adjust to the new Congressional and Statehouse districts.

The population target for each of Ohio's Congressional districts is 721,032 people -- up from the 630,730 for each district in 2001.

The larger population figure means virtually the remaining 16 districts will grow in area. But so far, no one can predict exactly how.

Republicans now hold 13 Congressional seats and Democrats 5, after a GOP tide in the 2010 elections.

Some speculate that Republicans will try to draw lines that shield all 13 Republican representatives by squeezing as many Democratic voters as possible into three solid Democratic districts.

But others say that trying to stretch likely Republican voters over 13 districts would lead to competitive districts on which the party would have to spend a fortune every two years to hold onto the seats.

A safer strategy, they say, would be for the Republicans to concede one seat to the Democrats and shoot for a balance of 12 GOP and four Democratic seats.

Ann Henkener, a redistricting specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the legislature should lean toward creating more, rather than fewer, competitive districts, which would encourage at least a few Ohio congressmen to take moderate, centrist stances.

She said that would reflect Ohio, which is known as a battleground state in presidential politics because the state is evenly split.

"I think our public interest is served by something that looks politically like Ohio," Ms. Henkener said. "I think the bulk of Ohioans are somewhat toward the middle."

She said the League will sponsor a contest for the public to advocate the best maps according to the League's objective criteria of compactness and competitiveness.

She said a balance of eight Democrats and eight Republicans, or nine Republicans and seven Democrats, would be "representationally fair."

Kevin DeWine, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said his task is to try to maximize Ohio's Republican representation in Congress.

He predicted the process will be open to the public because the advances in technology make it easy for anybody with a computer to draw proposed Congressional districts.

"I believe Secretary of State [Jon] Husted will have a simple process to invite people to draw their own [state] House and Senate and congressional district maps. With a few clicks of the mouse, we can change an entire map. As a result, you can go through and look at endless options to change 16 congressional districts," Mr. DeWine said.

Most of the attention in Ohio's congressional redistricting has focused on the 10th District in western Cuyahoga County, represented by Democrat Dennis Kucinich. Mr. Kucinich has been exploring the possibility of moving to the state of Washington to run for a seat there.

"My district appears to be on the block, so I am looking at options, and I am not limiting those options to Ohio," Mr. Kucinich told the New York Times.

A possible outcome for Mr. Kucinich would be for his district to be merged with the 13th District, represented by Betty Sutton of Barterton, and the 11th District of Marcia Fudge in Cleveland and eastern Cuyahoga County.

No one expects any of the three northwest Ohio representatives, Republican Bob Latta of Bowling Green, Democrat Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, and Republican Jim Jordan of Urbana in Champaign County, to lose their safe districts.

Leading speculation has it that Miss Kaptur's district would stretch even farther east than it does now, to take in another 100,000 people in Lorain County.

Mr. Latta's district could also move farther east into Ashland County and south into Hancock County to pick up 93,233 people.

Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, predicted the House would not try to gerrymander Miss Kaptur out of a district or try to move any significant number of her district's voters into Mr. Latta's district.

"My Republican friends may be wrong on most issues, but they respect the fact that Marcy Kaptur is the dean of the Ohio delegation and the longest-serving woman in the Congress. They respect that. So if they do not listen to Congressman Kaptur's concerns and take them into account, they know they are risking a great deal politically," Mr. Redfern said.

Contract Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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