Proposed Ohio redistricting map could make Jordan sweat

By Andrew J. Tobias -

The Ohio House offered the redistricting map to the left, while the Ohio Senate offered the redistricting map to the right this week.

The Ohio House offered the redistricting map to the left, while the Ohio Senate offered the redistricting map to the right this week.

COLUMBUS — A new congressional map proposed by Ohio Republicans favors the GOP to win an even greater share of the state’s congressional seats than they already have under the current, heavily gerrymandered maps.

But a closer look at the plan from Senate Republicans suggests that new anti-gerrymandering rules constrained them at least somewhat, forcing them to draw a map that, by some important measures, is fairer. The result is a map that could make some incumbent Republicans sweat.

The new congressional map plan scores better than the current maps for compactness and competitiveness, according to an analysis by Dave’s Redistricting App, a widely used redistricting website. More specifically, Dave’s calls the new map “OK” under these two measures, compared to somewhere between “bad” and “very bad” for the current lines.

The new map creates a slew of Republican-leaning districts that, on paper, appear to be genuinely competitive. Four of those districts carry a GOP advantage of 5 or fewer percentage points, including one seat in Cleveland’s western suburbs that is a pure toss-up. That would be a significant change — no district under Ohio’s current congressional maps is closer than 8 points, and none changed hands during the decade they were in effect, years that Donald Trump, John Kasich, Barack Obama, Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown all won statewide elections. Republican candidates got about 54% of the statewide vote during that time.

In a favorable political environment — think 2018 — Democrats realistically could win as many as seven seats under the new Senate GOP plan, with eighth and ninth “reach” seats in play in an epic blowout scenario.

But Republicans still are favored to win 13 out of 15 seats (87%) in the new map proposal, compared to 12 out of 16 (75%) under the current maps. Given their expected national tailwinds in 2022, they could end up maxing out their advantage next year, which could factor into their thinking as the GOP looks to retake the U.S. House. The maps then could be redrawn for the 2026 elections, which could also factor into their thinking. For these reasons, Dave’s Redistricting gives the map a “very bad” score for proportionality, worse than the current maps.

One Democratic operative in Ohio with experience in redistricting said the Senate Republican plan would be an improvement for Democrats, relatively speaking. The Democrat said that’s largely a commentary on how bad the current maps are.

“It’s better than the current maps but worse than what the Constitution very much requires,” the Democrat said. “The status quo is terrible, and that’s why voters went and reformed this process.”

The Senate GOP plan and a different plan from Ohio House Republicans would eliminate two safe Democratic seats: one held by Toledo Rep. Marcy Kaptur and another held by Trumbull County Rep. Tim Ryan. The competitive seats in the Senate GOP plan roughly correspond with seats currently held by Kaptur, and GOP Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, Brad Wenstrup, Bob Gibbs, Mike Carey and Jim Jordan. None of those Republicans’ current districts are anywhere close to competitive, with Gibbs and Jordan’s current districts giving both roughly 30% advantages.

Both plans in their current forms are unlikely to get any Democratic support. That’s important because at least one-third of Democrats must sign off on maps for them to last for the typical 10 years. Otherwise, Republicans can approve a map without Democratic votes, but they only would be in place for four years.

Besides not lasting as long, Republican-only maps also would have to pass a political test. The new constitutional language says without bipartisan support, maps can’t “unduly” benefit either political party and also can’t “unduly” split counties, townships or cities, in that order. Both maps would face issues in passing that test before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Any new congressional map requires approval from both the House and Senate and Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature to become law. Ohio’s redistricting rules, approved as an anti-gerrymandering reform in 2018, set a Nov. 30 deadline. The new maps would be in effect for the May 2022 primary election.

Here are some more observations on the new maps.

More weird community groupings

When lawsuits inevitably hit, Republicans will have to explain in court how their maps don’t unduly split counties and cities or benefit their party.

Kaptur, who now represents Toledo and western Cleveland thanks to the infamous “Snake on the Lake” district, would get a totally different set of communities under both Republicans map in a new Republican district. Instead of connecting Toledo and west Cleveland and the industrial cities in between, her district in the Senate plan would go south to include Mansfield, Ashland and Morrow County. The House map makes the district solidly Republican by adding extra rural areas like Crawford and Marion counties.

Both GOP maps treat Youngstown similarly, grouping the historical Democratic stronghold with a largely Appalachian, safe Republican district in Eastern Ohio represented by Rep. Bill Johnson.

The maps differ on how they crack apart Columbus, a growing and modern Democratic stronghold. Both anchor a safe Democratic district around the city that Rep. Joyce Beatty will represent. But the maps dilute the city and its suburbs’ Democratic voters by drawing them into districts with Republican, rural outlying areas.

