Cleveland Plain Dealer: In Ohio redistricting battle, is quest for the ‘perfect’ muscling out the ‘good’?

An epic constitutional battle over new state legislative maps in Ohio is being fought on three fronts — among Statehouse partisans, within the Ohio Supreme Court and between the court and legislative leaders. A breakdown on any of those lanes could leave the state’s 2022 primary election in disarray and lead to more gridlock, an escalating crisis and possible intervention of the federal courts.

Given those dire possibilities, many may consider it a “best case” if the most recently approved Ohio Redistricting Commission state legislative maps survive Ohio Supreme Court review. Which they might, since they prospectively hit the 54%-46% GOP-Democratic split the high court majority previously said reflected recent statewide vote totals as a constitutional bar.

Democrats gripe the maps are cooked since the GOP crafted a lot of razor-thin Democratic districts and no cliff-hanging GOP districts. Meanwhile, this third set of maps also saw the commission’s five-member Republican majority splinter for the first time, with Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, of Celina, joining the commission’s two Democrats in voting “no,” albeit in part because he thought the maps favored Democrats.

But are disputed maps that will only last four years really the “best case?”

With the two sides, in theory, closer together with this third set of maps, what will it take to break through the standoff to find a true bipartisan compromise that could allow ten-year maps to be approved?

It requires two votes from each party on the commission to get to bipartisanship under Ohio’s voter-adopted redistricting rules, thus allowing the maps to last the full decade to the next Census. Without bipartisan buy-in, once this battle ends with agreed (or imposed) maps, Ohio politicians will be back at war in four short years. Do we really want that?

There is a better way to do this, to reach bipartisanship on the maps, which is what the voters wanted in the first place when they overwhelmingly reformed the process.

Commission Republicans could stop freezing Democrats out of deliberations over map contours. And Statehouse Democrats could consider that what is good for the fiercely partisan Faber may be bad for them — and that more may be gained from a map for 10 years than a map-drawing process overseen by a potentially more partisan Supreme Court majority four years hence.

For both sides, it’s a shopworn but apt maxim that people should not let what’s perceived as the perfect become enemy of what’s good — or good enough.

Could the current maps — over which the sides are now arguing before the state Supreme Court — be made good enough for two Democrats and two Republicans? Could a good-faith revisiting of the debate by the Redistricting Commission and all seven commissioners achieve breakthrough changes before the matter is fully ripe for a high court decision?

Although the third set of maps ostensibly tracks the Supreme Court’s requirements, the Redistricting Commission’s Democrats — state Sen. Vernon Sykes, of Akron, and House Minority Leader Allison Russo, of Upper Arlington — voted “no,” apparently because,’s Andrew J. Tobias reported, “19 of the Democratic-leaning House districts, and seven of the Democratic-leaning Senate districts, favor Democrats by 3 percentage points or less … (while) none of the Republican-leaning districts (is) that close.” And the Supreme Court had based its rejection of plans one and two in part because of districts that only favored Democrats by 1 percentage point.

It appears that partisans on the commission are still rolling the dice — Republicans, that they’ve hit the sweet spot with their latest maps, and Democrats, that the Supreme Court will reject plan three, and that any plan four — regardless of who draws it — would offer Democrats better districts.

Yet the commission’s now-splintered GOP front includes two other statewide elected officials, Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who should in theory want to fulfill the voters’ legitimate expectation of a good-faith effort to reach compromise.

No one can foresee what the Supreme Court’s makeup will be in four years. And Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who joined Democratic justices in rejecting plans one and two, is retiring Dec. 31.

So, the perfect or the good? Both sides may want to reconsider their positions at this 11th hour, to end the gridlock, the lawsuits, the delays — and to work together, finally, to come to bipartisan agreement on a set of maps. It would be about time. And it’s the right thing to do.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer