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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2011

GOP back at work to try to solve map feud

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- With Ohio's congressional district map under the threat of voter referendum, Ohio Republicans will return to the Statehouse Wednesday to at least try to buy themselves some time.

Lawmakers had not planned to return to session until after the Nov. 8 election, but a shelved bill to postpone the 2012 presidential primary election is suddenly back on for votes in both the Senate and House this week.

"It gives us more time to figure out what we're going to do," said Rep. Louis Blessing (R., Cincinnati), one of the chief sponsors of House Bill 318, the primary election date bill.

"If you continue to referendum everything, eventually a court is going to step in. They can get enough signatures, but then we have no district lines. Nobody will be running from anywhere. Moving the primary gives us more time."

The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday unanimously sided with Democrats that the map, like nearly all other legislation, can be subjected to voter referendum despite a last-minute attempt by Republicans to put it off limits by adding an appropriation to the bill.

Democrats have submitted proposed petition language to Attorney General Mike De- Wine.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said that once the party starts spending serious money on gathering signatures to put the question on the November, 2012, ballot, the door for compromise will close quickly.

"That day is approaching," he said. "We still have to have [petition] language approved. … We have to go through the printing process for the petition. Once we've invested thousands in the process, we can't let Republicans run out the clock with empty promises that they could one day compromise, that they want to one day sit down and draw competitive districts, that out of a state of 11 million, we shouldn't just have four [Democratic] congressional districts."

Because of its sluggish population growth over the last decade, Ohio will surrender two of its 18 congressional districts to faster-growing states.

The GOP-drawn replacement map was passed with Republican votes and a handful of African-American Democratic votes.

There has been some conjecture that Republicans may try to make enough changes to minority districts to peel off more African-American Democratic votes, possibly getting a super-majority to add an emergency clause that would allow the map to take effect immediately.

House GOP spokesman Mike Dittoe said Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) and legal counsel have been discussing their options.

"The intent is for this [GOP-drawn map] to be the one that will be ultimately implemented," he said. "All options are on the table to prevent a chaotic situation from happening next year."

The disputed map sets up 12 districts considered to be either strongly Republican or leaning in that direction and four solidly Democratic districts.

The map splits the city of Toledo three ways between districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), and Jim Jordan (R., Urbana). It also stretches the 9th District held by Miss Kaptur thinly along the Lake Erie shoreline to Cleveland, setting up a primary election showdown between Miss Kaptur and fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

The Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on the primary election bill with the House expected to send it on to the governor's desk on Friday. As now written, the bill would postpone the presidential primary election from March 6 to May 8, although there's some discussion that it could be delayed as late as June.

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



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