Redistricting talks go into the last minute

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Sep. 15—COLUMBUS — Last-minute talks in hopes of getting bipartisan agreement on maps for state legislative districts continued into Wednesday's constitutional deadline for a vote.

The 5-2 Republican-majority Ohio Redistricting Commission recessed its meeting until 3 p.m. while Republicans met behind closed doors. A second GOP-drawn map offered Tuesday was a "non-starter," said one of the Democratic commissioners, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, of Akron.

Ms. Sykes said she had not been invited to participate in Wednesday's talks.

"I do think there are some things that (Republicans) need to work out amongst themselves for sure," she said. "We attempted late into yesterday evening to find a pathway forward, and ultimately we asked the Republicans to meet amongst themselves because that seemed to be the biggest sticking point."

The commission met briefly Wednesday morning before recessing. It consists of Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman (R., Lima), and House Speaker Bob Cupp (R., Lima), all Republicans, and Ms. Sykes and her father, Sen. Vernon Sykes, both Democrats.

"We will be recessing so that we can continue some consultations that are going on, some work that is being done on the map...," Mr. Cupp said.

Under a constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2015, the commission has until midnight to adopt a map that has the backing of both Democrats on the panel that would last the full 10 years until after the next U.S. Census in 2030. Failing that, the commission could pass a map along party lines that would last just four years before the process would have to start over again.

Republicans currently hold veto-proof majorities of 64-39 and 25-8 in the House and Senate, respectively. The only official proposal on the table that was submitted by Republicans less than a week ago would be expected to lock in GOP super-majorities for the next decade.

The two Democrats have talked with Mr. Faber and Mr. LaRose, who've expressed some interest in aspects of Democratic proposed maps.

"We left it yesterday with a request to Auditor Faber and Secretary LaRose to convene with the Republican members, come up with a consensus because we're not seeing consensus on their side, and then come to us and figure out how we can move forward," Ms. Sykes said.

That GOP proposal largely maintains the partisan makeup of northwest Ohio, keeping three Democratic-held House districts and one Senate seat centered on the city of Toledo while the rest of the largely suburban and rural region would lean or be reliably Republican.

It would move the district now held by Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D., Toledo) westward enough to shift her Point Place home into the eastern Lucas County district now held by Rep. Mike Sheehy (D., Oregon). Mr. Sheehy is term-limited, so Ms. Sobecki could run as the incumbent in that district if she chooses not to physically relocate.

Because of its population growth over the last decade, Wood County, currently a stand-alone House district, would split nearly down the middle the two districts currently held by Reps. Haraz Ghanbari (R., Perrysburg) and Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township). A proposal from commission Democrats also would have split the county in half.

In addition to Lucas and Wood, the House proposal would divide Hancock, Defiance, and Wyandot counties between districts.

Allen County no longer has enough population to warrant a stand-alone House district, the one currently held by term-limited Speaker Bob Cupp (R., Lima). That district would pick up Auglaize County territory to meet its population target of roughly 120,000 under the GOP proposal.

The Senate map also sets up a potential Republican primary election showdown in 2024 in the revised 26th District between Sens. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin) and Mark Romanchuk (R., Mansfield). The largely rural district would still hold Sandusky, Seneca, and all or part of three more counties now represented by Mr. Reineke but would also pick up Mr. Romanchuk's home county of Richland.

In addition to adjusting for population shifts over the last decade, the new constitutional rules require the commission to draw districts that are geographically compact, split fewer counties and other political subdivisions, and generally reflect the political preferences of the state as a whole.

First Published September 15, 2021, 12:01pm

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