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Published: Wednesday, 9/21/2011

Republicans seek to keep remap from Ohio voters

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- In a maneuver aimed at sidestepping a threatened voter referendum from Democrats on a proposed congressional map, the Republican-controlled Senate may add an appropriation to the bill before bringing it to a vote.

The move, which could come as soon as today, would presumably allow the new district boundaries to take effect immediately instead of waiting the usual 90 days, preventing Democrats from gathering the signatures needed to put the law to voters.

There's also consideration of holding two primary elections next spring, one for state and local candidates and a later one for presidential delegates and other candidates whose election are tied to new congressional district boundaries.

A separate bill that would move the 2012 presidential primary election from March to May is moving through the General Assembly, but Democrats have refused to help Republicans attain the super-majority vote needed to have the bill take effect immediately. That means that law would not take effect until mid-to late December, days or potentially weeks after the current filing deadline attached to the March primary.

"All of this is being driven by the threat of referendum," Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond) said. "What we want to do is provide clarity and certainty to the elections process."

Democrats, however, cried foul.

"We're shutting out the people's voice," said Sen. Charleta Tavares (D., Columbus), a member of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee considering the bill. "Whether the people want to initiate the referendum process is up to them. Anything that eliminates the people's rights is not good government."

Because of its sluggish population growth over the last decade, Ohio will lose two of its current 18 congressional districts.

The GOP-drawn map for guiding elections over the next 10 years would create four solidly Democratic districts and 12 that are either strongly Republican or lean that way.

It splits Toledo three ways among districts now represented by Toledo Democrat Marcy Kaptur, Bowling Green Republican Bob Latta, and Urbana Republican Jim Jordan.

Ms. Kaptur's 9th District would be stretched thinly along the Lake Erie shoreline to Cleveland, encompassing slivers of five counties. It sets up a likely primary election showdown between Ms. Kaptur and another veteran Democrat, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland.

"Aside from the fact that [the 9th] is contiguous only in so far as two pieces of land are connected by the Sandusky Bay Bridge, it is also a district whose boundaries include more fish than voters," said Richard Gunther, an Ohio State University political science professor.

Democrats on Monday introduced their first counterproposal, a map drawn by a Republican lawmaker from Illinois as part of a public competition in Ohio. Among other things, the district includes all of Toledo and Lucas County in an otherwise largely rural district making up the northwest corner of the state.

Before approving a map, the committee will consider amending it to add money to help county boards of elections implement the new boundaries.

As a general rule, appropriation bills, such as the state budget, take effect immediately and are not subject to a petition effort that would put the law directly to voters. Whether that holds this time, however, is unclear.

The Ohio Supreme Court last year derailed then Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland's attempt to sidestep a referendum on his plan to install slot machines at race tracks by inserting the language into the budget.

"It's a question for lawyers and legal authority, but I think the law is clear," said Sen. Keith Faber (R., Celina), the committee's chairman and a lawyer. "If the appropriation is relevant to the issue at hand, the appropriation generally makes those portions effective immediately."

Democrats have threatened a referendum in hopes it would force Republicans back to the drawing board to come up with a compromise map.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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