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Published: Sunday, 10/28/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

District map reform part of Ohio ballot

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — For backers of redistricting reform, a picture is worth a thousand words.

They point to the new 9th Congressional District, dubbed the “snake along the lake" as it hugs roughly 100 miles of Lake Erie shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland, slicing through pieces of five counties and at one point connected only by islands and a bridge.

The Republican-drawn district set two veteran Democrats — Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland — against each other in a primary battle that only one, Miss Kaptur, survived.

“That is the best example," said Joan Lawrence, a Republican former state lawmaker from Delaware County who has fought for remap reform for more than three decades.

“There are others in the [map] that are just plain awful," she said. “It’s very overt. Everyone knows why they did it. There’s no mystery to it. They had to get rid of one Democrat, and that was the way to do it.’’

Voters will be asked on Nov. 6 to approve Issue 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would take the power of redrawing both congressional and state legislative districts out of the hands of “politicians" and hand it to a new citizen panel at least partly appointed by judges.

The GOP controlled the process when the latest maps were redrawn last year, and the party is fighting Issue 2, even as some Republicans agree the process needs reform.

“Issue 2 creates a new taxpayer-funded bureaucracy that is not accountable to voters or elected representatives,’’ said Carlo Loparo, spokesman of Protect Your Vote Ohio, the GOP-backed committee opposing Issue 2.

“It could be very expensive,’’ he said. “The estimate from the Office of Budget and Management is that Issue 2 would cost $15 million in just eight years of implementation. That’s a lot of money to spend on a plan that major Ohio newspapers and entrusted legal organizations like the Ohio State Bar Association and Judicial Conference believe is deeply flawed.’’

Both GOP and Democratic lawmakers proposed their own reforms in the past but couldn’t come to agreement. A new bipartisan legislative task force is working on a proposal that won’t be unveiled until after the election. Voters soundly rejected prior attempts to reform the process in 1981 and 2005.

A new legislatively created Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission is also expected to propose to voters future changes to the constitution, including possibly redistricting reform.

Under the current process, the Ohio General Assembly traditionally fashions a new congressional map once a decade to adjust for population following each U.S. Census. Whoever controls the General Assembly at the time controls the pencil.

The final map, passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor like any other bill, created 16 districts that appear on paper to favor a 12-4 split in favor of Republicans.

The 99 districts for the state House of Representatives and 33 districts for the Ohio Senate are currently redrawn by a five-member apportionment board consisting of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and one lawmaker from opposite parties. That process has also been controlled by Republicans, who currently outnumber Democrats 23-10 in the Senate and 59-40 in the House.

Issue 2 proposes a single commission whose 12 members would be directly selected by a bipartisan group of appellate judges and indirectly by those the judges named.

Elected and nonelected state and federal officials, lobbyists, big campaign donors, and their immediate family members would be forbidden from serving on the commission. The panel would be charged with creating maps that uphold federal voting rights law, keep the most governmental units intact, create the most politically competitive but geographically compact districts, and most represent the political makeup of the state as a whole.

New maps would have to be drawn and enacted by 2014 if the amendment passes and then once a decade thereafter. The coalition behind Issue 2, calling itself Voters First Ohio, includes such groups as the Ohio Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Ohio Citizen Action, and a number of labor unions.

Opponents include the Ohio Republican Party, a number of business groups, the Ohio State Bar Association, and Ohio Judicial Conference. The latter legal entities have challenged the wisdom of involving judges in the direct and indirect selection of members of the commission.

Ms. Lawrence, who served as former Republican Gov. Bob Taft’s director of aging after leaving the House in 1999, has fought for both Republican and Democratic-backed reform plans over the years, and she sees history repeating itself.

“I’m really disgusted with the arguments,’’ she said. “The first five mailers I received to vote against the issue were all simply inaccurate — outright lies or distortions.

“It’s the same thing,’’ Ms. Lawrence said. “The things they’re picking on as being horrible are just really irrelevant. They’ve spent a lot of time and how much money calling this a bunch of unelected bureaucrats with a blank check, when it’s more like a year-long, part-time job. They’ll probably get a per diem and expenses because they have to give up a lot of their time to do this.”

She noted that the Ohio House and Senate would have to approve any budget for the task and that there are expenses involved with the existing processes.

Mr. Loparo argued that, in the end, the proposal would not do what it sets out to do — remove partisan politics from the remapping process.

“The criticism of the [current] process is that it allows one party to gain control of the legislature and state apportionment board to redraw districts to their liking,” he said. “Issue 2 does not provide for bipartisan agreement to adopt new plans. It still allows one party to dominate the process.”

The constitutional amendment requires a third of the 12-member commission to be made up of Republicans, a third by Democrats, and a third by unaffiliated Ohioans. Mr. Loparo argued that members of one party could still team with unaffiliated voters to muster the seven votes required for adoption.

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



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