COLUMBUS - House and Senate Democrats yesterday suggested Republicans set out to buy the NAACP's endorsement of their proposals to redraw legislative districts by hiring the organization's remapping expert as a $44,000 consultant.
The contract, signed between GOP members of a legislative commission overseeing the process and Floyd Johnson of Dayton, includes a provision that invalidates the contract if Mr. Johnson does not also serve as the NAACP's reapportionment coordinator.
Democrats claim that constitutes a conflict of interest, particularly since Mr. Johnson endorsed the way a plan proposed by the 4-1 Republican majority on the Ohio Apportionment Board treats minority districts.
The board is set to vote on a final plan Monday, part of a once-in-a-decade process to adjust district populations to reflect U.S. Census data.
“We shouldn't be accusatory here,” said Senate Minority Leader Leigh Herington (D., Ravenna). “We're asking for an investigation and ask for a delay until that investigation is completed.”
Treatment of minorities traditionally has been an important factor in court challenges to reapportionment plans.
Scott Borgemenke, a former aide to Gov. Bob Taft hired as the board's secretary, said a constitutional deadline of Oct. 5 cannot be put off.
He said Republicans never tried to hide their agreement with Mr. Johnson. The contract was on file with the Legislative Service Commission where Democrats found it yesterday.
“This was the same consultant we hired 10 years ago and it was brought out before the Ohio Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Mr. Borgamenke. “We are proud of the fact that we brought the NAACP into the room.
“There's never been an understanding that he would endorse our plan,” he said. “He was to advise us in the principles the NAACP was interested in.”
Mr. Johnson, a NAACP volunteer, was appointed reapportionment coordinator by Jim Daniels, president of the NAACP Ohio Council of Branches. Mr. Daniels could not be reached for comment. Although the conference didn't pay for Mr. Johnson's work on the NAACP map, Mr. Johnson's research firm, Starrcoom, is a GOP consultant for the board's map.
“There are four Republicans and one Democrat (on the apportionment board),” Mr. Johnson said. “When they finally vote, whose map do you think they're going to adopt? My daddy told me to go with a winner.”