Partisan state legislative maps face likely court challenge

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Sep. 16—COLUMBUS — The first map of state legislative districts drawn under new voter-approved rules is destined to be tested in court.

Having failed to reach a bipartisan compromise that would have allowed the new maps to remain in place for 10 years, the Ohio Redistricting Commission early Thursday voted 5-2 strictly along party lines for maps expected to lock in Republican supermajorities in both chambers.

The maps would also expire in just four years, forcing the redistricting process to restart the process all over again.

"At some point a decision had to be made," Senate President Matt Huffman (R., Lima) said Thursday. "And somebody has to do the work to get to the decision. The map that was adopted last night by the commission by majority vote was the only map that was presented to the commission that was constitutional."

Even fellow Republican statewide officeholders on the commission are predicting that a challenge before the Ohio Supreme Court will have the commission back at the drawing table sooner rather than later. The high court has a 4-3 GOP majority, so the focus will be on Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor as a potential swing vote.

The Republican chief justice was among the dissenters when the court upheld the last set of state legislative maps in 2012 by a vote of 4-3. She is also not seeking re-election next year because of her age.

Gov. Mike DeWine, one of the five majority Republican commissioners, declined after the vote to comment on whether his eldest son — Republican Justice Pat DeWine, who is up for re-election next year — should recuse himself from hearing the case.

The 2012 court decision occurred three years before voters approved a constitutional amendment to tighten the rules as to how General Assembly districts should be redrawn each decade after the U.S. Census. In addition to equalizing population, the rules require that the new districts be more geographically compact and split as few counties and local political subdivisions as possible.

Much of the debate Wednesday night was over the constitutional requirement that the final product generally reflect statewide voting preferences over the last decade. That is likely to be a primary focus of any legal challenge.

Mr. Huffman said the new maps would be expected to produce GOP supermajorities of 62-37 in the House and 23-10 in the Senate, compared to the current 64-35 and 25-8, respectively.

"The legislative maps passed today are a slap in the face to Ohio voters who spent over a decade fighting for constitutional reforms to our redistricting process and those who went out of their way to testify in favor of fair maps over the past few weeks," state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) said.

"Elected officials take an oath to abide by the Ohio Constitution, but today, every commission member who voted in favor of these maps broke that oath," she said. "Ohioans should not have to beg for fair districts every few years."

Mr. Huffman formally proposed a revised GOP state legislative map just minutes before the midnight Wednesday deadline. The final vote took place shortly after the midnight deadline had passed.

The final map made few changes to what the GOP proposed a week earlier when it comes to northwest Ohio. It preserves three Democratic-friendly House seats and one Senate seat centered on Toledo while the rest of the region remains solidly or moderately Republican.

A look at each northwest Ohio district:

—The new 41st House District, formerly the 44th held by Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D., Toledo), would expand geographically to pick up new areas of West, North, and East Toledo while losing portions of South Toledo. According to Dave's Redistricting, a web-redistricting app used to judge map competitions held by Fair Districts Ohio, the 41st maintains one of the largest African-American populations in the state at 43 percent.

—The new 42nd House District is the former 45th held by Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D., Toledo), although she would no longer reside in her own district. The 42nd shifts decidedly westward to pick up Ottawa Hills and part of South Toledo, but her Point Place home would now be in the new 40th, held by Rep. Mike Sheehy (D., Oregon). He is term-limited, so she could run as an incumbent in the 40th.

—The 40th House District, formerly Mr. Sheehy's 46th, will run from eastern Lucas County through a sliver of South Toledo along the Maumee River to keep Springfield Township and Maumee to the west while also picking up Point Place and portions of West Toledo on the northern edge of the city.

—The 43rd House District, formerly the 47th held by Rep. Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township), holds onto most of Lucas County's western suburbs. But it will lose its current hold on Fulton County while picking up the western half of Wood County and the northern quarter of Hancock.

—The 76th House District, formerly the 3rd held by Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R., Perrysburg), encompasses the eastern half of Wood County, including the city of Bowling Green. Wood County could not maintain its status as a single-district county given its population gains.

—The revised 81st House District, now held by Rep. Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon), underwent some of the biggest last-minute revisions from the original GOP proposal. The largely rural district would now include all of Henry, Fulton, and Williams counties and northern Defiance County.

—The 89th House District, held by Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R., Huron), underwent no change and will continue to represent all of Ottawa and Erie counties.

—The revised 82nd House District, held by Rep. Craig Riedel (R., Defiance), would hold the rest of Defiance County, including Defiance city, and stretch south along the Indiana border to include all of Paulding, Van Wert, and Mercer counties.

—The new 83rd House District would include all of Putnam County, the remaining three-quarters of Hancock, including the city of Findlay, and western Wyandot. The district includes the city of Upper Sandusky, making Rep. Riordan McClain (R., Upper Sandusky) the incumbent here.

—The revised 88th House District, held by Rep. Gary Click (R., Vickery), will now consist wholly of Sandusky and Seneca counties.

—The new 86th House District, formerly the 4th represented by House Speaker Bob Cupp (R., Lima), will expand beyond Allen County to pick up a portion of northern Auglaize to satisfy its population demands.

—The revised 11th Senate District, represented by Ms. Fedor, will consist of the Toledo-centered, Democrat-held 40th, 41st, and 42nd House Districts.

—The 2nd Senate District, held by Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R., Bowling Green), will consist of the 43rd, 76th, and 89th House Districts.

—The 1st Senate District, represented by Sen. Rob McColley (R., Napoleon), would now hold all of the 81st, 82nd, and 83rd House districts.

—The 26th Senate District, held by Sen. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin), will now consist of all of Sandusky, Seneca, Crawford, and Richland counties as well as eastern Wyandot. The district's swallowing of Richland sets up a potential 2024 primary election contest between two Mr. Reineke and Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R., Mansfield).

First Published September 16, 2021, 3:45pm

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