3 Ohio officials detail failed map negotiations to court


By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio — Three statewide elected officials told the Ohio Supreme Court on Friday that even their combined 75 years of experience couldn’t bridge the gap between legislative Republicans and Democrats to achieve 10-year maps of state legislative districts.

Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber, all Republicans, were members of the new Ohio Redistricting Commission that failed to reach bipartisan compromise on the legislative maps in September.

The four-year map the panel ultimately approved along party lines is being challenged in three separate lawsuits before the high court.

The three officials used their joint filing to ask justices to dismiss the cases and, even if they go forward, to remove them as individual parties. But mostly, they spent the brief’s 60 pages entering into the court record their failed efforts to strike a bipartisan compromise.

“The statewide officeholders entered the discussions about the map filed with the Commission by the Republican legislative leaders with the sincere hope and desire to reach a bipartisan compromise on a ten-year map,” a brief filed by the trio said. “But even their considerable leadership experience could not bring the Commission’s legislative Republicans and Democrats together.”

DeWine “believed it was best for him to act as a middleman” and so negotiated with Republicans and Democrats separately, carrying messages back and forth, to no avail. The governor also indicated he would have been willing to go past the constitutional midnight deadline, if it would have helped.

Faber, a former legislative leader himself, wanted to treat mapmaking as he would any other bill — hammering out amendments and revisions as the committee went along.

Failing that, he “took on the role of mediator,” approaching each commissioner to broker a deal, the brief said. Republican Senate President Matt Huffman told him “he could move off of his position if the Democrats were willing to move off of theirs.”

Faber encouraged the Democrats — state Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Democratic Leader Emilia Sykes, his daughter — to respond to Huffman’s offer of 62 of 99 Republican-leaning House districts, only five seats different from what they had proposed.

Neither ever made a motion to change the Republican map, however. They “preferred to ‘ignore’” Huffman and Republican House Speaker Bob Cupp by pushing a brand new map, the filing said. Huffman, in turn, declared negotiations done.

“Auditor Faber came to believe that negotiations broke down because the camps he was trying to bring together were either worried about a lawsuit or welcomed a lawsuit” as a means of gaining a political or legal advantage in the negotiations, it said.

LaRose’s idea was that he, DeWine and Faber act as “convenors” to broker an agreement between the four legislative caucuses: House Republicans and Democrats, and Senate Republicans and Democrats. He identified three areas that seemed to be tripping up the parties: the meaning of “proportionality,” creating minority opportunity districts and drawing two incumbents into the same district.

“Secretary LaRose and Auditor Faber worked together, even sharing a car ride to a Commission meeting in Cleveland, in an attempt to broker a compromise,” the brief said. Democrats made their map drawers available to LaRose and Faber, the two said, but fellow Republicans did not.

“Secretary LaRose also met with Leader Sykes, Senator Sykes, and their respective teams several times with the goal of producing a map acceptable to all commissioners,” the brief said. “That joint effort, though, ran out of time.”

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By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press

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