Ohio lawmakers miss first deadline for congressional map

·4 min read

Sep. 30—COLUMBUS — Another government district map. Another missed constitutional deadline.

Majority Republicans allowed Thursday's deadline for state lawmakers to make their first attempt at adopting a 10-year, bipartisan map for Ohio's congressional districts to pass without even putting forth a proposal.

So the General Assembly has relinquished the pen to the Ohio Redistricting Commission, a 5-2 Republican-majority panel that already missed its own recent deadlines for adopting maps for state legislative districts and is now before the Ohio Supreme Court defending partisan maps it ultimately did approve.

Responding to the current congressional map that is considered to be among the United States' most gerrymandered, Ohioans voted overwhelmingly in 2018 to reform the process. The legislature as a whole retained initial authority to redraw congressional district lines using data from the latest U.S. Census, but the idea was to make an inherently political process a little less political.

It would be impossible for the majority party to repeat districts like the 9th, currently held by Toledo Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, and the 4th, held by Urbana Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan.

Dubbed "the snake on the lake," the 9th stretches 100 miles from Toledo to Cleveland, encompassing slivers of Lake Erie shoreline in five counties without holding a single county in its entirety.

Called "the duck," the heavily rural 4th has its tail feathers in Mercer County not far from the Indiana border, its head touching Sandusky Bay, and its bill poking into Lorain County west of Cleveland.

Republicans currently hold 12 of Ohio's 16 districts, and the impending loss of one of those U.S. House of Representatives seats because of Ohio's sluggish population growth over the last decade complicates matters.

Voters set Sept. 30 as the first deadline to try to pass a map that has the support of three-fifths of both chambers, including half of the minority party — currently Democrats. That level of support would be necessary for any map to last a full decade, until after the 2030 Census.

With that date in the rearview mirror, the task now falls to the commission — consisting of Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R., Lima), and Mr. Huffman, all Republicans, and the Democratic father-daughter team of state Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, both of Akron.

"We are working with [Senate President Matt Huffman] and other members of the redistricting commission on how we will proceed with that," Mr. Cupp said.

The commission has until Oct. 31 to pass a 10-year bipartisan map that has the support of both Democratic commissioners. If it can't do the job, then the General Assembly as a whole will get another shot at a bipartisan plan, this time with a lower vote threshold: two-thirds of each chamber, including one-third of the minority.

Failing that, the majority can pass a partisan map by Nov. 30 with a simple majority, but that map would face tighter restrictions and only last four years before the entire process would have to start over again.

Those drawing the congressional map are unlikely to get any guidance from the Ohio Supreme Court. The court will not hear oral arguments in three challenges to recently approved state legislative maps until Dec. 8.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, put forward their own proposal Wednesday that would appear to narrow the Republican majority in Ohio's U.S. House of Representatives delegation to 8-7.

"Our plan demonstrates that if the majority had the will, we could have drawn a bipartisan map before the Sept. 30 deadline," Senator Sykes said.

In northwest Ohio, the Democratic map would create a more compact version of the district now held by Ms. Kaptur to include all of Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie counties, northern Wood County, and northeastern Lorain County.

The district now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, of Bowling Green, would consist of 14 whole rural counties near Indiana plus southern Wood, and northern Hancock County.

No longer resembling a duck, Mr. Jordan's district would shift decidedly south, essentially forming a rural U hugging Franklin County on three sides.

"All the far-left special-interest groups tied to the Obama, Clinton, and Soros organizations originally complained about the shapes of districts," said John Fortney, a Senate Republican spokesman. "This new experiment in geometric shapes is even more interesting.

"A fatter snake on the lake, [Mr. Jordan's] district around Columbus gives new meaning to the 'horseshoe,' and the [Akron-area] 7th looks like a big thumbs-up for maybe a new member of Congress," he said. The 7th would favor election of a Democrat.

First Published September 30, 2021, 2:12pm

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