GOP-proposed state legislative maps face criticism

·4 min read

Sep. 14—COLUMBUS — Critics of Republican-drawn maps for state legislative districts on Monday accused them of violating the text and spirit of voter-approved reforms designed to take some of the politics out of the redistricting process.

"This redistricting process is a slap in the face to the over 70 percent of Ohioans who voted for the redistricting reforms," Deborah Dalke, a member of the Bowling Green chapter of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said in Warrensville Heights during the second of three hearings held on the maps.

"The Republican-engineered map gives even more power to the Republican candidates," she said. "They're even more politically biased than the ones we currently have."

The 5-2 Republican-majority Ohio Redistricting Commission will hold a final hearing on Tuesday, the day before its constitutional deadline to either pass maps with bipartisan support that would last a full decade or maps with a simple partisan majority vote that would last just four years.

Republicans currently hold super-majorities of 64-35 and 25-8 in the Ohio House and Senate, respectively.

Ms. Dalke specifically took aim at the only formal proposal from the commission, submitted by Senate President Matt Huffman (R., Lima). That map slices Wood County almost down the middle between districts currently held by Reps. Haraz Ghanbari (R., Perrysburg) and Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township).

Wood's population growth over the last decade made it too big to remain a single district. Bowling Green would remain part of Mr. Ghanbari's district, but Ms. Dalke would find herself on the Merrin side of the line.

"I have a Bowling Green ZIP code. I live in the Bowling Green School District. The vast majority of my business is conducted in Bowling Green, and my husband pays Bowling Green city taxes," she said. "There is not a valid reason for putting me in a different House district."

The GOP's proposal would largely lock in the current partisan makeup of northwest Ohio, retaining three Democratic-friendly House districts and a single Senate district centered on Toledo while the rest of the region would remain Republican-friendly.

Among the regional highlights of the GOP proposal:

—The lines of the Toledo district now held by Rep. Lisa Sobecki would shift westward enough to put her Point Place home inside the district held by Rep. Mike Sheehy, a fellow Democrat from Oregon. Mr. Sheehy is term-limited, so Ms. Sobecki could run instead as an incumbent in his district next year.

—Mr. Merrin's Republican-friendly district in the western Lucas County suburbs would lose its Fulton County territory in favor of picking up the western half of Wood and the northern quarter of Hancock County.

—The new 2nd Senate District, represented by Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R., Bowling Green), would keep all of Wood, Ottawa, and Erie counties and much of its western Lucas County suburban territory while adding northern-most Hancock County.

—A revised 26th Senate District — Sandusky, Seneca, Richland, Marion, and Crawford counties and part of Wyandot — could pit two incumbents, Sens. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffen) and Mark Romunchuk (R., Mansfield), against one another in a primary showdown in 2024.

"It's an attempt to solidify Republican control in the House of Representatives," Mr. Sheehy said.

Democrats on Monday countered with a new map they said would do a better job of keeping counties and municipalities intact while providing a bit more competitive political landscape.

"I would like to reiterate my commitment to figuring out how we get to a 10-year map...," said House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D., Akron), one of the commission's two Democrats. "It is important for both the Senate and House Democratic caucuses to put forth what we deem as something we can continue to negotiate on."

The Democratic proposal would contain 20 competitive House districts that would be deemed competitive, those in which Democratic or Republican voting can swing as much as 10 percentage points. That means the remaining 79 would be considered relatively safe Republican and Democratic districts.

"One of the reasons that you end up with only 20 competitive [House] districts...is because Ohioans tend to live in clusters," said Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, one of the Republican commissioners. "They tend to live around people who think like them and vote like them."

First Published September 13, 2021, 5:55pm

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