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Published: Thursday, 9/22/2011

Redrawn legislative map OK'd by Senate

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- Despite a last-minute plea from the City of Toledo, the Ohio Senate yesterday rubber-stamped a proposed congressional map that divides the city among three districts.

The House swiftly voted 60-35 to ratify changes made to the bill, sending it to Gov. John Kasich's desk.

The map is likely destined for a court challenge.

Hours before the vote, Toledo Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers urged lawmakers to change course, arguing that the city would not be well-served by the divided attentions of three congressmen, two of whom would represent largely rural districts.

"I implore you to base your decision whether to support [House Bill] 319 in its present state upon what is best for the citizens of Ohio," he told the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee.

In the end, the bill passed the full Senate by a vote of 24-7 with all Republicans supporting the measure. They were joined by two African-American Democrats who were pleased with how the map preserves a black majority district in northeast Ohio and creates an opportunity for a black candidate in a new Columbus-based district that would be solidly Democrat.

Toledo City Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Tuesday opposing the map.

"… It divides six Ohio counties into three or more districts and in the City of Toledo creates a district that would allow for the representative for downtown Toledo to live over 100 miles from the city center, and two other districts where Toledo residents living in the same neighborhoods of South Toledo would have different congressional representation," the resolution said.

But Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) argued later on the Senate floor that divided representation may not be "altogether a bad thing."

"First, it would give us more clout in Congress," Mr. Wagoner said. "Three voices are better than one. Second, it would require bipartisan cooperation from Congress to move our area forward. … It is incumbent by all of those three to work together and put politics aside."

Mr. Crothers disagreed with the three-is-better-than-one argument, claiming the map would make Toledo "politically irrelevant."

"You have such a wide geographic area for these folks to cover," Mr. Crothers said before the Senate vote.

"We don't think that bears benefit. They'll have too many constituents, too many constituent bases in these areas, and we just don't think that's a valid argument."

States must adjust the boundaries of their congressional districts every 10 years after each U.S. Census to compensate for population shifts.

The process becomes an inherently political one as the party in charge -- this time it's the Republicans -- uses it to give themselves a political advantage.

Complicating the process is the fact that Ohio will lose two of its seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2012 election because of its slow population growth compared to states in the South and West.

Under the map, Toledo would be divided among the 9th District held by U.S. Rep. Marcy Katpur, of Toledo; the 5th District held by U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, a Bowling Green Republican, and the 4th District held by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Urbana.

The latter district encroaches on Lucas County from the east, picking up downtown Toledo and stretching as far south as Springfield.

Miss Kaptur's district would snake thinly along the Lake Erie shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland, pitting her in a 2012 primary battle against another Democratic heavyweight, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) called the map "an outrageous example of gerrymandering."

"This map does not represent Ohio history as a 50-50 battleground state," she said. "... The acceptance of this map not only marginalizes Toledo residents' votes, but also dramatically weakens our voices."

Just before forwarding the bill to a full chamber vote, the Republican majority on the committee added $2.75 million to help county boards of elections implement the new maps. Democrats opposed the last-minute amendment, which could put the new map out of reach of a voter referendum.

Unless a court disagrees, the appropriation would ensure that the bill would take effect immediately upon Mr. Kasich's signature.

The bill assumes that the 2012 presidential primary election will be held on March 6, but that could change if a separate effort to subject a recently passed elections-reform law, House Bill 194, to a referendum fails to garner enough signatures. That law would postpone the primary until May.

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



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