Saturday, Feb 24, 2018
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Bipartisan talks over remap reform fall apart

COLUMBUS — Talks fell apart Monday between Senate Republicans and backers of a competing proposal over how to change the inherently political process of redrawing congressional districts every 10 years.

Republicans on Tuesday plan to introduce a revised version of their plan, one that would increase the amount of minority party support needed for enactment of any map that could last an entire decade. But the plan would keep the General Assembly in control of at least part of the process, and opponents argue that it won’t prevent the type of gerrymandering seen in the past to strengthen the hand of the political party holding the pencil at the time.

“We are disappointed that we couldn’t come together on a fair solution,” said Ann Henkener, redistricting specialist with the League of Women Voters. “The (Sen. Matt) Huffman proposal simply does not address partisan gerrymandering. Any solution needs to focus on the voters and fair elections.”

The league is part of a coalition that is gathering signatures for a separate ballot issue it hopes to get on the November ballot that would take the process almost entirely out of the hands of the legislature and instead put it in those of the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission that voters approved in 2015 to redraw state House and Senate districts.

“Our ballot initiative will move Ohio to fair congressional districts, and we look forward to ramping up efforts to ensure voters have a chance to speak loudly this November,” Ms. Henkener said.

The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee could vote on Tuesday on Senate Resolution 5 as revised by Senator Huffman (R., Lima) and state Rep. Kirk Schuring (R., Canton) and come to a vote in both the Senate and House later in the week. The resolution would place the new plan before voters on the May primary election ballot in hopes of undermining the November ballot effort.

“As part of our good faith effort to reach a solution, we are making substantial changes today based on our discussions with Democrat leadership and feedback we have heard from coalition leaders and the public,” Mr. Huffman said. “I believe we are providing the people of Ohio with a plan that is both fair and responsible.”

The plan would give the General Assembly first crack at passing a new constitutional map after each U.S. Census to adjust for population shifts over the prior decade. The current map has led to 12 Republican and four Democratic districts. The next map to be drawn in 2021 may work with one fewer district because of Ohio’s sluggish population growth compared with some other states.

A legislatively passed map that would last a full 10 years would need at least half of the minority party to vote for it, up from a third in the prior proposal.

If that fails, then the commission created in 2015 would get a chance, needing at least two minority members from the seven-member commission to support it in order to enact a 10-year map. Absent that, a map could be passed with a simple majority vote, but it could only last four years before the process would restart.

The General Assembly would then get one last chance to turn that four-year commission map into a 10-year map with a vote that would include at least a third of the minority party, up from one-fifth in the prior plan.

It also would include more restrictions on the splitting of counties between districts and restore the opportunity for a gubernatorial veto and voter referendum of any map.

In a joint statement, state Rep. Jack Cera (D., Bellaire) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D., Akron), the two Democrats who served with Mr. Huffman and Mr. Schuring on a legislative redistricting reform task force, dismissed the revisions as simply “cosmetic changes.”

“By rejecting suggestions to keep communities together and require bipartisan support for new districts, Republicans are rejecting the bare minimum standards needed for real reform and diluting the power of voters,” they said. “Ultimately, we feel we have the responsibility to listen to the Ohioans who have spoken out and demanded real reform.”

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

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