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Published: Thursday, 6/3/2010

Bipartisanship is possible in redrawing of Ohio districts

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The uncertainty of this year's elections may lead to a bipartisan alliance for a constitutional overhaul of Ohio's once-in-a-decade, inherently political battle over redrawing state legislative districts.

Scrambling continued yesterday to reach a last-minute agreement in time for a vote today. Lawmakers hope to recess for the summer as soon as today.

Sen. Jon Husted (R., Kettering), the sponsor of the Senate version, yesterday gave up on including the congressional districts in the mix along with state House and Senate districts. He said including the congressional boundaries was a "nonstarter'' for the Democratic-controlled House.

Sen. Ray Miller (D., Columbus) balked at that idea.

"That's where we've had our most blatant cases of racial gerrymandering - in congressional districts,'' he said. He pointed to the 6th Congressional District which snakes from the southern tip of the state northeast along the Ohio River to the Youngstown area.

Both chambers need three-fifths supermajority votes to put a proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot, making getting an agreement precarious.

Mr. Husted's latest proposal essentially merges his Senate-passed bureaucracy and the House-passed process for approving new boundaries for 99 Ohio House districts and 33 Senate districts. The plan would expand the state panel that will adopt final maps, require the panel to consider proposed maps submitted by the public, and establish the criteria by which those maps would be scored.

The current remapping processes have traditionally been spoils for the victor, allowing the party in control of the majority of state government to adopt maps they hope will solidify and strengthen their control.

Currently, a five-member panel consisting of the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and two legislators of opposite parties redraw the boundaries for the 99 Ohio House districts and 33 state Senate districts.

A new congressional map, however, is adopted by the General Assembly as a whole like any other bill. Ohio has 18 representatives in the U.S. House but is expected to lose at least one to faster-growing states.

These political processes were exploited by Republicans in 1991 and 2001 and Democrats, giddy over election gains in 2006 and 2008, had initially bragged about wielding that power in 2011. But early polls for 2010 have left both sides unable to gauge who will have the upper hand after this year's election.

The latest proposal would:

•Expand the apportionment panel from five to seven by adding two lawmakers of opposite parties.

•Require the commission to hold a competition in which the public may submit proposed maps.

•Require a supermajority vote of five that includes at least two minority members to adopt a map.

•Require the commission to reconsider its map if struck down by court order but prohibit a court from ordering implementation of a map lacking commission approval.

•Require districts to be compact and, whenever possible, politically competitive and consisting of contiguous territory that maintains the integrity of county and local government boundaries.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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