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Published: Friday, 11/9/2012

Reform of remapping Ohio districts failed at polls 3rd time since 1981

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — They are zero for three since 1981, but backers of a plan to revamp how Ohio redraws congressional and state legislative districts want to try again in 2013.

On Tuesday, 63 percent of voters rejected Issue 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have created an independent citizen panel to draw districts that backers said would, among other things, be more geographically compact and politically competitive.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, just elected to his old House seat representing Ottawa and Erie counties, said another attempt next year is likely.

“The Ohio Democratic Party just a year ago attempted to place on the ballot a referendum that would have stopped the implementation of the gerrymandered maps,” he said. “Unfortunately, the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] did not provide additional resources at that point and time to help in that regard. I’m sure there are many people in Washington disappointed that they did not heed our advice and support that effort.”

Despite a couple of competitive eastern Ohio races, the congressional results played out much as predicted. The congressional delegation will be 12-4 Republican.

Republicans’ hold on the Ohio Senate will remain unchanged 23-10, but they appeared to slightly tighten their grip on the House to 60-39, depending on final counts.

“If Jon Husted, who is secretary of state, or Bill Batchelder, the speaker of the House, would like to meet with Armond Budish, minority leader of the House, and Eric Kearney, minority leader of the Senate, and myself to talk about an opportunity to pass real bipartisan measures that will reform this process, I am eager to get started," Mr. Redfern said.

He placed a couple conditions on any proposal: “It must be implemented in the next [election] cycle, and it must include competitiveness.” The first condition could be a problem in getting to a bipartisan proposal. Republicans controlled the congressional and state legislative remapping processes last year and had bristled that the plan voters defeated on Tuesday would have immediately implemented new maps using the new criteria.

Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) serves on both a special legislative task force to study redistricting and on the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission created to more broadly study the state constitution and propose changes to the General Assembly. The legislature, in turn, could put those changes to voters.

Mr. Huffman noted that the redistricting task force hasn’t met in months and said he he wasn’t optimistic something would come from it before it dies at the end of this session.

“I think the constitutional modernization commission would be a good opportunity to explore the issue and put forth proposals,” he said. “The reason Issue 2 was rejected so heavily was because most voters saw it for what it was, simply a Democratic attempt to press the reset button.”

He said Mr. Redfern doesn’t help the cause by holding a news conference to set preconditions.

Backers of Issue 2 — including the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Common Cause, and a number of labor unions — have urged that talks resume.

“Once again, Ohio’s near equal number of Democrats and Republicans made it the most coveted prize for both President Obama and Governor Romney,” said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause. “But when one compares the results of Ohio’s congressional, state Senate, and state House races, Ohio incorrectly appears to be a Republican-dominated state.”

Ohio adopts a new congressional map, typically once a decade after each U.S. Census, as it would any other bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor.

The 33 Ohio Senate districts and 99 House districts are redrawn by an apportionment panel consisting of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and one lawmaker from opposite parties. Whoever controls the process controls the pencil.

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



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