The Senate map splits off the northern part of the city, snaking it through suburban southern Delaware County and west to include Jordan’s Champaign County and Lima. The change converts Jordan’s district from +32 Republican to just +8 Republican. This has prompted some suspicion among conservatives online, although Jordan still would probably be safe.

It also takes the city’s eastern suburbs and south side, including the neighborhood where Carey lives, to help create a +1 Republican district by stretching it through the Democratic island of Athens and all the way south to Ironton.

The House map adds Columbus’s northeastern suburbs to Jordan’s district, making it “only” +26 Republican while adding the bulk of the city to a Carey-friendly +8 Republican district that includes nearby Licking and Fairfield counties.

The House proposal splits Summit County three ways, including one that draws Akron into a heavily Republican district that stretches south to the Appalachian Hocking Hills region. Akron easily could be removed from the district, added to an adjacent one that includes remnants of Ryan’s district in the Youngstown area. However, doing so would make Ryan’s old district slightly Democratic-leaning.

The Senate version ties Akron into Wayne County and Holmes County, where Gibbs lives while adding parts of Stark and Portage counties. The result is a +5 Republican district.

The Senate GOP plan is the relatively moderate proposal

We’re looking more closely at the Senate Republican plan because Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, has played the most active role in directing the GOP’s redistricting strategy so far. Plus, Huffman aide Ray DiRossi is a top GOP redistricting expert in Ohio. His House GOP equivalent, Blake Springhetti, just learned how the process works earlier this year, according to court records.

And as a starting point, the Senate Republican plan seems like it has more to sell to Democrats to try to get bipartisan support, which is something Huffman and Cupp both have said they want.

In comparison, the House GOP map is a heavier Republican gerrymander. Like the Senate Republican plan, it draws 13 safe Republican seats and two safe Democratic seats. Dave’s Redistricting App rates it as “bad” when it comes to competitiveness and county splitting — again slightly better than the current maps — compared to the Senate’s “OK.”

But the House GOP map gets a 0 score out of a 100 for proportionality. Democrats likely would max out at four seats.

For comparison, a plan from Senate Democrats scores “excellent” for proportionality while getting middling scores for splitting, minority representation and compactness. But it sacrifices competitiveness, with fewer competitive districts than the Republican Senate plan.

We aren’t spending that much time breaking down the Democratic plan, though, since Republicans control all aspects of state government and already have indicated they don’t plan to pass it.

Max Miller gets no love from Ohio Republicans

Max Miller, the presumptive Republican nominee for what’s currently Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, is one of the big losers in both GOP plans.

Under the current maps, Republicans enjoy a +14 advantage in the district, or projected as 14 points in favor of Republicans, currently represented by Rocky River GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.

But the equivalent of the 16th district is changing dramatically under Miller’s feet in both the House and Senate plans.

The Senate plan is relatively generous to Miller, drawing Rocky River into a 50-50 district by grouping it with Lorain County, Medina County and the western Cuyahoga County suburbs of Bay Village, Lakewood, North Olmsted and Strongsville.

The House plan, meanwhile, draws Rocky River into what’s now Rep. Shontel Brown’s district, tipping the scales at +50 Democratic.

Gonzalez seemingly cleared a path for Miller, a former Trump White House aide, after announcing he would not seek re-election next year. Miller specifically bought a house in Rocky River to challenge Gonzalez over Gonzalez’s January vote to impeach former President Donald Trump. If Miller is open to moving again, the House has a newly created district that draws Westlake, the nearby suburb, into a +11 Republican district including Lorain, Medina, Wayne and Holmes counties. But he would have to face incumbent Rep. Bob Gibbs in a primary.

Cincinnati poses problems for Republicans

Ohio is losing a congressional seat due to population growth in other states. That gives Republicans fewer districts to work with as they try to protect their 12 incumbent members of congress.

That includes two Cincinnati Republicans: Rep. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup. The current maps protect both by splitting the Democratic, growing city into two parts, combined with surrounding Republican areas.

But the new rules tie Republicans’ hands, because they require the city to be kept intact.

The House and Senate maps try to address this issue in different ways.

The Senate map splits Hamilton County three times, with the western part of the county, which is closer to where Chabot lives, getting grouped in with heavily Republican Butler County, creating a +19 Republican district. And Cincinnati is grouped with heavily Republican, rural counties to the east, stretching all the way to Portsmouth. The result is a +3 Republican district for Wenstrup.

The House map groups Cincinnati with Republican Warren County, creating a +2 Republican district. And the eastern part of the county is grouped into a sprawling rural district that spans eastward to Portsmouth and as far north as Pickaway County, outside Columbus.

The Ohio House offered the redistricting map to the left, while the Ohio Senate offered the redistricting map to the right this week. Ohio House offered the redistricting map to the left, while the Ohio Senate offered the redistricting map to the right this week.

By Andrew J. Tobias

Post navigation